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Two Way TV

TV Entertainment Betting – Big Wins and Known Brands

2007 is just around the corner, and the new UK Gambling Act will see major opportunities for onshore gaming operators to hit the UK’s small screens.

     

Rather than wait for next year’s stampede, Two Way TV has already began its assault on the market.  In less than a year, Two Way’s betting brand, “The Winner Channel” has gone from a little known games service on cable TV to a cross platform gaming brand, with ambitions of offering a smorgasbord of big brand TV products, based on known and trustworthy formats.
      Two Way TV first launched a ‘red button’ games service on NTL and Telewest in mid 2005.  This was supplemented by a range of affiliate deals with major broadcast channels, including Channel 4 and Flextech Television (Owner of the largest cable and satellite channels in the UK).  This enabled those channels’ viewers to start playing Winner games with just a few button clicks on their remote controls. The company has now launched a set of mobile products and an internet site, and has just announced the first of a number of major affiliate deals focused solely on mobile and internet.  The first deal, with mobile games company, Mad4Games, will soon be complemented by distribution deals with portals, national newspapers and other TV broadcasters.

      Once all of it’s distribution platforms and major affiliate deals are in place, Two Way TV, promises to start rolling out a range of ‘big brand’ TV products across all platforms –TV, mobile and internet.  It’s still early days for Two Way TV’s betting business, but within the first few months of the red button service, more than thirty thousand people had tried the service and the Channel boasted several thousand active players.  Despite it’s expansion into other media, television is where Two Way TV intends to remain focused.
      Two way TV believes that TV betting is set to evolve dramatically over the next 18 months with the new UK legislation allowing a broad range of betting and gaming products to be distributed on TV by onshore operators.  Two Way TV believes that today’s crop of “dummy quizzes” so favored by broadcasters for their premium telephony revenues, will gradually be replaced by big budget mainstream entertainment betting on TV.

     

How many times a day do you get prodded by a TV presenter to pick up the phone and answer trite questions like “What’s the capital of France?  Is it (a) Berlin, (b) a Hamburger (c) Paris … call this very expensive number to give your answer!” Well, tens, sometime hundreds of thousands of viewers respond to these competitions every day.  With legislative changes Two Way TV argues that this market is ripe for good quality, well produced betting and gaming products designed for a TV audience – not just the same old gaming products ported from another platform.
      In this emerging market, Two Way TV is a well placed to take advantage of this opportunity, with experience in TV production and interactive technology combined with their new found skills in operating a betting service.  Two Way TV is starting to pair its betting experience with trusted TV brands to a betting audience, but –uniquely – to bring fun entertainment betting and gaming; products to the TV using major TV brands as leverage.  This year will see the company launching  a number of ‘betting shows’  on television, where viewers can take part in a range of bets on events that unfold on screen , placing bets through the ‘ red button’ or through touch tone telephones (IVR).


      Two Way sees its expanding range of TV products as a spring board and a relatively cheap way of acquiring new customers, who can then be encouraged to play across a range of media.  Guy Templer, the commercial director at Two Way TV, explained: “The Winner Channel has no intentions of battling against the market leaders online, but focusing on TV and on entertainment betting gives us a powerful set of marketing tools the most other players don’t have access to.  The power of TV is often underestimated – The Winner Channel, for example, built up an active player base of several thousand in its first couple of months with acquisition costs well below £ 5 per player.  Using TV as the means of delivery also gives us access to an audience which hasn’t necessarily been served well by the traditional gaming industry”.
      By expanding its offering onto mobile and the internet as well as TV.  Two Way TV intends to try to engage its TV customers on every other platforms as well – all supported through a single account and cross media CRM platform.
      Templer added, “Our TV customers who know our brands and understand the mechanics of our over brands and understand the mechanics of our simple instant win formats are happy to try  other versions of our games, provided there are no extra costs, no additional registration procedures and as long as there is ongoing support helping them to get started as they go from the comfort of their remote control into the more daunting world of keyboard and keypads.”

