New show "The Player Hunt" masters pandemic poker T.V.

Jon Pill
Posted on: January 06, 2021 08:28 PST

Rannvijay Singha, Bollywood star as well as host of and ex-contestant on MTV's Roadies, will be hosting a new poker reality show in India. The Player Hunt is being shot entirely online to stay COVID safe. With the show well into production, teasers are dropping on The Player Hunt's YouTube channel regularly.

The show is the brainchild of the marketing department at PokerHigh, an online poker site. Part of why PokerHigh went with Singha as host is that he's an enthusiastic poker player himself.

Singha told the presss that, "I have been playing poker for a while now and I am so glad that finally here is a show that will bring in all the poker lovers to this one platform."

India was already heading into something of a poker boom, even before lockdowns forced people to come up with indoor hobbies. COVID has amplified that. But it has also brought trouble with anti-gambling campaigners pushing for gambling bans across the twenty-nine states.

Singha sees the show as a chance to amplify the trend up, and to quiet some of the naysayers. "I see it as an opportunity to introduce the game to millions of Indians who I am sure will love it," he said.

Reality TV for the internet era

Shifa Maitra is a Partner at Brands & Stories, the production company that are putting together the show. Maitra explains that the format has been designed so it can be produced entirely online.

"We auditioned and chose 12 contestants from across the country who have an X-factor, some who play poker and some who don’t," he said. "They were all trained by mentors – Nibedita Pal and Harman Singha who are seasoned poker players besides being celebrities."

As part of the behind-the-scenes work, Maitra explains that the contestants studied "masterclasses" in styling, make-up, and cinematography. This allowed them to produce reasonably high-quality content from home, without access to the kind of resources they would have on a TV set.

The style of production fits one of the themes of the show as laid out by Gaurav Gaggar, Director of PokerHigh. He says, "The time has come to democratize poker." Nothing more democratic than T.V. shot by regular shmoes.

"We are attempting to build a community around it," Gaggar adds. In this way the show looks to emulate some of what shows like the WSOP, the WPT, and HSP have done in the West. But on a much smaller budget.

One of the show's promoters, Pranev Premnarayen explains the appeal of shooting remotely.

"As we all know, these trying times have seen a rise in online gaming and viewing," Premnarayeb explains. "That’s a phenomenon that’s here to stay. The Player Hunt is something new, exciting, extremely interactive, and is created to have mass appeal among our [target audience]. [...] Our communication and marketing plan is designed to take The Player Hunt to millions of screens pan-India."

The future of Poker TV

India seems to be a ground zero for innovative poker production during the pandemic. Last year we saw the Poker Sports League elegantly turn online poker into a viewing experience more akin to a traditional live poker broadcast.

One can only imagine how much that format would have been worth to GGPoker if someone had pitched it to them ahead of WSOP.

PokerGO has doubled down on bringing back classics shows in more or less their original format. We can watch Tom Dwan on High Stakes Poker and Phil Hellmuth on Poker After Dark and if you squint a bit you can pretend it's still 2007 and the fish are only just figuring out what a c-bet is. It is thrilling to have these back on air, but does suggest a certain lack of imagination.

Meanwhile, production companies like Brands & Stories are changing the game. Producing shows like this is cheap and requires far less expertise. It might not just be poker they are democratizing. These are formats that poker YouTube and Twitch can make use of.

It'll be exciting to see what people do with that in the coming years. And whether the effort outlives the novel-coronavirus.

Featured image source: Facebook