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  Hooking up with interactive media

BENJ GALLANDER and BEN STADELMANN

Monday, July 27, 2009

So you're hoping that cupcake you "met" on Lavalife lives up to her personal billing, but you've learned from experience that self-aggrandizement often mirrors hyperbole. You, on the other hand, only stretch the truth a little: a couple of inches in height, two or so inches of muscle mass and a "0" of salary. Little white lies.

But you want to make sure that if another date doesn't pan out, you get some return on your investment. Therefore, the meeting place chosen is a bar that features Buzztime iTV Network, a product of NTN Buzztime, a company in which you own a few shares. Plus, if the conversation lags, playing a game on a TV terminal can fill in the gaps.

After narrowly avoiding bankruptcy, this outfit appears to be in recovery mode. The key to the upturn has been a change in management, with the revolving door starting to move near the end of last year and continuing to spin through the first couple months of this annum. In February, Terry Bateman, who had been serving on the board of directors, was appointed CEO.

Bateman has a pretty decent resume. His primary credit was as the president/CEO of Barton Cotton, an outfit where he grew the largest division by over 500 percent in revenues over eight years. He also spun time at Dick Clark Productions, Johnny Rockets and Gillette.

As head honcho at NTN, he'll need to create some television magic to expand sales as they shrank by about 20 percent over the past few years. To do it will require getting the games into more bars and pubs than the current 3,000+ in the United States and 300+ in Canada.

While this will likely prove challenging, the still more difficult proposition will be turning the bottom line, which has been red for years, to black. Though the cash in the bank is limited at a tad over $3 million, fortunately there is less than $200,000 of debt on the balance sheet, offering some investing latitude in new products.

And if current management performs well, this risky stock could jump 10-fold from the current level of 36 cents (U.S.), which would still be far below previous levels where it has traded this decade. One of us purchased it at 73 cents.

But back to the date that hasn't been going well at all. Besides the fact that she whipped your butt at NTN's Sports Trivia Competition, upon returning from the washroom, you note that she has disappeared into the night, sticking you with the bill. So you pay up, taking out your surly mood on the server with a stingy tip, and head home, piling into bed before ordering an adult video on demand from New Frontier Media.

This outfit has been facing a real challenge from the saucy fare on the Internet, much of it dished up for free. This knocked revenues down to around $52 million this past annum, from over $63 million two years before.

Worse, the company swung from a profit of better than $12 million to a loss exceeding $5 million. However, $12 million of this was non-recurring, boding well for the future, and the fourth quarter was profitable at $1.2 million or 6 cents per share. In addition, fiscal 2009 operating cash flow was a positive $8.5 million.

As with NTN Buzztime, NOOF has an excellent balance sheet, sporting better than $16 million in cash with short-term debt of $4 million. Long-term debt does not stain the books.

This stock has touched $10 a number of times over the past decade, about a quadruple from the current price of $2.40. It would not be surprising at all to see that level broached again.

Also in the past, the firm tended to pay a hefty dividend, but that disappeared as competitors squeezed profits. However, if results return to form, that is likely in the cards again. The same Contra Guy who owns NTN paid $2.26 per share for this enterprise.

As is often the case, when the movie ends, you are already sawing logs. The next day will bring more hours scanning Lavalife. Hope springs eternal.


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