      Cross platforms migration is a fickle business.  Any company who thinks they can  treat their customers on separate platforms as a single entity may find that they have missed the boat on each and every platform.  Templer recognizes this, “Like anyone running cross platform products, we need to be fully aware that the profile and playing habits of the players on separate platforms – we need to be fully aware that the profile and playing habits of players on separate platforms- we need to tailor the type of products and the underlying incentives to each platform.  TV is inherently a sit-back and entertain-me medium, so our TV products must be watchable in their own right; mobile is inherently a quick fix product, so it must be easy to get into and place bets.  The same player might spend an hour and half playing roulette on interactive TV, but only 15 minutes on his mobile on the way to work in the morning – tailoring to the platform is key.”
      For established casinos and bookies turning bricks and mortar into an online brand and migrating cross multiple platforms has not been without  its problems – the leap from online into TV will be even harder.  The Winner Channel has utilized its technology partner Zone4Play and created a business with the single account at its core from the outset.
      But in front of the software, any company needs good consumer product.  The UK gambling market is already overflowing with copy cat brands all providing similar products with the same promotions.  For Two Way TV it is about brand leverage, according to Templer: “Bringing known TV brands into the equation will help us stand out in what can otherwise be a faceless world.  We are starting to push the boundaries with distinctive made-for-TV betting formats.  This spring will see us launches fixed odds game shows on a number of broadcast channels.  Later in the year we’£ be adding a number of branded live studio formats either hosted by well-known faces, or based on existing TV game show properties.”
      With TV betting evolving rapidly in anticipation of the legislative changes, the battle lines are being drawn in this competitive market.  Brand awareness in the fixed odds world will translate into long term strongholds when gaming formats are legalized.  The first movers and smart thinkers will be prepared well in advance of industry changes.  TV gaming is coming out of the shadows and into the living room.  It’s time to switch on and place your bets.

AUTHOR PROFILE: RICHARD SAGMAN , Fixed Odds Manager Two Way TV
Richard Sagman joined Two Way TV in 2005 to head up “The Winner Channel” the UK’s only fixed odds games service on cable TV. He was brought in to develop the service with the TV world and across multiple platforms.  Formerly at Betting Corp UK, Richard has seven years experience of customer relations and gaming product development in interactive TV and the web.

Why Did Everybody Play?

The mystery that is poker

The Poker phenomenon came as a surprise to everybody in the gaming industry, both online and terrestrial.  It just seemed to happen without much forward planning, and left many operators scrambling to get a poker product out there to appease a hungry tide of new players.  At the recent International Gaming Conference and Expo held in Costa Rica, I was asked to talk about what the next “poker” might be.  The question started me thinking about the qualities of poker as a game, and about the events that created an environment where poker could flourish.  Unfortunately, I was unable to give a definitive answer as to what the next poker would be, but I was able to identify factors that “the next big thing” would need to possess if it were to emulate the success of poker.

Environment

The Moneymaker Effect.  When Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP in 2003, the world actually began to believe that anyone could be a professional poker player, thus making millions of dollars, gaining instant fame and popularity, thus gaining the freedom to tell their boss to take his job and shove it.  but even better than that, the media also knew that Moneymaker would appeal to the general public, and they hyped Moneymaker – and poker – as a national hero and national pastime.
      Need New Programming.  They say that timing is everything, and for any product to reach cult status (think hula hoop and Rubix Cube) the environment must be ripe for it.  For poker television’s lack of novel ideas in Reality TV and game shows created a key environmental factor.  Essentially, there was a void on television that poker could fill.  The world had grown tired of watching everyday people sitting in a house with nothing to do but argue.  Additionally, the popular game show format, where people could win  tons of money, was on a slope, with audiences waiting for the next “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”.  So, the American public was hungry for two things 1) real people, reacting to real situations and 2)  everyday people winning millions of dollars in a game simple enough to allow audiences to believe that the person in seat 3 could be them.  While the Millions on the Travel Channel kicked off poker on American television, the March 2003 arrival of the WPT took it past the tipping point.

      Heros.  Once televised poker became popular viewing, the most successful of its players became instant celebrities.  But not only were television poker players making fortunes, their personalities revealed to the nation.  That allowed the audience to relate to individual players.  As in any sport, where the audience becomes a fan of a particular player, heroes are born.  This makes watching poker even more exciting, as the audience is emotionally invested in certain players.  It also creates an aspirational  angle to the game, where viewers wish to emulate the lifestyles of the players they idolize.
      The 2004-2005 NHL Strike.  ESPN can also take some of the credit for the rise in poker’s popularity.  The 2004-2005 NHL strike meant that there was a season of empty NHL slots to fill on ESPN.  Poker did the job, and poker moved from a game show to a sport, entertaining the devotees of America’s number one sports network.

Easy

Another factor that made poker so popular was the fact that Texas Hold’em was easy for the general population to learn.  Not only did the game follow the poker conventions of hand ranks that most people learn as a child, but it was a game very simplistic in its rules base that it could be learned at its simplest level by watching others play it on television.  So all these people watching Texas Hold’em on TV, were actually being taught how to play.
      Easy also means that you can Playwin Poker at home, with friends, without having to invest much capital in accessories (cards and chips are all you need) and without having to have many people to start a game.  Additionally, anyone, of any physical build, can compete in this sport.  That meant that almost anyone in America was able to sit down and play, and sometimes even win, a friendly game of poker.

