Digital Dealmakers: Charles Prast

Dec 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The player: Charles Prast, CEO of Interactive Television Networks

The play: ITVN is like a new-generation cable or satellite operator that delivers programming to the television, but ITVN relies on the Internet to send its TV signals. That doesn’t mean ITVN is a PC play, or a bridge from the Internet to the TV like Apple’s ITV service. Instead, ITVN is another means to serve up video on the TV through a set-top box. Because ITVN is focused on movie content, music videos and niche programming, it’s a complement to cable or satellite rather than a replacement service.

The pitch: ITVN wants to be the king of a la carte video. It recently inked a pact with Starz Encore and now offers all 15 of its linear channels and its VOD product for $14.95 per month. ITVN also struck a deal with NBC Universal to offer Universal Pictures films on-demand. Such high-profile deals, along with existing agreements with smaller content players such as the National Lacrosse League, form the crux of what Mr. Prast contends is ITVN’s competitive differentiator.

“We are about giving the consumers the choices they want. If you want the sirloin steak, there is no reason you need to buy the cow,” he said. Last week ITVN signed Major League Baseball Advanced Media and will deliver its next-day condensed games, daily highlights and a selection of full-length classic games. Mr. Prast added that he’s in conversations with cable networks and programmers to both deliver their linear channels and to create interactive on-demand channels for each network. Because it relies on the Internet, ITVN can offer content in a highly interactive fashion. For instance, ITVN viewers can create their own playlists with music videos.

The money guys: ITVN is publicly traded on the OTC Bulletin Board. Early investors included MAG Capital, JP Morgan and a United Kingdom hedge fund. Mr. Prast anticipates the company will become profitable in the third quarter of 2007, when it expects to reach 45,000 customers. “We don’t burn a lot of capital because we don’t have a lot of the heavy debt load associated with an infrastructure build,” he said. ITVN’s approach also makes launching new niche channels economically feasible.

Numbers: ITVN currently counts about 10,000 customers.

The backstory: The company was first conceived as a home entertainment package for telcos, but has since evolved into a stand-alone service.

Pros: Using the Internet to send video to the TV lets ITVN offer a flexible array of interactive packages on an a la carte basis for consumers.

Cons: The big hurdle for ITVN is convincing consumers they need or want another box in the house.

Background: Mr. Prast, 40, was born in Brooklyn. He grew up in Connecticut and earned a degree in French and economics from Bates College. He lives in Santa Monica, Calif., and has two children. Prior to joining ITVN he worked as a senior executive with investment banks including Drexel Burnham, Furman Selz, and Commerzbank AG.

Who knew?

Mr. Prast grew up in a home without a television. His parents still haven’t bought one.