Todd Benson - Prague TV co-founder dreaming of the ocean
Our guest in this week's One on One is Todd Benson, co-founder of the online city guide and web portal Prague TV. Todd, an American who grew up in England and the U.S., came to Prague after graduating from college, and - like many foreigners - decided to start a new life in the Czech capital. Rob Cameron spoke to Todd recently, about the pros and cons of Prague life, some of the more controversial classified ads on his website, and dreams of one day being able to live a bit closer to the ocean.
"I came to Prague in August 1997. I'd just graduated from university. I did that typical two-month European vacation, and never came back."
You've chosen to live here in Prague. What do you like about it?
"Millions and millions of things. I like the fact that the city is old, and intact, and very picturesque. I like the women. I like the beer. I also like the proximity. It's very easy to travel to many different countries."
Are there any downsides to living in the city?
"Bureaucracy. Doing business sometimes is quite a pain. But I'm sure it's a pain everywhere. That's pretty much it. The time it takes to get something accomplished is sometimes arduous, to say the least."
Tell me a bit about Prague TV, which is not, as the name suggests, a TV station. What is it?
"In a nutshell we are a city guide and web portal. The target audience would be foreigners living in Prague, also English-speaking Czechs, tourists coming to travel to Prague. We take the name Prague TV based on our previous location underneath the Zizkov TV tower. There are articles and reviews, we have an online discussion forum, photo galleries. You name it. It's approximately 80,000 pages of information, so you name it, we have it, pretty much."
Would you say it's more for expats or is it aimed equally at expats and Czechs?
"I would say definitely when it originally started it was aimed at the English-speaking community living here in the Czech Republic, because there was nothing of its sort available. Now we have more and more Czechs that we go to the site because frankly our events listings and previews and reviews of events are of a much better quality than anything else online, so a lot of Czechs are coming to the site and using it for that reason. But I would say our target audience is more the expatriate community, and tourists of course, because we're getting a lot of overseas traffic so we have to cater to their needs as well."
"The first and very important thing is that we're very dynamic. We have daily updated content, which most sites don't do. Second of all, we have a wide array of things, we cover everything from real estate to parties to online bulletin boards. Basically it's a complete service."
Is there anything you would definitely not put on the site?
"It's funny, we have a section on the site of erotic clubs. Now it's not something we want to promote on the front page, but unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on where you stand on the issue - it's definitely something that people want. So that's our biggest dilemma right now, dealing with that."
What are the arguments for and against having that kind of information on your site?
"Well, the reality is that people want the information, and we can get search referrals, and there's an extreme amount of traffic of people that are searching for information about that stuff. So if our whole goal is to be an informative tool, then it's kind of silly for us not to have at least links for where people can go to find that information. That's the one argument. The other argument is that philosophically I think we're all pretty much against the concept of the escort service and this kind of thing, so that's the battle we're having in our heads."
But the cold reality is that a lot of people come to Prague for that reason: cheap beer and cheap...
"...and cheap ladies, yeah, exactly. unfortunately that's the truth. We've stayed away from the whole stag party/erotic club thing. Our whole point, like I said, from the beginning was to be a service for people and cater for the more normal, reasonable requests for information."
Prague has attracted many foreigners to come and set up at home since 1989. Do you think it still has something to offer foreigners today? Do you think people still have a reason to come here and start a new life, as you did, and as I did?
"I think it's definitely changed, there's no question of that. It's the same as everywhere, everywhere's changed, and I think it depends on where you sit, positively or negatively. Of course there's something it offers. There are now massive billboards and fancy glass office buildings, but aside from that, the historical centre of Prague is still an amazing city to live in, and it's a great city to walk around in. It's still safe, and people are actually friendlier, so that's a definite reason to move here."
You find Czechs friendly?
"Than when they were. You still get strange looks when you speak English on the tram, but it's definitely less common that it used to be. I remember going to places when I first came to Prague in 97 where the attitude of wait staff and shop staff, of everyone, was very unfriendly, xenophobic I would say. It's definitely changed. EU membership is going to make it even more...cosmopolitan I guess is the word, I don't know."
And you yourself want to settle here and spend the rest of your life here?
"Yes and no. I was just telling you earlier that I've just got married here, so for sure this is going to be my home base. But in terms of full-time living, I don't think so. I need the ocean."
Something which is sorely lacking in the Czech Republic.
"Yeah, unfortunately. And sunshine, which is also this summer apparently just non-existent. So the ideal goal would be to have this as a home base, have some property here, have it pay for itself, and live on the beach somewhere. I think that would work out just right."