Poker broadcasting with Kara Scott

Poker broadcasting with Kara Scott

2017 World Series of PokerI’ve written a lot about the explosion of YouTube and Twitch recently but what about the more traditional, big budget broadcasting that has attracted so many to the game of poker? For that who else better to turn to than 888poker ambassador Kara Scott, who has been the go-to broadcaster for all the major poker shows in the last ten years, perhaps most notably the ever evolving WSOP broadcast on ESPN (and my personal favourite High Stakes Poker). 

Barry Carter: The last year has seen a YouTube explode in the poker industry. As somebody who has worked in more traditional broadcasting for a long time, what are your thoughts on competing, or embracing, with this new medium where anybody can become a broadcaster?

Kara Scott: I think we have no choice, media is always going to change and move in different directions, but I don’t think it is going to be replacing traditional media. If we look at eSports, the stuff they do on YouTube and Twitch, these big scale broadcasts, those are basically TV shows. That’s not just kids in their basements wearing headsets, they have really high production values.

The medium might change, but there will always be room for both. If you look at poker we have guys like Parker Talbot who is really great. Or, I worked with Doug Polk on the WSOP broadcast this year, he is a big YouTube guy, and working with him was pretty cool. He came prepared, he worked hard, he took it seriously. I don’t think everyone who does what he does can make the jump to TV. I don’t think it translates 1-to-1. Some people are really good broadcasters within their niche and some people are just really good broadcasters. I couldn’t do what they do either. One doesn’t equal the other.

Barry Carter: Are you looking towards eSports like many others in the poker industry are doing to get a glimpse of what poker broadcasting may look like?

Kara Scott: Over the years, I’ve seen a fair amount, from the bigger shows to the small channels discussing niche games. I got to know some people in production on the bigger shows and what they do is great. I think we are missing a trick somewhere in poker because we are not getting the viewers that they are and I’m not sure exactly why.

Barry Carter: Is poker somehow becoming hard to explain to new audiences?

Kara Scott: I think a lot of eSports are harder to explain, if you are talking about the mechanics of what you do especially rather than just ‘calling the action’ of the actual game on screen. If you look at something like StarCraft, it could have been just watching little things blow up. It shouldn’t translate that well but the do a great job of it and it’s compelling viewing.

Barry Carter: This year the two worlds of televised broadcasts and online streaming came together with ESPN and PokerGo broadcasting the WSOP. Is there a difference in how to present the game in the two different mediums?

Kara Scott: I think the ESPN broadcast, while very serious, expands on the entertainment value side of things. We have a wider range of casual viewers through ESPN and more poker serious on PokerGo. I met someone the other day who really enjoys watching the ESPN broadcast but has never played a hand of poker in her life. She found it soothing, of all things.

This year there were some people who were vocal about how they didn’t like that the streaming switched between online and television because it meant they had to move between mediums to see all of the coverage. ESPN and Poker Central weren’t overlapping their broadcasts – it was only on one of them at a time. The total amount of coverage people actually got was a lot more than in years gone by. If you really enjoyed watching the edited shows from September to November, you can still do exactly the same as last year. The streaming from the first Day 1 was an added bonus for a lot of the fans.

“Anything can happen, live”

888live Local Aspers London - Photo Shooting Kara Scott-48-1466089110637_tcm1488-307183Barry Carter: It must be a relief that it’s been shown people will pay for poker entertainment, not so long ago people would have laughed at the idea.

Kara Scott: People did laugh when PokerGo suggested subscription, and others seemed incensed that they would now have to pay for content. But you can still watch it on ESPN as you always did. Working with Poker Central just meant we could expand the coverage. Plus, people are working really hard. When I’m on set and I see hundreds of people on the crew, there are tons of people working on the electronics alone, it’s such a big undertaking and people thinking that should all be done for free is so weird to me.

Barry Carter: The few times I have been on TV for several hours I have been physically exhausted by the end of it and I developed a new found respect for broadcasters. Is that the toughest part of a job like the WSOP broadcast?

Kara Scott: In years past it was definitely the physical undertaking but this year because they weren’t using us until the very end of the earlier days, we were finishing at a reasonable hour. It meant we didn’t go into the final table just destroyed. Working with a lot of different people this year, although it was a challenge I enjoyed, was a challenge having a rotating stream of new commentators as well as our two main guys, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth, joining me. They all did an amazing job but because it’s live you don’t know how they are going to react if something goes wrong. One day the generators went down right before we went live on ESPN so we couldn’t see the monitors which show us what the audience sees, we couldn’t see the hands we were discussing and while there was a mad scramble to get it fixed, we had to wing it, and we got through it. Anything can happen, live.

Barry Carter: Simple but useful question, how do you avoid things like dry mouth when you have been presenting for a long time?

Kara Scott: I used to do a lot of voiceover work so I learned a few tricks there, like if you get a dry mouth eat a green apple because the acid cleans out your mouth.

Barry Carter: As somebody who also interviews lots of poker players it can get a little bit samey, how do you stop interviews being stale?

Kara Scott: I feel lucky that I don’t do as much of that anymore because I think I was getting really stale with it. Now when I am interviewing people at the WSOP it’s really specific, it’s only a few questions and what you are looking for is ‘would you have played that hand differently’ or ‘your kids are going to be proud of you’ and you make them cry. I’m mostly kidding, but getting the emotion of the moment is the main goal.

Barry Carter: There is an expectation in poker that you have a decent level of poker ability to do the media work, how important is keeping your own game up to be able to do interviews and public appearances?

Kara Scott: That does make it difficult. As you know, poker moves very quickly and you cannot be stagnant with it because you fall behind quickly. I’m very careful not to be a strategic commentator, that’s not who I am, I know what my USP is and it’s being a broadcaster and a recreational player who used to play the game very seriously. I work mostly on my broadcasting skills and I then I also play poker because I enjoy it.

Barry Carter: What would your advice be today to somebody starting out in poker or gaming broadcasting?

Kara Scott: I think there is a lot of really good help out there and if you watch a lot of broadcasts that gives you a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I’d find a subject I was really passionate about and put myself in as many positions as I could to do broadcasting. Before I started in poker I did do so many jobs where I didn’t even get paid, I got really badly taken advantage of in some ways but I also learned a lot. I would volunteer my time, I would work in production as well and learn how to do things like editing, these are all things you can do by yourself. I’d get some good equipment and I would just practice being on camera and try to slowly build a following. That’s what people do now and if you can find that sweet spot where you are talking to a certain vein that’s not being hit already, you can be really successful.

Barry Carter: I interviewed your 888poker colleague Parker Talbot recently and I think his own poker streaming success comes from him being completely uncensored, which I think is the key to building an audience these days.

Kara Scott: You have to have a voice that stands out, otherwise you have the same voice as everyone else. You see that on YouTube if you flick through the channels, there is a similarity in the way people speak, it’s ‘broadcast speak’ and I don’t like it. Authenticity is so easy to watch, you can watch it for a really long time, you can only watch a commercial for 30 seconds and that’s what some people sound like they are doing.

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