When Todd Benson co-founded Prague.TV over a decade ago, “there was really no info” on local practical matters for English speakers to be found online. “Nobody knew how to read a train schedule, or buy a Metro ticket,” he remembers of his fellow Americans and other foreigners living in Prague. Realizing there was high demand for a comprehensive city guide, the former manager of The Globe Bookstore and Café decided to go in with two friends, and start their own business.
That was in 2001. Fourteen years later, Prague.TV continues to cater to the local English-speaking community. Today, the online portal debuts a new and fresh redesign of its website. It is exactly 14 years to the day (01.04.2001) since Benson and co-founders Jeff Smith and Peter Lowe launched the original Prague.TV. It isn’t hubris, but an understanding of the industry as it currently stands that prompts Benson to remark of Prague.TV and its closest competitor, the website Expats.cz, “Between the two of us, no one’s going to break into the market.”
That market is, of course, the one that services expatriates, although Todd says he “never liked the word” expatriate. “I prefer ‘international.’” His choice of word is certainly more expansive, and mirrors Prague.TV’s own development these past few years.
On the one hand, the mission of the business has remained fundamentally unchanged. The original idea “was very simple: to be a bridge between English speakers living in Prague and Czech businesses.”
It is the type and variety of these businesses that have altered since 2001. The site initially focused on classifieds, a Q&A forum, business directory, and articles published for the benefit of tourists and those who had newly relocated to the city. Benson was the website’s sole writer for its first year or so. The first six months saw him churning out an article a day on topics such as “Cool Contemplative Spots” in Prague, often under the pseudonym, “Chi Chi Tornado.” But a brief glance at Prague.TV’s “Categories” sidebar today testifies to the growth that has since occurred. Looking for an inexpensive restaurant? An English-speaking dentist? Info on healthcare, nightclubs, schools, cinemas? Google no further than Prague.TV.
The first watershed moment, if you can forgive the pun, occurred in 2002, when the city suffered its worst flood in a century. “We were the only business online,” recalls Todd. He and his team would post pictures of the images they had shot down by the river, and were quoted by several news outlets. They were posting daily updates and soon saw their traffic increase from 20,000 to 80,000 hits a day over the course of roughly one week. “From that moment on, we just started to grow.”
Then, in 2009, Prague.TV acquired The Prague Monitor. Todd describes the latter as “the best product on the market in terms of news.” They dropped the Monitor’s “unsustainable” glossy print magazine and began to cross-promote between Prague.TV and Praguemonitor.com.
Todd attributes Prague.TV’s success to this adaptability and willingness to innovate. “We’ve always had the ability to change, which our competitors didn’t.”
Hence the new redesign, which is only the most recent of approximately 10 revamped designs over the past 14 years. “You have to [redesign]” so frequently, says Benson, because “technology changes” so frequently.
To that end, the new site may finally fulfill an old technological aspiration of its founders, one that is reflected in what some may regard as Prague.TV’s odd name.
Benson and his partners “wanted to do more online video” when they first launched the website back in 2001. But with a terribly slow dial-up connection in their Zizkov offices, and with no way to edit or, in these pre-YouTube days, enable viewers to watch their streaming video, they dropped the idea in favor of more easily producible and consumable written content.
Now that technology has finally caught up with their notion of “Internet TV,” however, Benson and his colleagues are “going to look more into video content.” Desiring to maintain an element of surprise, Benson is coy when he promises, “there’s a lot of cool stuff upcoming.”
So much so, it is likely the core Prague.TV readership may expand once again. With a new look and varied content, the site may give rise to even more of those who are represented by the website’s mascot of a baby with a TV for a face. No, this baby isn’t a nod to the metal figures crawling up and down the TV Tower located near the website’s old offices in Zizkov. The Prague.TV baby is a more personal symbol of the site’s followers: “the children of Prague.TV.”
By Anna Storm - Pragueconnect.cz - Prag 01.04.2015