TelevisionWeek's new blog by World Poker Tour boss Steven Lipscomb marks this publication's second blog by a member of the television industry. As the founder of WPT, Steve often is credited with starting the televised poker boom. He's also known to say a controversial thing or two.

Just as Rich Goldfarb, senior VP of sales for National Geographic Channel, offered candid insight into the upfront advertising selling period, Steve plans to pull no punches in discussing the people, practices and pitfalls of the television business.

And remember: TVWeek.com encourages you to respond to what you read here. So feel free to post comments on Steve's blog.


World Poker Tour

History, Baby . . . History!

March 6, 2008 7:33 PM

Wow, what a week on the World Poker Tour:

Last week at the Commerce Casino, Phil Ivey made it to an historic eighth final table (more than anyone – ever) and proceeded to win the title (and the $1.4 million that went with it). Phil is often referred to as the best poker player in the world – and he probably is. A remarkable stat surrounding his final table run is that Phil has never cashed in a WPT event in which he did not proceed on to the final table.

That’s incredible – freaky even.

Then, you talk to the old guys who remember (five short years ago) when there was only one million dollar first prize event a year. They know that no one has ever come close to a million dollar repeat at that event. And, it’s like that for a reason . . . it’s hard to get there . . . and even harder to seal the deal once final table play begins. To make it there eight times is a clear indication of how talented this guy is.

But I think the most impressive moment of the season for Phil Ivey will be what people see in the first WPT episode that airs on GSN Monday March 24th at 9:00 p.m. I don’t want to ruin it, but it shows why Phil is such an amazing player . . . and why we feel honored to have him as a WPT Champion.

Then, just two days later (again at the gigantic Commerce Casino in LA) at the WPT Celebrity Invitational, Van Nguyen became the first woman in history to win a World Poker Tour event. Her husband, superstar player Men “The Master” Nguyen, discovered that it’s harder to sweat a player than it is to play yourself – by far. Several times we thought he might keel over as Van’s chip stack vacillated on the way to the final table.

Even with the numbers skewed so heavily in favor of male participants, six years is a long wait for one of the great women players to get over the hump and break the curse. So, now we expect to see the women out there in the winners circle to continue to grow.

And, I have to give a shout out to all the celebrities, players and VIPs who attended the Invitational. It’s such a great party. We wait for it every year . . . and there’s just something special about it.

We’ve already begun planning next year’s extravaganza. Not sure it can get much better, but we’re going to try for sure . . .

REMEMBER: WPT Season Six begins airing Monday, MARCH 24TH at 9:00 p.m. on GSN – go to WPTonGSN to find how to get it in your area.

Stars, Superstars and Poker

March 3, 2008 10:35 AM

My mother raised me to be an egalitarian – with the sense that no one is better than you are and you are not “above” anyone.

Unfortunately, that perspective is entirely counter to the celebrity society we now live in. When we started the World Poker Tour there basically were no poker celebrities. A few people had heard of Amarillo Slim because he had been on the Tonight Show as an oddity guest a few times. And, thanks to the new movie, Rounders, some people had heard of Johnny Chan (in the same way that movie goers came to know larger than life fictional gun slingers).

But, today the world has changed. At the WPT final table Thursday were three of the greatest players in the game – two of them named Phil. And, those two Phil guys are as big as poker celebrities may ever get. Phil Ivey is, by reputation, perhaps the best player in the game. He carries himself like an NBA all-star, travels with a posse and elicits the same envy from guys and sighs from women that any sports superstar would in a crowd. The other Phil, Phil Hellmuth, may be the savviest guy in the game. He has literally built himself into one of the biggest brands in poker.

And, while all this is happening around the sport of poker, I have been clinging to a belief that all players are created equal. And, the reality is . . . whether I like it or not . . . they are not – certainly not in the public’s eyes . . . or their own.

Phil Hellmuth wanted to wear a hat with his initials on it at the final table. We have struggled to be egalitarian and strict with our logo policy (even keeping people from wearing World Poker Tour logos in places other than the left breast pocket dictated by the rules). But, this guy is the Poker Brat. He asked for special consideration . . . and, though I said “no” to him in our telephone conversation . . . I called back a few minutes later and changed my mind.

