New Poker Series Up WPT’s Sleeve

Aug 30, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The forces behind the hit “World Poker Tour” are now developing the “Professional Poker Tour,” industry sources said.

WPT Enterprises, which is in production on a third season of “World Poker Tour” for Discovery Networks’ Travel Channel, is looking to debut its new series sometime in 2005. It is in discussions with Travel Channel about the new project.

Steven Lipscomb, founder of WPT and executive producer of “World Poker Tour,” is expected to have a similar role on the new series, which is likely to also follow “WPT’s” weekly two-hour format. Mr. Lipscomb declined to comment, as WPT Enterprises is in a quiet period following its Aug. 10 initial public offering (NASDAQ: WPTE), and a spokesperson for Travel Channel could not be reached for comment.

While “WPT” events have been open tournaments, participation in the new tour will be limited to professional players, who will be required to make it through a selection and qualification process based at least in part on past tournament performances.

Poker has turned out to be a surprise winner during the last couple of years. “World Poker Tour” drew an almost instant winning ratings hand when it debuted March 30, 2003 on Travel Channel. Ratings for the first three prime-time episodes about doubled Travel Channel’s average in households and key demos, according to Nielsen Media Research (TelevisionWeek, April 14, 2003). The deal Travel Channel struck to renew “WPT” after its first season was worth some $40 million over six years (TVWeek, Jan. 12).

The show’s ratings continued to grow in repeats and in season two, which wrapped June 30. A repeat in August of the second season episode featuring the Jack Binion World Poker Open in Mississippi set a Travel Channel record by scoring a 1.5 rating in Travel Channel’s universe, according to WPTE research. That’s the highest rating recorded for any show in the cable network’s history.

Season three will consist of 16 poker tournaments filmed in casinos and cards rooms around the world. “World Poker Tour” airs on the Travel Channel from 9-11 p.m. Wednesdays.

An estimated 50 million people in the United States play poker, and other television networks also have cashed in on the craze. ESPN, for example, said last week it will debut its second scripted dramatic series, “Tilt,” set at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, in January. “Tilt” will premiere Jan. 13. In addition to the new programming, ESPN is more than tripling its coverage of the “World Series of Poker.”

Among other nets, Bravo’s series “Celebrity Poker Showdown” concluded its third tournament in August by tallying the show’s strongest ratings ever in its current Thursday time period and highest numbers in any time slot since the conclusion of the first tournament on Tuesday, Jan. 13, according to Bravo.

Passport Entertainment has cleared the first nationally syndicated poker effort, “The Ultimate Poker Challenge,” in 80 percent of the country, the distributor announced recently.

In other WPTE news, the company announced Friday that it has signed several new license agreements as part of its comprehensive brand-licensing program. HarperCollins Publishers will market WPT poker strategy books; Dorel Industries will launch wood- and metal-framed WPT poker tables for home use; MFORMA will offer interactive WPT entertainment for mobile phones, including games, messaging, ring tones, images, icons, mobile greeting cards and other lifestyle applications; Radica Games Limited will develop and market a WPT-inspired hand-held, Texas Hold ‘Em game; Bioworld Merchandising will manufacture and distribute a broad line of WPT hats and leather wallets in specialty stores, mid-tier department stores and mass merchants; and Briefly Stated will market a line of WPT-themed boxers and loungewear across a variety of distribution channels.