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Original article

November 10, 2004

When NTN Mattered
By: Rick Aristotle Munarriz

Will that be one lump or two?

That's the question that investors in NTN Communications (AMEX: NTN) seem to be asking every three months. Yesterday marked the 13th consecutive quarter in which the company posted a loss of either a penny or two a share. For those scoring at home it was a red deuce this time around. Revenues rose nicely, up 20.7% for an $8.8 million showing.

While shareholders can take some comfort in knowing that their stock has tripled over the past two years, you may be scratching your head. You have never heard of NTN, have you? You think it's odd that a company with a streak now stretching over three years of perpetually petty losses has a buoyant share price, don't you?

The sad part is that NTN could have been a household word. In fact, it was in mine. More than a dozen years ago I used to play the company's QB1 football game on General Electric's (NYSE: GE) GEnie online service. When Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX) America Online was booming in the 1990s NTN was there too with its interactive quiz contests. In fact, longtime Fools may recall the financial trivia game that we crafted with NTN back when we were on AOL during our early years.

NTN had its finger on the pulse on the future. Folks could play online, and they would compete not only with fellow wired geeks but also against the interactive stations at bars and restaurants around the country. QB1 was a rudimentary game where folks would guess what the next play would be during a live football game. NTN was there, living off the fat of fantasy football before others such as SportsLine (Nasdaq: SPLN) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) moved in for the blitz.

That's where the story takes a turn for the sad. Somehow the finger slipped off the pulse. While the company's games can still be played around the country at places such as Hidden Gems newsletter recommendation Buffalo Wild Wings (Nasdaq: BWLD), it was once in the right place at the right time yet missed the boat that should have sent it floating toward riches as more skeptical game players migrated online.

These days the company is also doing well as a player in hospitality technology, helping with the point-of-sale software systems of chains such as Cheesecake Factory (Nasdaq: CAKE), Domino's, and Applebee's. That's nice and all, but I miss the days when it seemed as though NTN had a shot to be the interactive entertainment giant of the Internet.

That would have been a game worth winning.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz actually submitted a few questions that were used when David Wolpe was helping put together the NTN Foolish Trivia game. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter analytical team that will be looking to unearth the next NTN that keeps to its course towards greatness early in its growth cycle. He does own shares in Cheesecake Factory but not in any of the other companies mentioned in this story.

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