Is Streaming the Future for Poker?
Some of you might read the title of this article, and think that I’ve lost my mind. Live streaming of poker events has been around for years, with companies using live streams as one of their main avenues to promote events. Big series such as PokerStars’ European Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker, as well as other smaller poker events, have been regularly streaming their main events for the past few years with varying degrees of success. The landscape has changed over this time with the advent of the home streamer.
By uploading to services like Twitch.tv and YouTube with professional quality content that can stack up against some of the bigger budget options out there, these streamers (such as Jason Somerville’s Run It Up and Chicago Joey) have radically changed the landscape of how poker is presented to the public.
The thing is, this streaming thing isn’t new. While I was working with a poker based internet radio station back in 2011, I streamed some of my poker action on a fore-runner of Twitch. I only got about 15 viewers as I failed to cash in miserable fashion while single tabling an $11 tournament on a Sunday evening and I promptly forgot all about it, getting back to the realities of the day.
The path that has led people to watch people such as Somerville isn’t one that runs through the poker world. Instead, it runs through the world of video games. Video games are still the biggest demographic on Twitch, even though the company (now owned by Amazon) has been doing its best to diversify into new areas, including poker and live music. I can open the website, and within 30 seconds, I can be watching someone playing a game of Hearthstone, DOTA2, World of Warcraft, or one of another 100 different video games.
As I type this, there are over 120,000 people watching various streamers play League of Legends, and nearly another 100,000 watching games of Counter Strike. Some of these streams have only one viewer, but others have tens of thousands. With these higher viewing numbers comes the option to earn ad revenue as you stream to your followers. This ad revenue is such a good source of income that combined with YouTube revenue it can support a community of people who rely on playing games to pay the rent. That’s for streaming games that most of us play for fun, and have no income potential themselves. Add in some sponsorship and endorsement deals, and these streamers are achieving rather comfortable lives by playing video games.
I’m not saying it’s easy. In order to earn enough, most streamers have to be online six or more hours a day, seven days a week. Now, just think about how much time the online grinders are playing poker each day. Streaming seems to have been tailor made to bolt on to the online poker industry. As this seems to be such a great fit, it’s disappointing that only a few have made a successful move to the streaming world. The reason behind this is probably the poor viewer numbers. Currently there are only just over 1,900 people watching poker on Twitch, which is not enough to create a decent economy just yet.
However, when Jason Somerville streams, he regularly has tens of thousands of people joining in as he attempts to “Run it Up.” In these early days of streaming online poker for profit, just turning up isn’t enough to gain an audience, as it can be for some people playing video games. Jason has a great social media following, and keeps his followers up to date with his streaming schedule. He essentially creates his own audience, and that is one of his big strengths.
Online poker has always had a need to bring new people to the game, and traditionally it has been through several avenues, including the television shows that were essentially long-form adverts for the online poker sites that sponsored them. Currently the only poker TV shows that appear to be being made are the fantastic “PokerStars EPT Coverage” and “The Sharkcage,” and the local access television quality “Poker Night in America.” Online poker companies seemingly haven’t replaced the television marketing avenue with any other options as yet.
Across the whole entertainment industry, independent, lower cost, streams and internet shows are starting to advance in popularity and are filling the hole left by the bigger budget TV shows of the past. In this environment it’s not really a surprise that parts of the poker media are getting involved, even if the current level of engagement is rather small.
When PokerStars recently streamed its EPT Live coverage from the PCA on Twitch they pulled decent numbers of viewers (based on the comments in chat) who were not part of the usual poker fan base. Apart from a few technical glitches and a lack of chat moderation, the PCA Twitch “experiment” was a success with 219,879* views of the PokerStars Twitch channel on the 14th of January (the day of the final table). If I remember correctly, the concurrent viewer count was consistently between 8,500 and 9,000, but as I’m going from memory, that could be an error. This is a relatively impressive turnout, especially considering this is a new delivery avenue for an established product.
There seems to be an audience for poker that isn’t being tapped into right now, and it’s waiting for new content on Twitch. While it is very easy to get up and streaming on Twitch, not just anything will do, content-wise. Those who decide to set up a webcam, a microphone and the software to handle the stream need to find something that people will come back for. It sounds easy: get some electronic gear, be interesting, get people to watch, and make money. Somerville and Chicago Joey have this covered off, and have created niches in the market where they can grow and expand from.
Streaming seems to be here to stay, and is likely to be one of the big parts of the poker industry in 2015 and beyond. I have a bet with myself that poker will consistently be in the top-played games on the front page of Twitch by the end of the year. The universe will need to find more streamers like Jason Somerville and Chicago Joey for this to happen, but poker has always generated characters at the tables. Now they will not have to rely on edited television shows to be introduced to their fans. They’ll have their own internet show to say what they want, when they want, which could be entertaining for all involved.
*views are not the same as viewers, and this number includes those who refreshed the stream