A few months before, I allowed poker great Dan Harrington to wear his lucky Green Boston Celtics hat at the final table. Not because it was a player’s lucky hat, but because it was Dan Harrington’s lucky hat – that had become part of his poker persona. To require him not to wear it (or to tape up the logo as we had done in another episode) seemed silly. I am well aware that more calls will come to me from our WPT event surrounding logos at tables, but that is the world we live in.

And, my answer will likely be: when you become a Dan Harrington or when you become a Phil Hellmuth -- and you have established a non-commercial brand as a trademark of your poker persona, we’ll be happy to let you wear it on your hat . . . .

And, somehow that feels right. And, somehow that feels wrong . . .

But, it is what it is . . . .

Election in the Balance

February 22, 2008 8:25 AM

Dear Democratic super-delegates,

The burden you bear is great. And the decisions you make in Denver will reverberate for generations.

I have spent this election cycle encouraging people to care again. In the offices, boardrooms and the streets, I tell you, the cynicism runs deep.

The last two presidential elections should have made us all believe that every vote counts—that every vote is critical—and that we can make a difference. But regular folk, particularly the young ones, remember the 2000 presidential election. They watched nine justices take democracy in their own hands—and out of the people’s hands. And those young people were cynical long before the year 2000.

The result was a kind of nightmare for those of us who care about the future. The cynical voices multiplied and gained strength. It became cool to be apolitical and anti-democratic.

I can't tell you how many times in the last eight years I have had passionate debates with young people. Young people who were so proud of the fact that they did not vote. So proud of the stand they were taking against the system—not by standing up and protesting the system, but simply by refusing to participate in it. It all made so much sense to them.

But now, with this election, we have a chance. People are paying attention again. Young people are paying attention. They have started to believe that the audacity of hope is not a book title, but something more. We have a chance—you, the super-delegates, have a chance—to help people believe again.

Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign asked his supporters to write a letter to the super-delegates to explain why we are supporting his campaign for the presidency. I am writing with a very different message. I am a big fan of Sen. Obama and also believe Sen. Hillary Clinton has a lot to offer. Whatever happens, my message is simple: Support the popular vote. Whoever wins the most popular delegates, please, follow that vote.

If super-delegates are the deciding factor in this remarkable race that has united people, excited people and brought people back to the process, I firmly believe it will take decades to recover. And if the super-delegates ignore the popular vote or change the rules to add disqualified states into the process, the Democrats will lose the unlose-able election. And we will deserve it ... again.

Please stand up and be heard. Tell the world that you will support the people’s choice for the nomination—whoever that is. I beg you to make the statement even if you have already declared an allegiance. The reason is very simple: This matters. It is bigger than us. It is bigger than any candidate. It is bigger than any delegate. And we only get one shot.

Thank you for your time.

On Sen. Clinton's Tactics

February 3, 2008 7:57 AM

Steve Lipscomb's World Poker TourMy wife just read me Ms. Clinton's latest statement trying to link Barack Obama to George W. Bush. Clinton says voting for Obama is like voting for "W" because we won't know what he will do. . . I suppose we are supposed to insert dramatic music with a percussive sting at the end. I am shocked, amazed and profoundly disappointed.

Here's the irony:

While Michelle Obama is standing in Delaware declaring that we are done being ruled by threats and fear, Hillary stands up and adopts the nasty campaign tactics employed so effectively by Karl Rove -- to try and threaten us into submission. That is so wrong!

I've taken some time to dig into the background of this man, Barack Obama. He is the guy who spent his life doing the right thing when no one was watching. He is the guy who made a difference because he felt that giving back was what you do when you are fortunate. He is the guy who has managed to get people excited about a future in which we do not presume that lies, corruption, deception and cynicism are inevitable characteristics of our leaders. He is the guy who has a chance to bind this country together and start healing a world that has so many more similarities than differences.

History does this over and over again. It places us in these moments when we have a chance to stand together. . . and be something extraordinary. And, so often -- for all the wrong reasons -- the voices of fear and hate co-opt the conversation. . . because winning the game or winning the race or getting power becomes more important than doing the right thing. . . or being the right person. And, that is wrong.

Senator Clinton . . . you are better than that. You always have been and you always will be. As someone who has long been a big fan, I hope you will stop listening to the handlers and the strategists. Because even if they are right and this is your best next move. . . it's wrong. And, it likely feels that way . . . .

