Networks Betting Poker Is Big Draw

Thanks to ESPN and The Travel Channel, whose ratings grew with the help of poker tournaments telecast this summer, TV may have a new programming genre to play with—and buyers like the odds.

Following ESPN’s airing of The World Series of Poker and Travel Channel’s World Poker Tour, Bravo, Game Show Network and NBC have bought into the idea. In addition, a new network, Casino and Gaming Television, is set to launch in the third quarter.

NBC is teaming with The Travel Channel to bring The Travel Channel World Poker Tour Battle of Champions to TV on Feb. 1, prior to the Super Bowl kick-off. “This could be an indication of whether [casino gaming] has broad-based appeal,” said Ray Dundas, svp, group director of broadcast at Interpublic Group’s Initiative Media in New York. Added Jon Miller, NBC svp of sports programming, “We have been watching the poker phenomenon, and it seems to be gaining momentum.”

Bravo’s series, Celebrity Poker Showdown, debuts tomorrow with Ben Affleck, Don Cheadle and Martin Sheen as players. Also, Game Show Network plans a new series for spring called The World Series of Blackjack.

Consumers’ interest in gambling has increased due to the proliferation of casinos across the U.S. According to a summer survey of 600 TV viewers by SmithGeiger on behalf of Casino and Gaming Television, 67 percent of respondents said they would watch a network devoted to card sports.