After Poker Central closed it’s TV channel after a year of operation, many wrote them off as a failed experiment. Recently, however, they’ve made it clear that they’re not going anywhere.
First, they acquiring the rights to broadcast the WSOP final tables–rights that have been exclusive to ESPN for decades (see: article).
Then, they announced the release of the PokerGO App, a streaming service of select shows from Poker PROductions and, more importantly, the only place to legally watch the Super High Roller Bowl and most of the WSOP final tables.
The service is, at the time of writing, available globally for iOS, AppleTV and through PokerGo.com. The service costs $10 a month or $100 a year.
The response so far from the online poker community has been mostly caustic skepticism.
Though it would be easy for proponents to dismiss them as jaded keyboard warriors, there are reasons to be skeptic:
- Will people be willing to pay for something that has been available for free for most of its history?
- Will the fact that RunItUp, Pokerstars Live and Poker Night In America are all available for free stint PokerGO’s growth?
- Is the Poker PROductions’ library and live streams worth about the same amount as a Netflix or Hulu subscription?
These are all valid concerns that are definitely on the minds of the PokerGO team. Hopefully it can measure up to the challenge.
The Concept of the PokerGo App
A lot of people are referring to this as a ‘‘Netflix for Poker’’, which is just not accurate. Netflix has a wide appeal, we all like movies and we all like TV shows. We may not all like the same movies/TV Shows, but we all can find something to like on Netflix. Apps and services like PokerGo are way more niche, akin to UFC Fight Pass or WWE Network.
This is an important distinction because it reflects the root of the problem people have with PokerGo– they don’t believe poker has a wide enough appeal. But PokerGO is not targeting those who just want to watch an hour long broadcast and laugh at Norman Chad’s dad jokes.
Netflix has something for everyone– Adam Sandler comedies share the same platform with House of Cards. In contrast, UFC Fight Pass, WWE Network and PokerGo are for their respective niche audiences. And as long as you treat them right, nothing beats a dedicated fan community backing you up.
The direct to consumer business model– rather than the ad business model– makes the content creators answer to their audience and their audience alone. As long as the content is so good that fans are willing to pay for more, they’ll be successful.
More and more industries are moving away from the ad model and towards the direct model. With poker media’s turbulent history with advertisers, it’s a wonder it took this long for someone to try it.
So, hopefully, we’ve established that the concept is not as farfetched as the naysayers claim. But what matters at the end of the day is not the concept, but the execution. Let’s take a deeper look.
PokerGO App: Availability
This is actually the most impressive aspect of the PokerGo App launch, it’s available globally with 0 region blocking. After testing it with a VPN using IPs from Honduras, United States, United Kingdom and Germany, I couldn’t find any difference at all in the content provided. This might be a first in the streaming service market.
However impressive as this is, they’re taking their sweet time rolling out the apps they promised. Despite what the website says, The PokerGO app is only available for iOS and AppleTV, as well through a browser.
According to the official PokerGo Twitter account, they’re working hard on fixing this issue.
Hopefully it will be resolved before their official debut stream on March 28th.
— PokerGO (@PokerGO) 23 de mayo de 2017
The PokerGo App and website are built using Neulion streaming technology– the same service the UFC, MLB and others use for their streaming. It’s by all accounts an outstanding service but it comes with a few restrictions:
- You can’t share your password– the minute you log in from a device, you’re logged out of every other
- It may show some buffering issues with Wi-Fi, depending on your bandwidth
- For both Mac and PC it requires Adobe Flash Player
- For PC it also requires Microsoft Silverlight to run
- It can’t run on mobile or console browsers without an app
Neulion’s website also recommends using Internet Explorer 7/Firefox 3 or above. Rest assured, it works just as well on the latest versions of Chrome, Opera and Safari.
Overall, I personally have not experienced any issue with it at 5MB/s. Not even after extensive use of the app and website through a Wi-Fi connection. I can’t assure that your experience will be the same, however.
The content is actually the most disappointing aspect of the PokerGo App launch. It is divided into four categories
- Event Replays: At the time of writing, it has episodes of the Super High Roller Bowl, but it will archive future live streams.
- Featured: It shows what’s new and hip on the app. Currently it prominently features Dead Money, a mini documentary series.
- Originals: Poker Central’s library of original content. It has Dead Money as well as Pokerography, the Super High Roller Bowl and others.
- The Vault. Here we have episodes of Poker after Dark, Face the Ace and others. The documentary ‘Grinders’ is also available, but not Bet Raise Fold– a particularly glaring as it was available for free on the now dead Poker Central App.
The content library at launch is really thin, especially for a $10 price tag.
Also, the website is not properly designed for binge watching. When watching a series, the next episode doesn’t automatically play like in most streaming websites. After each episode, you have to scroll down to the ‘related’ tab to look for the next one. Sometimes, it won’t even be there.
But PokerGo is not really trying to hook you with what they have now, but what they will have this summer. The WSOP will stream dozens of final tables on the app, including the Main Event, which will also be broadcasted on ESPN2 in June instead of November.
— WSOP (@WSOP) 22 de mayo de 2017
Poker Central’s own Super High Roller Bowl will begin May 28 with the first day being streamed for free to showcase the app. There’s also talks of streaming high stakes action, mix games, past seasons of the WSOP TV show and more Poker Central originals.
PokerGo App: In Conclusion
I want this to succeed. The farther poker media can move away from an advertising model, the better. But as I see it, there’s simply not enough content yet to justify a purchase. At least not until we get to to see it’s full capabilities on May 28th.
The ball is in your court, Poker Central. We have our fingers crossed for a smooth and successful launch!