Poker Central Is Folding TV Channel

After Dec. 31 shutdown of live stream, programmer to focus on digital and new content, exec says
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Poker Central, the newbie (October 2015) network built around poker players and enthusiasts, confirmed that its linear programming stream, including the TV channel, is shutting down at the end of this month. The network, primarily funded by Cary Katz and featuring a programming mix of library shows from producers including World Poker Tour and new event programming and original series such as Pokerography and Live at the Bike!, had a distribution deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative and is carried on Buckeye Broadband and Sony's PlayStation Vue. It had not announced other pay-TV distribution agreements but one person close to the network (who asked not to be identified) said deals with other pay TV distributors had been signed and were scheduled to begin rolling out over the next several months. The decision, made by Katz -- a Las Vegas entrepreneur, chairman of College Loan Corp. and well-known poker player -- to pull the plug on the linear network was a surprise and a disappointment to network executives, the person said. Clint Stinchcomb, who had been the network's CEO, could not be reached for comment on the shutdown.

Poker Central also has launched apps on numerous over-the-top platforms, including Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, but the live stream from the network that was part of the app content will end at the end of the month, Poker Central president Joe Kakaty said. Instead, viewers will continue to see a playlist of Poker Central programs (like Inside Poker With Matt Savage) available as free, ad-supported video on demand, he said.

"It's a digital pivot because we saw our millennial audience wanted more content. But they wanted new, original content," Kakaty said.

Kakaty said he could not immediately comment on whether or not the network had signed other distribution deals that had not been announced, but any pay-TV deals that had been reached ended effective Dec. 31.

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Kakaty said the Las Vegas-based programmer has found that it is better at social media and mobile-focused efforts than at the often-challenging realm of cable-network distribution. "The legacy part of our business is not a place where we wanted to put our resources," he said.

National Cable Television Cooperative vice president of operations Brian Jones said the coop had been notified that Poker Central was shutting down the channel at year's end. The channel also is carried by Cox Communications in hotels -- a Cox representative declined to comment.

Kakaty said Poker Central believes a presence on television is an important part of the business, and will be done via partnerships with the likes of NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network. He pointed to the recent Poker Central Charity Shootout event -- featuring such celebrities as Jennie Garth, Tony Hawk, Chuck Liddell and Tyler Posey -- that was broadcast live on Dec. 3 on, Twitch and and then shown on CBSSN on Dec. 12 and 13, according to Poker Central. Poker Central also produced Super High Roller Celebrity Shootout for NBC Sports Network in the summer of 2015 prior to launching the linear network.

"TV is not going away -- it's just how we’ll work with TV that is going to change," Kakaty said. 

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Stinchcomb, a former longtime Discovery Communications executive, and other executives had settled "amicably" with network ownership after the decision was made to shut down the cable channel, the person close to the operation said, though that might not include every employee involved in the separation. The channel's distribution team was led by Sid Eshleman, a network veteran who was at Turner Broadcasting for 13 years before joining Poker Central, and also included Robert Gold, formerly of Discovery Communications. Another former Discovery executive, Dan Russell, was vice president of programming at Poker Central.