SVG Sit-Down: World Poker Tour CEO Adam Pliska on World Championship in Vegas and the Evolution of Live Poker Coverage
The action will be live-streamed 12 hours a day for two weeks
This month’s World Poker Tour (WPT) World Championship at the Wynn Las Vegas will provide a marathon of live-streaming content for poker fans across the globe. On Dec. 7, WPT and its streaming-production partner ShareHand will kick off 14 days of live coverage from Vegas with each day running as long as 12 hours.
Live-streamed content will appear on both the World Poker Tour YouTube and Twitch channels, in addition to plenty of live and postproduced content on WPT’s growing list of linear, smart-TV, and streaming partners. WPT developed a comprehensive live-stream schedule to bring global viewers as much unique content as possible during the entire WPT World Championship festival. Coverage will include no shortage of cash-game and final-table streams, including the crowning of the ultimate winner of the $40 million guaranteed World Championship.
SVG sat down with World Poker Tour CEO Adam Pliska to discuss how this firehose of live-streaming content is being produced at the Wynn, the evolution of the WPT since its founding in 2002, how the consumption of live poker has changed over the years, and his key goals over the coming weeks in Vegas.
How has WPT evolved since its founding in 2002?
If you go back to when World Poker Tour started 20 years ago, it was an anomaly to get poker on TV at all. [WPT founder] Steve Lipscomb went knocking on the door of many networks, insisting that it would work in primetime, but almost everyone said no — partly because they didn’t think the ratings were there and partly because it was almost scandalous to see poker on TV back then. When Travel Channel took the bet and was willing to put two hours on-air, that was a huge shift.
Very quickly, it captured the imagination of the sports world, and it blew up massively. Online sites who put their name around the World Poker Tour saw their audience grow tenfold, and suddenly Travel Channel saw its advertising revenue skyrocket.
However, whenever anything is successful, the industry is going to copy that model, so [the market] got flooded for a while. At one point, we had something like 20 competitors online or on network television. There was a lot of dilution there, and not everybody was dedicated to the same level of production quality that we were. But we continued to create quality poker, and, as a result, we survived while a lot of others did not. Eventually, poker evolved from a phenomenon to an actual sport that had its own fanbase, culture, and following.
And how have you seen poker shift from a linear-TV model to more streaming consumption in recent years?
Before COVID, linear television was our main consumption model. We went from Travel Channel to Fox Sports Net, which eventually became Bally Sports, which was very fitting for poker. When COVID happened, the entire industry saw this massive break with people cutting the cord and going online. We embraced that, and now World Poker Tour is on 91 [platforms], and the online networks are growing at a rapid pace to the point where they are now larger than our linear distribution. [The WPT World Championship] is a great example of how streaming gives us the flexibility and distribution to bring content to more fans than ever before.
How has the way that poker is covered and produced changed over the years?
Poker [programming] has evolved a lot. Twenty years ago, everyone was focused on high-stakes games, where people were playing for massive amounts of money. You can certainly still see that high-stakes excitement, but, in addition to that, we are providing constant real-time coverage on YouTube and Twitch. Streaming is terrific because, whether you’re a professional or an amateur player, you want all the data available to you. You don’t want to get just the highlights; you don’t want just an hour-long show that has been cut down. You want everything. And we’ve seen that based on the audience growth [for streaming].
What are some key highlights that poker fans should keep an eye out for over the next couple of weeks?
You’re going to see some of the most exciting poker in the world at every level. You’ll see some of the biggest stars in the game, but you’ll also see unknowns since [a player’s success] early on can help propel them into playing in the big event later [in the tournament].
In terms of streaming, we will have a large offering from all of the major events: the World Championship, Prime Championship, Ladies Championship, and our Big One for One Drop [$1 million buy-in tournament] — plus plenty of high-stakes cash games and some special celebrity events.
But, obviously, as we head towards the last few days [of the event], the WPT World Championship [Dec. 16-21] is going to dominate our coverage. With $40 million guaranteed, we will have live streaming from Day 2 all the way through Day 6, culminating in the televised finale on Dec. 21, when a champion will be crowned.
Can you provide details on WPT’s presence onsite at the Wynn, and how the live-streaming coverage will be produced?
We’ve grown quite a lot over the years, so our television production and distribution are now overseen in-house. In terms of the live-streaming [production], we partner with a group called ShareHand, who has done a phenomenal job providing professional, beautiful coverage. They work with us throughout the year and do a great job.
Our production team will be working around the clock to create this. We’re going to have a new set to unveil, showing an evolution in the look of the World Poker Tour. And you’re going to see our hosts with a variety of big names and poker ambassadors at the desk. We’ve got a lot going on.
Beyond the live stream, how can fans keep up with all the action going on at the Wynn?
All of our big events will be live-streamed, and then we’ll also have lots of highlights, live updates, and reporting from our internal team throughout the 23 days. You’re going to have a lot of poker information available to you. Plus, we have 50 news outlets coming to cover it, which is the most WPT has ever had, and we’re delighted to get so much coverage.
In terms of updates, the safe bet is always to go to WPT.com, where you’re going to get the most up-to-date news and information at all times. You’re also going to be able to find the streaming schedules and live updates of what’s going on across the entire event.
[It’s true that] there are many, many events going on, but every event is a substantial event. We will curate all the content that is important to you on WPT.com, whether it’s news, highlights, or recaps. It will be a fun month for anyone who loves poker.
How are you looking to build up the festival this year, and how will you define “success” when the event closes out on Dec. 23?
Last year was special because it was the 20th anniversary [of WPT], but our real goal is to turn that into a long-term franchise. Last year in Year 1 of that franchise, we focused internally on creating an event that truly resonated with both players and fans. Thankfully, we ended up winning Tournament of the Year, and the players had a great reaction. Now, in Year 2, this is when we get to prove that this was not a fluke, that we weren’t just putting on a one-off event, and that we are serious about growing this franchise so it keeps getting better every single year. If players come back and say it was even better than last year, we know we’ve done our job.