Election Perspective

September 19, 2007 12:16 PM

Steve Lipscomb's World Poker TourI attended a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at a swanky, high-powered Beverly Hills home last Friday. She’s impressive and passionate about what she wants to do for the country. I think she is going to surprise a lot of people as the election cycle progresses . . .

As the primary race comes into focus, a number of thoughts come to mind:

WHY DO WE LET THEM LIE AND CHEAT? Nothing really came of the Swift Boat scandal that improperly smeared the character of John Kerry in the last election cycle. I never was a huge Kerry fan (and wonder if he could have carried the day anyway). But this and plenty of other examples beg the question of whether we should hold speech during elections to a higher standard than other speech?

In the interest of fairness, if you (or someone you authorize) knowingly disseminates false information to undermine a political opponent, I say you should be unceremoniously removed from office – and have charges pressed against you. Just the specter of such a threat might slow down the kinds of things we have seen in the past.

Another possibility would be to self-regulate. There could be a panel of retired statesmen (and women) who review all potential television, radio and print advertising before it goes out (like the Motion Picture Association of America) and give the ad a grade for veracity – that must be disclosed at the top of each spot and in each print ad.

No candidate will want to put out a message labeled “L” for lies.

WHY CAN’T WE TOUCH THE MONEY PROBLEM? It seems like just about everyone agrees that money is a problem in our elections. The people who benefit from the status quo have developed a clever response to divert our attention. They compare the amount spent on a national election to other big-ticket items like movie budgets or toothpaste bought each year. Obviously that has nothing to do with the issue, or these same people would be advocating big budgets for public funding of elections – which would insure integrity and enough resources to guarantee fair elections.

The Brits simply don’t allow television advertising in elections – and the experience is entirely different. The candidates actually talk about the issues and know they will be judged based on those beliefs. The U.K. is certainly not immune from election issues, but the process is much more sophisticated without the TV. Campaigns driven by 30- or 60-second commercial spots cater to that medium – which encourages negative attacks, partial information, innuendo and outright deception. And, unfortunately, we see those tactics work time and time again, to the disillusionment of some great potential leaders that never made it into office.

WE’VE GIVEN UP ON A LOT OF VOTERS: The debates are happening on cable/satellite television. Isn’t that a problem? If you do not have the $50 to $100 a month to pay a cable or satellite provider, you are simply being left out of the process. True, many of those people do not participate because they are too busy trying to survive the day-to-day challenges of life, feed their families, etc. But I am troubled by whole segments of our society being cut off from our national political dialogues. In a time when there were three television networks, each election had various times that the only thing you could watch if you wanted to watch television was the debates. Why not extend that to all broadcasts in the country? Then, the burden would not fall only on the Big Four networks.

How about the last two debates of the primary and the last three of the general with a “must broadcast” mandate? All broadcasters (TV and radio) must simulcast the debate. With such a rule, we might start talking about candidates and issues at the water cooler again.

WHAT CAN I DO: The above are all big changes. The little things make a big difference in the long run as well. It is time to start asking people around you if they plan to vote – if they are registered to vote – what they think about the candidates and the issues. I suggest shame as a great source of inspiration to get people to the polls. A lot of people will vote if they know someone else is paying attention. I suggest we pay attention.

China and the Future of Capitalism

August 14, 2007 8:48 AM

I am just returning from a remarkable trip to China. The logline is simple: everything you have heard about China’s emergence has been greatly understated. In the future, we will ironically likely be learning many of our lessons about forward-looking capitalism from our friends on the other side of the globe.

Perhaps the biggest issues facing the future of capitalism involve protection and accountability in a global internet economy. The U.S. music business has been decimated by a lack of enforcement of copyright laws in the U.S. marketplace. Feeble arguments are made that the oppressive record companies had it coming to them. Any market economist would recognize that such an argument is utterly anti-capitalist (communist?) in nature.

If you want to foster healthy markets, a level playing field is critical. And that requires enforcement. If the bandits are not stopped, and in fact thrive, legitimate markets die.

Ironically, China represents one of the few places in the world that protects legitimate businesses from being preyed upon by online businesses that will not play by the rules.

