Travel bets more poker will bring in a full house

Skein's numbers often quadrupled primetime average

Travel Channel has decided to bet big on a winning hand, renewing its exclusive TV rights to the World Poker Tour for up to six more years at a license fee that could soar to $40 million.

The tour premiered March 30 on the net and ran in primetime for the next 12 weeks every Wednesday from 9-11 p.m. Its numbers frequently tripled or quadrupled Travel’s primetime average.

These Nielsen gains helped to propel the net to a 33% increase in overall ratings for total viewers in the second quarter compared to the same period in 2002. Its adults 18-34 and 25-54 numbers each shot up by 30% for the quarter. Travel is owned by Discovery Networks.

Steve Lipscomb, executive producer and founder of the World Poker Tour, said one reason for the success of the cablecast comes from painstaking post-production; none of the games are live. Even though the second season won’t get on the air for another nine months, a few of the games have already been taped in casinos and card rooms.

Cameras see all

The tour deploys 13 cameras to capture different angles, from long shots of the card room to clasps of the players’ hole cards. During the broadcasts poker experts comment on the progress of the game.

Aside from Travel Channel’s ratings, Lipscomb points to other signs that poker is becoming more popular: ESPN’s coverage of the annual “World Series of Poker,” as well as the recent bestselling book “Positively Fifth Street,” by Jim McManus, the novelist-essayist who signed up as a contestant and played so well that he wound up at the final table.

Not so positive an indication is the failure of the FX scripted series “Lucky,” with John Corbett as a professional card player, to find an audience; net canceled it after only 13 half-hours.

Rick Rodriguez, exec VP-general manager of Travel Channel, is so high on the World Poker Tour that he’s also struck a four-year deal for unlimited repeats of the first season’s episodes.

The World Poker Tour is a joint venture between Lipscomb and Lakes Entertainment. Executive producer for Travel is Joe Swift.