[itvt] Column: The iTV Doctor Is In! TVOT Hackathon Winner, TVDuffle, Has Launched!

Dear Readers:
In the annals of Interactive Television Aspirations, three user experiences always come up: Jennifer Aniston's Sweater, Pizza and Travel. And in the past decade, I (like many of my readers) have tried my hand at each of those.
While we are usually able to create the "front end" of the experience, whether on a first or second screen, it always falls apart at the back end. There are too many variables (size, color, time/distance, price and retail margin) to sell Jennifer Aniston's sweater with any kind of scale. There are now far easier ways to order pizza than clicking through menus on the television screen. And travel to a locale featured on a television show or movie didn't come close to fitting the model of an effective impulse buy. People looking for vacations don't buy on impulse; they might SHOP, but not buy.
But now perhaps somebody has figured out how to unravel the interactive television travel knot: Fans! Specifically, fans that match this profile: late 20's to mid 50's, prime earners where time, convenience and quality are more important than cost. A fan of a sports team might actually purchase tickets, airfare and hotel to a game based on the outcome of the game he's watching. If his team is one game away from the post-season, he just might jump at the chance to see the clincher.
Or if a future game happens to be someplace warm and there's 30" of snow outside your window; well, you know what happens then.
That's where TVDuffle comes in. TVDuffle was invented by an ad-hoc team of motivated code-writers, designers and entrepreneurs, at the June, 2014 TV of Tomorrow Hackathon in San Francisco: Mick Darling, Francesco Rossi, Serena Xu and Doug Kim. The concept and execution are elegant. When you're watching your team on television, and have your smartphone in-hand (as everybody does now), you're just a couple of clicks away from discounted package deals on travel, tickets and hotel (if necessary).
You're not searching by city or date; you're watching your game, and the necessary information for a future game is right there!
Here's how they pitched TVDuffle at the TVOT Hackathon (which they won, by the way!):
"Instantly plan a trip to beautiful documentary or movie locations you see on TV. Imagine if you could turn your living room adventure into your next vacation. Meet @TVDuffle. It's a mashup of the lean-back TV experience with the urge to go see the world."
In the months following, the team turned the idea into a business proposition. They asked themselves, "Who has the immediate need to travel after consuming the media? Sports fans!" Is Cleveland going to make it to game five in the first round this season? If they do you'll be notified the second the seats go on sale. Booking your seats, flights, and hotel can be done all with a few clicks.
Here's the app itself, available on iTunes: 
I caught up with Mick and Serena recently; Mick was buried under something like twelve feet of snow, and it was close to zero degrees at my farm in Maryland. Neither of us was going anywhere soon. Serena was enjoying an early spring in California (grrrrrrr...)
iTV Doctor: Mick, let's give a bit of motivation to hackathon participants everywhere: TVDuffle is a winner, and your execution is spot-on. How did the team come up with the concept?
Mick Darling: At the hackathon, our team member, Doug Kim, had just come back from vacationing in Italy. He saw that one of the sponsors, National Geographic, had a show on Athens, Greece and commented to the team that it would be his next vacation destination. That's when the idea struck: "Watch the show and book the travel in one step."
iTV Doctor: Serena, when and how did you decide to make it a business proposition?
Serena Xu: Our advisor, Tracy Swedlow, was our biggest proponent in making the idea into a business proposition after the hackathon. She insisted that she was the type of traveler that needed a complete travel duffle, including itinerary and other necessities, from the moment she was inspired by a destination. We then spent a few months reading up on the state of the travel industry. I spent some time asking Mick and Tracy questions about the media and advertising space and Francesco looked at the recent technical innovations. Then Mick, Francesco, and I decided that there was a lot of potential to move the idea forward to a business proposition.
          Serena Xu                                       Mick Darling                             Francesco Rossi
iTV Doctor: By this point in the column, a substantial group of readers have downloaded the app, and are ready to play. You've launched with a focus on sporting events. Tell us about your product development roadmap.
Mick Darling: After looking at a lot of potential vertical markets, we made our immediate focus on sporting events. We know that there is a big fan base that travels to attend live. We're building a tool for them to plan more efficiently by providing them all the information on travel times, expenses, and availability for each game in a clean visual format. We also give immediate notification when game tickets are available so fans can get their desired seats. The next markets we will focus on will be music concerts and festivals. Down the road, we'd like to work with television travel networks so we can offer viewers the "magic" of actually visiting those great places they see on the TV.
iTV Doctor: You have a number of partners in the travel space, including Expedia and SeatGeek. What is the value to your partners of working with TVDuffle?
Serena Xu: For our travel partners, TVDuffle sells travel from a different angle. We examine the reason an individual is traveling and customize the package specifically, bringing our travel partners closer to their customers. The consolidation of information presented at the moment the viewer is inspired to go will entice consumers to make those 
iTV Doctor: And how does TVDuffle make money?
Serena Xu: Our consumer-facing app generates commissions from travel bookings and event ticketing. We are also developing new SDK's that can be embedded in other apps to provide a transaction engine, which we will license. That goes along with an advertising technology built on top of our core mechanics that will be licensed to other brands and agencies.
iTV Doctor: I believe you are in a funding round. Tell us about that. Why should an early-stage investor step in now?
Mick Darling: TV has been advertising-focused for decades. The shows are there to keep people around for the advertising. Now that TV is moving away from a purely ad-based model, we think that model can be flipped. We can use the TV show as advertising for a real-world purchase. Our core focus is examining where and when media inspires consumers, and then using those moments to give them direct, convenient, opportunities to make purchases.
iTV Doctor: TV of Tomorrow is scheduled for June 23rd-24th at the Presidio of San Francisco. Will TVDuffle be there?
Serena Xu: Of course, and we will have a lot to show off.
Mick Darling: I'll be booking the trip directly from the TVDuffle itself.

The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive video consulting services to programmers, advertisers and technology providers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was inducted into The Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms.


Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at TheiTVDoctor@gmail.com

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