They simply shut the sites down in China. And, it works.

The U.S. is too afraid of the implications to do the same. And, everything from telecom to poker will be threatened until we find a way to enforce our laws and regulations.

Free market advocates should agree with this proposition. Either we abandon things like copyright ownership entirely… or we enforce it. Today we have a system that rewards the cheaters and discourages ethical behavior. That simply cannot be the capitalist system we desire.

A side benefit of enforcement is innovation. Imagine if the NAPSTER guys had been forced to come up with an internet solution to take on the status quo—that did not steal content. Someone would have done it. And, it would have been a market enhancer rather than a market disrupter. Another side benefit might be that, when we become consistent, it makes it easier to get countries like China to help us enforce western intellectual property rights in their territories.

The Other Hollywood

July 22, 2007 1:22 PM

Just got back from Washington DC – the other Hollywood. Walking the halls of Congress, talking with the power brokers of our political process, I walk away surprisingly optimistic. I am discovering that the system may actually work a lot better than most of us think.

How many lazy non-voters have you heard tell you that they don’t participate because the process is so screwed up (or corrupt). But, I just don’t think that is the truth of the matter. The people we met, their staff and employees are working to make things better (here and abroad). We hear about the scandals, the hypocrisy and the vice, but we seldom hear about the successes. Or, more appropriately, we seldom spend time to contemplate the remarkable reality that it actually works most of the time. How historically unique is that. And, when power gets too concentrated ... pride always brings the fall (read: ABSCAM and Abramov).

Amazing, really ...

Surely You Mock Yourself . . .

July 19, 2007 8:50 AM

Okay, people crack me up. Really, they do.

I just attended the Television Critics Association gathering with GSN, the Network for Games. Though I am sure I would say nice things just to bolster the new relationship, I am honestly impressed with the vision and positioning of the network. It is nice to be around people who dare to program out of vision rather than fear . . .

But, that’s not what prompted the blog. The TCA turns out to be the perfect industry people-watching extravaganza. And the guys who crack me up are the ones who take themselves so seriously.

The game show guy who used to be the network exec guy who thinks that makes him a genius—but not many people buy that any more . . . and he just doesn’t understand what has happened to his world.

The journalist who has done this for way too long—and hasn’t really enjoyed it for the last hundred years . . .

Which, in my mind, is an important life lesson. I am of the opinion that no matter where we start, we eventually become some kind of cliché. And, if we were watching the movie of our lives, it would become a poignant (and perhaps even hysterical) mocumentary.

Politicians enter their world believing they are public servants—then they do a million stump speeches and start to believe their own press (or they simply have to raise too much money to remember what public they were supposed to serve).

Closer to home, TV and film producers start off with a dream. We want to make great content—to tell stories—to change the world in our own particular way . . .

Then, somewhere along the way, we decide to make the thing that we can sell. And, if we’re lucky enough to have a hit, we get addicted to the buzz that surrounds a hit and the people who created it. Then, we find ourselves doing a weird thing.

We start trying to create another hit. And, that’s a very different thing . . .

But, then again, as Al Burton would say . . .

“No matter what, kid, you’re in show biz. How bad can it be?!”

Art of the Deal III (Part 2)

March 9, 2007 1:26 PM

Okay, so I promised to discuss the intangibles that operate in every deal. I’ve spent some time talking about what I keep discovering as universals in the deal-making process, but my encounter with NBA Commissioner, David Stern, led me to focus on those things that we bring into every deal-making process whether we like it or not—specifically ourselves.

Have you ever met someone who is extremely successful—and marveled at how they could possibly have become that way. Their personality seems to get in their way. How could they have convinced anyone to work with them—to get anything done.

One likely possibility—they were born into it. Sad as it may be, the rich and powerful put their progeny in a position to advance despite themselves. Another likely possibility is that the successful person you are marveling at has a partner or certain other people in his/her employ that are the reason that business gets done.

