Televised poker shows have always been trying to get more viewers and Jason Somerville thinks he has the answer.
“It’s hard to make poker content fit in hour-long blocks that are meant for an older audience that doesn’t quite get it,” Somerville said.
“It’s not a good fit for television. Twitch and livestreaming on the internet is the platform that poker needs to live.”
Firstly, Somerville says that Twitch can give poker the time it needs
“[When you’re watching the WSOP] on TV, it is what it is,” Somerville said. “And they’re presenting to you a story that begins on Day 4.
“It’s like if I gave you a book and ripped half of it out and said, ‘Here you go.’”
“You can’t run 12 hours of poker on ESPN, it doesn’t work that way. You can run 12 hours of whatever you want on Twitch -- cat videos or $100K tournaments.”
Engaging the Viewer
But an abundance of content is just as valuable as none if nobody’s watching.
Twitch has more to offer than a never-ending canvas, Somerville says, it also provides a level of interactivity that television can never achieve.
“You are engaged as a viewer on Twitch,” Somerville said. “You’re not as engaged as a viewer on ESPN.
“On Twitch you’re invested emotionally in the broadcaster or the broadcast. I’ve been in the Bahamas for, I don’t know, six days now, and I’ve streamed (on his channel Twitch.tv/runitup) every single day.
“My fans know what I’ve been up to every single day this trip because they talk to me every single day. You know, so they’re invested and asking, ‘Are you playing the $25k tomorrow? You doing this? You doing that?’”
For those who aren’t familiar with the site Twitch.tv is a live-streaming video site that focuses on video games.
It started as a spin-off site of a larger streaming site but it became an entity of its own after its popularity exploded amongst viewers.
Twitch offers a wide array of niche video game content. Viewers can swap from live coverage of the European championship of Super Smash Bros. Melee to watching someone multi-table online poker on his or her couch.
Viewers can also talk to the broadcaster or amongst themselves in the channels’ chat box.
Last February, Twitch became the fourth-largest site for internet traffic after Netflix, Google and Apple. Then Amazon bought it in September for $970 million.
That’s about the time that Somerville noticed Twitch’s potential in poker.
Somerville started streaming in October and managed to acquire three million unique views in around three months.
His channel was averaging about 300,000 views per week and the average viewer was watching for 45 minutes.
“It’s very hard to get someone to watch a video for even four minutes,” Somerville said.
“But because of the engagement on Twitch, where you can literally type and talk to me, and we can engage and chat with you, people get invested.
“They wanna hang out every single day, they want to have fun and engage.”
Since Somerville is a pioneer in Twitch poker, lots of what he’s learned has come solely through trial and error.
One obvious problem in the beginning was what Somerville calls stream-sniping, where his opponents would jump on his channel to see his hole cards.
Somerville found that a four-minute delay was enough time to avoid stream sniping while still keeping the broadcast ‘live’ enough for viewers.
Another solution Somerville tried was covering the cards and then revealing his cards at the end of each hand.
“It creates kind of a fun, I know what I have, the viewers don’t know what I have dynamic,” Somerville said.
“And the players at the table are often watching, so it’s almost like I’m playing live poker with my cards face down.
“We really haven’t seen poker on Twitch live long enough to say, oh yeah, that’s how it’s done.”
But Somerville has an idea.
“The key for everything in poker, is fun,” Somerville said. “I feel like that’s been a bad word in poker for too long.
“[My viewers] wanna see good poker, but they wanna have fun and enjoy while they’re doing it. They’re not looking to be the best in the world, they just wanna embrace the game.
“I feel like very often we’ve shunned those people and been like, no, let’s talk about the 4-bet percentages of this player here and whatever.
“That’s not fun, that’s not what people want to hear about.They want to hear the stories and get called a nit bitch if they fold their big blind too much.”
A Community of Viewers
On top of the fun, Somerville has noticed that his viewers have become a sort of community.
Not only do they share a love of poker and watch the same show together, they chat and interact with each other the whole time.
“Poker hasn’t had a community like that, where you can watch, learn, play, have fun, engage consistently, ever, ever,” Somerville said.
“You’ve had pieces of it. You know, some forums and things like that, but you’ve never had compelling content to draw in the masses.
"You’ve never had interesting video content embedded into the site that lived and breathed on the site.
“The community that we’ve built on Twitch over the past few months is the most vibrant poker community, I believe, on the internet.”
Somerville also has consistently gives away 10 percent of his action, has a low buy-in show on Monday where he plays $0.05/$0.10 cash games and answers his viewers’ basic poker questions.
After that, he hosts a PokerStars home game where viewers can test out what they learned for a shot at a free t-shirt.
Those tournaments now get up to 1,200 players.
Out with the Old, in with the New
It’s this interaction, and not just live streaming, that makes Twitch successful.
“To me, there’s nothing more awesome than the WSOP,” Somerville said. “But we don’t really explain that story to a mainstream audience.
"I’ve heard WSOP executives say, 'what’s the point of a live stream, it only works for the hardcores, only hardcores care about livestreams.'
“Well, that’s what happens when you run it like a CardRunners video. You can’t put in the ingredients for a recipe and then get mad when you make the recipe.
“I feel like these lessons will either be forced down these people’s throats or they’ll just get passed by the wayside as other people who do embrace those lessons start to learn.”
Somerville is learning quickly but has yet to draw a significant paycheck from the site.
“I haven’t made any at all on Twitch so far,” Somerville said.
But the potential is there.
“The best streamers a year make a million dollars or more,” Somerville said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the majority of poker content be streamed through Twitch or living on Twitch to some degree by the end of the year.”
Catch Somerville playing on his stream at Twitch.tv and follow his popular RunItUp series for free live poker training.