Brian Roberts: “Big Networks Aren’t Interested in Gambling Shows”

There was a time when poker fans were flooded with poker-related television programs.

Not only were there hundreds of hours of programming of WPTs and the WSOP, there were multiple high stakes cash game shows and reality or game-show style poker programs.

That’s not the case anymore. Even the biggest brand in poker, the WSOP, shows less of their tournaments.

It’s hard to pin point whether the poker industry is to blame, or there are just a confluence of outside reasons keeping poker off our screens.

Huge Potential for Great Poker Show

One poker player who knows what it’s like to be involved in a poker TV show is Brian Roberts. He was involved in 2 Months 2 Million which debuted back in 2009. We caught up with Roberts at the WSOP APAC and had a little chat about the current state of poker television programing and how it might look in the future.

Brian Roberts You might have seen that Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari’s poker show didn’t get picked up by Discovery. From your experiences, do you have any insight as to why that may have happened?

Brian Roberts: I don’t know a lot about Phil and Antonio’s show, but TV industry people would have a reason. All I know is, the poker industry has cooled down a lot.

When our show was shot as a pilot, we had filmed a short having no intention of making a series. But because poker was such a huge deal at the time, it just seemed incredibly easy to shop around a poker show.

Like I said, I don’t know a lot about Phil and Antonio’s show but if WSOP and WPT ratings are bad enough to cut some broadcastings, it just goes to show how tough the market is.

Antonio Esfandiari
Antonio Esfandiari's show is called 'Underground Poker'

PL: If poker celebrities like Phil and Antonio maybe aren’t able to sell a show in 2014, do you think something like 2 Months 2 Million would struggle now as well?

They are extremely well known to poker players and poker fans, but I don’t know if they are the type of celebrity who are going to be known outside of poker, but maybe I’m wrong about that.

I just don’t think that you do need a poker celebrity anyway to market it. The key demographic -- that male demographic -- they like the poker aspect most, so I’m not really sure they care who it is too much. I don’t think.

I honestly do think 2M2MM could get off the ground. The problem is, as cheap as reality TV is, our show wasn’t overly cheap. I think it definitely cost a lot more to make then some of the other reality shows out there,

So, who knows? With networks it just depends what the numbers look like.

PL: Do you think those financial reasons are the primary factor we don’t see as many poker shows at the moment?

I really think only the small networks are interested in shows about gambling. Bigger companies are worried about their image and they just tend to really play it super safe. Even if it’s like poker, which isn’t that controversial.

But it’s controversial enough that it’s never going to be a Disney-owned show. If you are talking about a really small network who don’t care about that stuff, then whatever the show is, it just needs to be really cheap.

Brian Roberts

PL: Do you think, if a network is daring enough to get behind it, there is still room for a poker show to become popular and really help poker grow?

Absolutely. I mean, I still hear so many people that enjoyed our show, the production side of things was just a complete disaster compared to what it should have been.

So I do think there is huge potential for a really great show, a much better show than there has been.

Antonio and Phil have been on TV a lot over the last few years so probably know plenty of that side of the business. And there have just been tonne of people have been involved in marketing poker to the television since we did our show.

It could work.

PL: Is the answer to have like a Bet Raise Fold model of selling the show online, or maybe go down the streaming services path?

Yeah of course. Just look around at the people who are doing stuff now and what they are doing for really cheap and instantly marketing it.

But with the TV stuff, even if you do really cool shit for cheap, it’s the marketing that cost tons. Even our TV show which was on very small network had a really healthy seven-digit marketing budget.

These shows can sometimes even have eight-digit marketing budgets.

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