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Is it time Netflix got behind niche productions like Poker?

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Despite being one of the most popular card games on the planet, you’d be hard pressed to find many poker programmes currently on television. During the poker boom of the 2000s, professional players could frequently be seen on series like Poker After Dark in the USA.

The World Series of Poker is also available to watch at home every year. With Netflix now dominating the TV world and changing the way people view entertainment, the streaming service is trying to reach as many people as possible by offering diverse programming.

But as of yet, Netflix hasn’t delved into the exciting and intense world of poker. Is it about time the TV and cinema streaming giant produced some Texas Hold’em titles?

History of Poker on Television

The World Series of Poker has been shown on television since the 1970s. CBS originally aired the final table of the Las Vegas tournament in a one-hour special. ESPN later followed on with broadcasting the competition. In those times, the paramount poker contest was nothing like it is today.

When Doyle Brunson won it in 1977, there were only 34 players in total. This all changed during the poker boom, though. After amateur player Chris Moneymaker won $2.5 million in 2003, 2,576 players turned up for the following tournament. Nowadays, most of the tournament is shown on television, from the early rounds to the final table.

Poker on Television
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It was also around this time that there was a huge rise in the amount of poker TV shows. The pocket cam was brought in to play in 2002. This allowed viewers to see each of the players’ hole cards. This totally changed the way people watched poker, as it gave insight into what the players were thinking. Commentators were also able to explain to viewers why players acted as they did in certain situations.

Late Night Poker was one of the first poker TV shows. It aired in the UK between 1999 and 2002 before being cancelled. This inspired other series, though, and a number of American offerings started cropping up.

Televised poker became fairly big in the USA, but not in Europe. Some of the most notable series were High Stakes Poker on GSN and Poker After Dark on NBC. Neither of these series is aired any longer, and the current most popular show is Poker Night in America. All of these series have featured some of the best players in the business. Players usually competed in a high stakes cash games.

Televised poker has made Daniel Negreanu a household name:

Why has Poker Struggled for Mainstream Popularity on TV?

Even in the glory days of the poker boom in the 2000s, poker television has struggled to hit mainstream audiences. One of the reasons for this could be due to the constant use of poker terminology. This may make no sense to casual viewers.

When playing online, players rarely need to know all the poker language that commentators use on television. If playing for fun, it is unnecessary. But poker players who want to take their games to the next level and rub shoulders with the professionals need to know all the niche language and technical jargon.

Then they can watch the experts play while listening to the knowledgeable commentators explain why players did certain things. This can help players learn things they wouldn’t get the chance to from simply playing online. Even basic poker strategy dictates that players need to calculate their outs and implied odds.

But actually seeing this in practice on television can provide more information as to how to deploy this method. Texas Hold’em has long been the most-watched televised poker variant. Others like Pot Limit Omaha are just too complicated for the average viewer.

Rounders is considered one of the most important films of all time for the poker industry, but at the time of its release, it made modest returns at the box office. Even though it had a stellar cast that included Matt Damon and John Malkovich, the John Dahl picture made $22 million domestically.

The movie actually became a cult classic a few years after its 1998 release and was watched by a greater number of people during the poker boom. Players can learn a lot from watching the film, as many of the rules of Texas Hold’em are explained through Damon’s character, Mike McDermott.

Televised poker uses a lot of technical jargon:

Netflix has Always been open to Special Interest TV

As Netflix continues to seek global television domination, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the streaming service turn its attention to niche productions like poker.

While it often releases major blockbusters like Susanne Bier’s Bird Box and David Ayer’s Bright, it does cater towards niche audiences with some of its programming. For instance, there are a number of anime offerings like Ultraman, B: The Beginning, and Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan.

In addition to anime, Netflix has also started to provide a range of sports programming that may only appeal to small groups. Series like First Team Juventus and Sunderland ‘Til I Die are unlikely to pull in huge audiences, but are much appreciated by the people interested in these football teams.

With poker still as popular as it was in the 2000s, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Netflix creates its own offering. If the streaming giant does decide to make something, there should be extra focus on explaining all the technical jargon carefull. This will make it more accessible to mainstream audiences. A special that follows the lives of poker players as well as the gameplay could also work well.

Watch this space for updates in the Television category on Running Wolf’s Rant.

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