TCI puts $ 10 mil into Interactive Network

Tele-Communications Inc. has stepped up with a $ 10 million investment in a financially struggling interactive TV programmer.

TCI plunked down the dollars –$ 4 million in cash, the remainder in ad time — in exchange for 1.65 million in new shares, or 15%, of Interactive Network Inc. The move promptly sent the Mountain View-based programmer’s shares skyward, moving up a whopping 30% from $ 7.25 to close at $ 9.375.

The TCI deal sprung to life last Thursday with the intervention of cable consultant Paul Kagan, who is also an Interactive Network investor. Kagan arranged for a meeting between TCI chief executive John Malone and Interactive Network chairman David Lockton.

“He took me to John, who’s brilliant and decisive,” Lockton said. “He wrung out of us everything we can do and we cut a deal on the spot.”

TCI was already familiar with the company. A former subsidiary, the theater chain United Artists, was an early investor.

With TCI aboard, Lockton said, a national rollout likely will start in the fall with three cities, including Denver, TCI’s hometown. The new infusion also could make raising another $ 15 million to $ 20 million more credible with private investors.

Just last Monday, Interactive Network announced it was withdrawing its bid to raise $ 30 million on the market with the sale of 2.5 million shares. According to Wall Street sources, the company was having trouble selling its strategy to roll out an interactive programming system using a proprietary hand-held receiver. It had noted that without the offering, it was in danger of running out of cash.

Earlier in the month, the company had arranged a short-term loan from four of its shareholders, including Gannett Co. and General Electric’s NBC.

Just as TCI made its investment, NTN Communications Inc. filed a $ 10 million suit against Interactive Network. The suit, according to NTN, alleges that the rival company made “misstatements” to investors about an NTN program.

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