2014 WSOP Coverage: Is This Really the Only Show in Town?
The World Series of Poker is widely accepted as the biggest brand in the game. No-one has better brand recognition in the industry. It’s almost like Coke compared to Rola Cola. The WSOP coverage should appropriately also be the best available. Industry leaders ESPN and PokerNews are partners in providing the media content, and Caesar’s Entertainment is one of the biggest casino companies in the world.
So why am I left with the impression that the coverage coming out of the All Suite Rio Casino and Hotel is so poor? I’ve worked in media and marketing for a fair while, and I have more experience than I want to think about in handling media and presentations, so I’m not going to start pointing fingers at individuals such as David Tuchman. Tuck is well known as a great commentator, and I think he has earned his place as the lead representative for the WSOP live stream. Similarly, I’m not going to point out individual members of the live updates team, who I know from experience have one of the hardest jobs in poker media.
What I think needs to be looked at are the policies that these guys are forced to operate under. I recently asked the WSOP media team if it would be possible to use some of the live streamed video in articles where I was talking about the WSOP events, and covering some of the more interesting aspects of the series. I’ve used other tours’ content like this for a while, and I have a good working relationship with media teams around the poker world. While I thought it would be a long shot given what I know about the WSOP media rules, I was rather surprised when I was told that they couldn’t because ESPN owns all of the rights to the live stream videos. This is content that will probably never be aired, and the WSOP only have permission to host these videos on a “Hurrah’s owned website”. My jaw nearly bounced off my desk when I read that. The WSOP actually signed away the rights to its own video content to ESPN, without even including provisions to either host the videos on YouTube, or agreement for reasonable usage of the materials as marketing tools to be passed to other poker media/TV sources.
The ESPN TV schedule for the 2014 WSOP is as follows: 6 Episodes covering the Big One for One Drop, and 14 episodes coving the Main Event. These episodes will be aired in batches of two on a Tuesday night from the 29th of July. There will also be two days of live coverage for the final table of the main event in November.
This policy makes the live streams pretty much a one shot deal. The page where the videos are stored on the WSOP site isn’t particularly easy to locate, and when you do get there, you are presented with a page full of thumbnails with incorrect play times shown. I’d have a decent sized bet the number of video plays off that page aren’t exactly setting the internet on fire.
It’s not my only issue with the stream. In my opinion, the number of technical issues that have affected the live stream have been amazing. Everything from poor frame rates, to poor resolutions, to starting a stream with the commentary missing, when there has been a stream at all. It’s been a comedy of errors, and as a fully trained technical bod (I was a sound engineer in a former life) I would be embarrassed to put these streams on my CV.
Some of you may know that I regularly tweet in to the EPT Live stream, sometimes being helpful, and other times just trolling the commentary booth for fun. Because I do this, I have the hashtag #EPTLive load into my twitter application automatically. The last few days have seen several tweets pop up in this timeline, and they have been aimed at the WSOP Streaming coverage:
— Steve (@stevedunnett) June 10, 2014
— Stu Jordan (@TheStuJordan) June 10, 2014
Those are just a taste of some of the comments I’ve seen since the beginning of the 2014 WSOP. I will go on record as saying I think the EPT provides the hands down best live stream going right now. They balance the content between hardened poker fans and the more recreational poker fan, and above all, the quality of even the “lite” version of the stream is great. Rarely do you see any technical issues, and when you do, they are apologised for and fixed in quick fashion. I’d compare the WSOP and EPT streams as a local coverage of a peewee football game on local access television compared to the Super Bowl coverage, and this isn’t a comparison that puts the WSOP in a particularly good light.
I could raise issues with the stream for another couple of thousand words, but I won’t. I will however just touch on some of the content.
The segment that seems to start off most streams from the Rio is one where Jess Welman (the Managing Editor of WSOP.com) and Nolan Dalla (WSOP Media Director) talk about the poker issues of the day. I have never cringed so hard at a video segment in my life. The idea isn’t actually that bad, but I think that Jess and Nolan are not the ones to be hosting this. It felt like a high school media project (and I’ve seen better from high school students). Don’t get me wrong, I respect the heck out of both Nolan and Jess, they both have a Poker Media CV I would sell my granny for. This part of their CV however, should be buried as deep as possible, hopefully so it never sees the light of day again.
This just leaves one thing to mention from the live streams, the adverts. This isn’t something that I usually care about, I’ve been known to start watching a TV show later just so I can skip through the adverts using the fast forward button on my remote. In this case however, as the adverts directly link into my job, I tend to leave them on in the background as I wait for the return of the poker coverage.
What I have seen is a load of adverts for seemingly every restaurant in the Caesar’s Entertainment Group, the odd WSOP Online Poker advert and nothing else. Where are the short magazine style videos on WSOP players? Where are the interviews with 2014 WSOP bracelet winners? In short, where is the promotional content that will keep people watching between levels? Getting people to tune into a stream is relatively easy, but keeping those viewers during breaks and downtime is a lot harder. The current programming makes that a Herculean task, and I’d love to see the viewer figures for the 2014 coverage over time. Anyone want to bet the 15 minutes following a break are some of the least watched? I know I would.
So, I’m obviously not a big fan of the stream, what about the written and photo coverage?
If I’m honest, most of the WSOP coverage that’s written by the “official” partner, PokerNews, is actually pretty good. I can see that some of the live updates have had to be written quickly, but that’s the nature of the beast, and there is always going to be the odd mistake in the coverage. When I see them, I try to tweet the author to let them know, out of some kind of poker media camaraderie, but I know most of them are never caught. With such pressure on the live update writers bound to cause mistakes, it’s always amazed me why their copy isn’t read by a PokerNews employee sat at home in front of the computer. The cost of an extra two or three people full time over a week can’t be enough to make the WSOP unprofitable for the company, but would certainly improve the quality of their output. (EDIT: I’ve been advised by a member of the PokerNews Team that “ghost” bloggers are already in use to correct mistakes.)
Speaking of costs, did you know that the WSOP only issues a single picture for general usage per WSOP event? That’s the winner’s photo. To get any more photographic content, you either need to send a photographer to the Rio, and eat the costs involved, or pay a ridiculous sum of money for pictures shot by photographers already on site. Again, the WSOP isn’t making it very easy for sites with budgets smaller than PokerNews to cover the biggest poker series in the world. I have actually been told to spend more money to cover the WSOP, ignoring the fact that if a small site spent much more than the cost of a writer they’d be making a loss on the event!
In my opinion, the WSOP is out of touch of how the Poker Media world works. They are missing out on using their own video footage, they throw up blocks to smaller sites covering the series as they do not share media (unlike a lot of other poker events) and concentrate on 20 hours of ESPN coverage on a Tuesday night between the suspension of the Main Event in July, and it’s restart in November.
With the WSOP ignoring so many marketing opportunities, they are certainly not making the most of the budget they are spending each year. If you add in the lack of tie ins with the online market, it seems to me they might do better getting a big pile of money and setting it on fire, but the video of that would probably be owned by someone else, and they’d waste that opportunity as well…