Televised poker may feel new to some people, but it has actually been around for quite some time. Prior to the “poker boom” (ignited by overnight superstar Chris Moneymaker’s win at the 2003 World Series of Poker), poker was on shown TV but was far less entertaining for several reasons.
Dating back to the late 1970s, the final table of the annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) was shown on American television but was far from the coverage we see today on ESPN. Because this was before the invention of the hole card cameras (or “pocket cams”), viewers and commentators could not see what cards the players held. Because of the absence of hole card cameras, the coverage was far less exciting and much harder to follow. When the pocket cam was finally invented in 1997 by Henry Orenstein, it was first introduced in Europe on the television show Late Night Poker and was also used in the 2000 Poker Million tournament. Despite the hole card cameras, televised poker in Europe fizzled and most poker shows went off the air by 2001.
By this time, televised poker in the United States was in an awkward stage. Not yet introducing hole card cameras yet still airing the yearly WSOP final table, poker TV shows were fairly unheard of. However, the landscape of poker was changed forever in March of 2003, when Steve Lipscomb’s idea for a televised poker tour was put into action with the airing of the World Poker Tour (WPT). The first episode (featuring an event at the Bellagio in Las Vegas) was a watershed moment in the industry; it featured hole card cameras, card graphics, and the feel of a live sports event. The episode took eight months to edit. The WPT immediately became a soaring success and was the highest rated show to ever have been shown on the Travel Channel.
With the amazing success of the WPT, the scene was set for the WSOP which took place just a few months later. ESPN beefed up their coverage considerably, complete with hole cameras, better graphics and witty commentators. However, no one could have predicted that the online qualifier from Tennessee would win the event and change history. Due to Chris Moneymaker’s improbable last name combined with his “everyman” demeanor and background story, poker exploded into the mainstream and everyone wanted a piece of what the game had to offer. The perfect storm that was topped off by the 2003 WSOP champion’s win is commonly referred to as the “Moneymaker Effect.”
Since that fateful year nearly a decade ago, televised poker has had its ups and downs. The World Poker Tour was extremely successful for many years but has changed, evolved and even faced scandal along the way. The World Series of Poker coverage has grown to include several weeks of coverage over many popular events, far beyond the years of only airing the Main Event final table, but has certainly seen a decrease in ratings over the past several years (still ESPN is contracted to air WSOP coverage through 2017). Televised poker has had a good deal of success in Europe as well with the emergence of both The Poker Channel and Pokerzone which both first came on air in 2005.
Weekly and even daily poker television programs have come and gone over the years since the boom. Shows like Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker (which both featured some of the world’s top pros competing in high stakes games) were quite popular but were forced off the air in 2011 due to sponsoring issues with online poker rooms after the legal landscape in the United States changed dramatically. There have also been several shows featuring Hollywood celebrities, such as Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown. European television has been quite successful in their poker programming most likely due to their laws regarding playing poker online.
Fortunately for those who want to keep up with the latest poker coverage, there is PokerStars TV, which brings its audience videos from the world’s largest online and live events, such as the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and the European Poker Tour (EPT). You can also watch episodes of The PokerStars Big Game as well as interviews with members of PokerStars Team Pro. For full coverage of all these events plus more, visit www.pokerstars.tv.