Casino Diginet Antes Up

Looking to fuel its programming lineup for its expected first-quarter 2005 launch, CGTV — the Casino and Gaming TV network — has inked a co-production and acquisition deal with Flextech Television, the programming division of Telewest plc, the United Kingdom’s No. 2 MSO.

The multimillion-dollar deal calls for CGTV to work with Flextech-owned games entertainment channel Challenge on the development of a trio of series. The aspiring network, which will not house any subscriber-wagering elements, also obtained 50 hours of library fare, including the U.K. Poker Open and Celebrity Poker Club, according to CGTV president and CEO Nick Rhodes.

CGTV’s deal came as cable television’s poker-competition craze continued apace:

WPT Enterprises Inc., whose World Poker Tour franchise has become the highest-rated series on The Travel Channel, is developing the Professional Poker Tour, which would bring new tournaments to TV featuring only the game’s top professional players. A Travel spokesman confirmed the parties are in very early discussions, and the network views the new tour as an “opportunity to augment” its existing series and “keep fresh content on our air.”

In addition to Travel, ESPN, Bravo and FSN have all scored solidly in the Nielsens with their various poker presentations, while GSN offers a blackjack series as part of its strategy to expand its programming roster beyond its traditional game show roots.

“All the poker shows over the past few years certainly validate viewer interest in gaming and entertainment. But these shows barely scratch the surface of what we’re going to present on CGTV,” said Rhodes, a former Speedvision and Outdoor Life Network executive. He said some 53 million Americans visit casinos annually, and more than $60 billion is wagered legally in the U.S. each year.

On the original side, Rhodes said CGTV and Challenge would work on the second season of Casino Casino, encompassing some 21 hours in which competitors will engage in blackjack, craps and roulette. The show, like its predecessor in the U.K., will include an interactive element that lets viewers play along.

The second series, Mission Las Vegas, will be more tutorial in nature. Six British and American men and women will be instructed in the ways of poker and the intricacies of risk, bluffing and upping the ante from top players in London. From there, they will take that knowledge and try their hands at various Native American casinos and in Las Vegas.

The 11 hours of Hustle Hotel, meanwhile, will center on four men and four women and their lives as they gear up for and participate in poker competitions that will include afternoon action, as well as black-tie table battles in the evening.

Hustle Hotel will have elements of Big Brother and Real World, within the context of competitive tournaments,” said Rhodes, who noted that despite its U.K. co-production partner and the presence of some British players, the new series would also represent American sensibilities

All of the co-productions, as well as the library fare, would be part of CGTV’s lineup when it bows in 2005. Coming out of the gate, CGTV will likely offer programming in six-hour wheels, Rhodes said, adding the network has been in contact with all of the major cable and satellite distributors in the U.S.

A second round of conversations and negotiations is set to begin in the weeks ahead. As a diginet, Rhodes said CGTV, which will produce programming in HDTV and have a video-on-demand component, is asking for a “single-digit license fee with rate abatement.”