Putting that aside, there are a plethora of intangible factors that affect every deal—and a failure to pay attention to those factors can endanger, damage, undermine or even destroy your position. Highly unlikely to identify all of them, I will focus on what I consider to be the most important factors:

Tone: Every deal has a tone—as does every room you enter. And something, or more appropriately someone, usually sets that tone. I think the biggest mistake you can make is to ignore the importance of creating a comfortable tone in which to negotiate. The most common mistake is to be (or appear to be) too eager. If you feel like you have to sell yourself throughout the deal making process, you will lose the deal. You need to be confident that you would not be here if all sides did not believe that there may be a deal to be had. You need to be comfortable assuming that the deal may not happen—and find a way to face that reality. You can’t make a good deal if you are unable to countenance walking away from the deal. And, no deal is worth making at any cost ….

The Players: Personalities are what deal making is all about. If it becomes evident at any time in the negotiations that someone on your team has personal issues with someone on the other side, get them out of the mix. If they are your attorney, fire them. If it is you, get out of the room and let your guys finish it without you. Another big mistake is to think that you can address it and fix it. Some people just do not like each other—we remind each other of other people we don’t like. You can’t fix that in a deal-making context. My suggestion is to sort it out by changing your team—then moving on.

Sense of Humor: Inevitably there will be times in every deal when it is time to walk. The hero is the person in the room that will find a humorous way to get you through those moments. “May not be able to get over this one, guys, but the rubber chicken lunches have been nice…so we’ve got that going for us….” I actually think it is tough to overestimate how a sense of humor sets the stage for doing business with someone. Look, we all know that deals happen or they don’t. If we believe the process will be less painful, we may be more likely to enter the room to give it a shot.

Listening: Every deal maker needs to be reminded how important it is to listen. That means more than nodding your head while someone else is speaking. Real listening entails a willingness to change your perspective based on what they are saying. You want to know what you expect out of a deal before you enter the room. But, equally important is a willingness to listen to how the needs and desires of the other side color your original perception of the necessary deal outcome.

There are many others, I’m sure. What have I left out?

The Art of the Deal III—Part I

February 20, 2007 12:56 PM

I just got fired by NBA Commissioner David Stern. Don’t work for him, so I suppose it’s not as bad as it sounds. …

But, in the process I gained insight into what has made David Stern one of the great success stories of our era—a highly developed sense of humor—and the intelligence to know how and when to use it.

That takes me back to the art of the deal. One element I have yet to spend time focusing on involves the ever-present intangibles in the room. And, the appropriate use of humor tops that list.

But, before we get there, I should explain how I got fired. …

I am in Las Vegas attending the NBA All-Star weekend—and thanks to the good graces of the Deputy Commissioner (a law school buddy of mine), I participated in a panel discussing sports and gambling—a particular intersection at which our company and the World Poker Tour franchise happen to reside.

Like many industries, the sports world has been impacted by the exciting, but disruptive force of the internet—in this case, online gaming/sports betting. My take was (and is) that the genie is already out of the bottle. Sports leagues that fail to recognize that and do not move into the space where it is sanctioned and legal do so at their own peril. This does not include the U.S. market (where the Justice Department has declared it illegal), but all sports franchises are beginning to realize that Thomas Friedman’s notice that the internet has flattened the world applies to them as well.

It’s like the board game, RISK. You want to get North America. It’s a great base. But, if you lose the rest of the world, you will lose the whole game. And, the next five to ten years are critical to determine who will prevail in the culture sharing wars that determine future global sports appetites.

But, that’s not why I got fired. …

In our discussion about the rules and regulations in the U.S. market, I committed what formal logicians would call the fallacy of equivocation. I mentioned that the new Unlawful Online Gaming Enforcement Act paved the way for intrastate regulation of online gaming. Which it does—for everything except sports betting outside three states (including Nevada). A follow-up question from the audience clarified that my comment was restricted to online casino games and poker.

And, for that I was fired. …in line at the buffet. And, it was done with such heart and good natured ribbing—that I am still laughing. But, the subtlety was not lost on me. Sir, Mr. Commissioner Stern was, in the way that only great mentors can, letting me know that, indeed, I should have been careful to make the distinction.

He let me know that I would not be allowed to be on any more panels today (though I was not scheduled to be on any more – and the last one was about to begin) . . .

So, for those of you who felt indignant that one might be fired for such a minor cause, fret not. At least the punishment fit the crime.

And, later (today or tomorrow), I will spend some time delving into the intangibles (like the magnetic personality and sense of humor of Commissioner David Stern), that make people want to work with you—and help drive a your business and every deal from stem to stern.