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Playing a Hot Hand

Former Discovery Communications executive Clint Stinchcomb is looking to deal operators a strong multiplatform hand with Poker Central.

Launching Oct. 1, the poker-themed independent network is looking to capitalize on the popular game played by more than 50 million consumers in the U.S. and more than 100 million people around the world.

With the continued growth of casinos around the U.S., the explosion of online gaming and poker’s global popularity Stinchcomb said the network’s timing is perfect.

“It’s become more mainstream than it’s been in the past,” he said.

Poker Central, which will launch as a linear channel and a Web-based service simultaneously, will offer 2,000 hours of programming split into five categories: tournament programming; instructional programming, news and highlights; entertainment, including biographies, documentaries and poker-themed films targeted to men 18-34, according to Stinchcomb, the network’s CEO.

But neither the linear channel nor the website will offer any poker gaming or betting content, adding the service is “purely for entertainment.”

While a number of sports networks carry poker programming, including ESPN (World Series of Poker) and Fox Sports Net (World Poker Tour), Stichcomb said no outlet provides poker coverage around the clock.

“If you look at those networks, poker is less than 2% of the content they offer,” Stinchcomb said. “Actually having World Series of Poker on ESPN is good for the category, but there’s plenty of space for a 24-hour network on poker.”

Stinchcomb said Poker Central is talking to distributors about basic carriage and not sports-tier distribution. He expects the network to be in front of 50 million global households within six months of launch.

“There’s a reset going on in the traditional MVPD business, and if you can provide distributors with a proposition that checks several boxes with a broad scope of [distribution] rights, then I think we can provide value to distributors,” he said. “People still consume linear, so for the OTT providers we can offer our linear service.”

The network has already lined up several key advertisers, he added, although he would not reveal specific figures.

Katz Television Media Group vice president and director of content strategy Bill Carroll said a poker-themed channel with a well-defined brand targeting young male viewers has an opportunity to break through the clutter.

“Poker shows have continued to be an integral part of many of the sports cable networks,” Carroll said. “I have to believe that since they haven’t disappeared that they indeed have an audience. Whether that audience can be extrapolated to a 24-hour channel remains to be seen.”

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.