Online

While it’s easy to strike up a poker game at home, at the country club, in a dormitory, or almost anywhere, the Internet is truly the perfect medium for poker.  Why?  Because the internet is the greatest gatherer of people the world has ever known, so when you have a game that requires liquidity, the internet is the perfect place to put it. 
      By 2003 anyone with an interest in the net was wired, and they either had fast broad loading poker software was no problem, and with solid connections.  This meant that downloading poker software was no problem, and with solid connections, neither were the disconnections that made multi-player games a problem when the world relied on dial-up.


      Computer literacy was at a high in 2003, meaning that the net community was comfortable with downloading and installing software, and comfortable with e-commerce.  2003 was also a time when every college student had a solid Internet connection from their dorm rooms, and online poker spread across campuses like wildfire, quickly becoming the thing to do on study breaks.

Game Qualities

So access to was not a problem, and neither was education.  Essentially, the ground was fertile for poker to take root.  But it is some of the fundamental qualities of gambling and of poker that made this product take seed in the fertile environment.
      Closing your own price point is one of the fundamental aspects of gambling.  It’s completely free market model, where you can bet as little or as much as you wish.  In poker-speak, this meant that people could learn the game very inexpensively (even playing free rolls) yet they could continue to play the game at higher stakes, and thus at higher levels of competition, for their entire life.  This is something that separates poker from most other types of gambling, and could explain the long expected player lifetime of a poker player.  In other types of gambling, and could explain the long expected player lifetime of a poker player.  In other types of gaming (casino, sports, etc.)  higher stakes means more excitement for the player, but no more challenge.  In poker, stakes directly correlate to the level of competition.  That is why poker is considered one of those “hours to learn, lifetime to master” endeavors that makes the game a sport.  Its also one of the qualities that allows the game to be on television – you watch the best players because they have an artistry and mastery in their game that is somehow beautiful to watch.


      Tournament play was one of the early differentiators between poker sites. Sites that had multi-table tournaments grew at a faster rate than sites that didn’t.  Multi-table tournaments were, and remain, popular to both beginner players and experts.  Beginners like the fact that there is a high prize/stake ratio, meaning that for a small entry  fee, you could really win big.  Better players also like the big prizes afforded by multi-table tournaments because they know that they are mathematically advantaged to win due to their higher levels of skill.
      Anyone can win in poker.  And this is not a statement to take lightly.  Because there are elements of luck in poker, the best player doesn’t always win the game.  In fact, if the best player always did win, no new players would enter the game.  Players need to say I WON! (Alex Czajkowski pointed this out in his speech in Costa Rica) just often enough to keep them interested in the game.  We can see this in so many aspects of gaming.  Slot operators will know that a 99.5% payout game makes them more money than a 75% payout game, because its frequent payouts keep the player playing longer.  If everyone lost their first 100 times playing poker, the poker boom would never have happened.  It’s that  affirmation that 1) You can win and 2) you’re improving, that  helped poker reach its lofty heights.
      On an even deeper psychological level, poker allows for several win during the normal course of play.  even if you lose all your money, you will inevitably win some pots during the course of play.  Each of these small victories release the endorphins that make gamblers happy- each small success is a small I WON ! for the player.


      Texas Hold’em, and its associated rule set, was also a critical success factor for poker5 in general Texas Hold’em, a relatively little-known game before 2002, is an easy game to show on television, arguably requires less mental agility than many other poker games, and allows player to play other players, rather than playing the cards.  That means that Hold’em allows you to rely on innate (i.e. you don’t need to work on it) abilities to read other players, rather than relaying on mental gymnastics, memorizing several cards, sequences and making associations and calculating the mathematical pot odds each time you get dealt a card: from that point of view, its one of the easiest games to play.
      No Limit Texas Hold’em also adds a new dimension to the game.  No Limit means that there is more excitement watching and playing the game (televised poker edits out the boring bits and dramatizes the all-ins- that makes good television).  Excitement, whether you call it action, gamble, balls or any of its other synonyms, is why gamblers play, and No Limit is about as exciting is it gets.  But it’s not just an exciting moment because you can either lose your entire stack or double up, its exciting because you add an even greater element of chance to the game.  In almost every all-in situation, except for the very rare situation where you have the nuts, you can be beaten – this, is the essence of gambling.
      The important thing to remember is that all these factors happened simultaneously, and that’s why poker worked.  It’s also why no one saw it coming.  We can track two, maybe three environmental factors, but in poker, at least nine things happened at once to make poker the Big Thing.  What is the next big thing?  I still don’t know, and I don’t think that the next big thing can be “manufactured” through marketing or product development.  However, if we understand why the poker phenomenon happened, and we keep our eyes peeled, we might be able to spot the next big thing in its infancy, and that’s probably just as good.

 

 

 

 
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