Players Network Places Bet on VOD

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Longtime cable programmer Andrew Orgel had been looking at businesses related to casino gambling and the poker-on-TV phenomenon and said he kept coming up against a company called Players Network. He decided to join forces. On Oct. 12, Players named Orgel president and chief operating officer, two days after disclosing an on-demand distribution deal with Comcast.

For years, Players Network had an in-room private network in casinos, and for about eight months it has been testing an on-demand channel on Comcast Corp.'s digital platform.

The network's programming will concentrate on the lifestyle of the players in tournaments, like the World Series of Poker at Harrah's in Las Vegas.

“We're in the gaming lifestyle category,” said Orgel, whose resume includes stints at MTV: Music Television, A&E Network and Video Jukebox Network. “Now, gambling is part of that but it's not all of it. We're trying to take advantage of the first mover advantage that this company has and really do what ESPN did for sports and MTV for music, CNN for news and Nickelodeon for children's programming.”

JAMES CAAN ON BOARD

The network already claimed a well-known spokesman: James Caan, star of NBC series Las Vegas.

Orgel said the business plan — which does not factor in gambling revenue because that is illegal in the U.S. — includes working with casinos in a variety of ways. Players already is developing a ticketing service involving casino entertainment events like concerts and creating a database of gaming consumers for “gaming lifestyle marketing” purposes, according to press releases.

It also has tested distributing content — such as news and statistics — to mobile-phone users, collecting text-messaging fees.

Ultimately, Players Network — which has plans to develop talk shows, instructional fare and other on-demand segments — could become a 24-hour network. For now it's eager to work with Comcast and other distributors as on-demand and broadband business models develop, Orgel said.

Casino and Gaming Television took a different path to establishing a U.S. linear channel. It licensed programming to a Canadian venture, which launched CGTV Canada on the Bell ExpressVu satellite-TV platform in September and on Rogers Cable in Ontario last week. Terry Debono, co-founder and chief creative officer at the Canadian channel, said CGTV now claims some 1 million subscribers.

CGTV CEO Nick Rhodes said the network is delivering programming to the Canadian channel, and Canadian majority owner Boardwalk Gaming and Entertainment is developing interactive games. “The deployment of [interactive TV] will be what really makes the difference in developing beyond just the poker tournament programming,” Rhodes said.

VOD NOT ENOUGH FOR CGTV

CGTV felt it couldn't launch just on demand, and hopes to build a success in Canada and “launch in the U.S. at the appropriate time,” he said.

Orgel drew a parallel between TV poker and MTV start-up discussions in 1980 (at the time, he worked in affiliate sales and marketing for the network). The question then, he said, was whether people would get accustomed to hearing music on the television. Now, “poker has conditioned consumers to go to the TV for gaming.”

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