If anyone knows the meaning of the word “buddy,” it’s Andy Liu and David Niu, business partners, friends and each other’s so-called “work-wife” for 11 years. From 1999 to 2004 the duo ran a Seattle-based tech company, and in 2005 they founded BuddyTV (buddytv.com), a website that establishes fan communities based on television-watching habits. The largest non-network television site online, BuddyTV boasts 10 million unique visitors per month, who log in to chat about favorite shows. The company is expanding rapidly, and its new iPhone app (introduced this fall) enables you to bring your TV-bonding pals with you wherever you go. Are BuddyTV friendships as strong as Liu and Niu’s? Not likely, but at least you don’t have to share the remote.
SM: What inspired BuddyTV?
DN: After we sold [our tech company, NetConversions] we went to Machu Picchu, and I don’t know if it was the altitude, the beer or the guinea pigs we were eating, but we started talking about how everything in entertainment is becoming digital, and we thought there would be a great opportunity to use that technology to bring people together.
SM: Why the name?
DN: People don’t watch TV alone now, they’re usually on the phone, they’re text messaging, they might be on their laptop—all these things make TV not so much a passive experience, but much more potentially engaging.
AL: The spirit [of BuddyTV] is being a companion for TV fans.…You’re connecting with a community of people that loves the shows that you love.
SM: What does watching a show with Buddy TV feel like?
DN: The best analogy is a Sex and the City viewing party or a Super Bowl party, where people gossip about the outfits or hoot and holler and high-five with friends. We can use technology to enable something very similar.
AL: We want to create an experience that feels like you’re watching shows with a group of close friends. We want people to yell and scream and laugh and really interact.
SM: How is BuddyTV evolving?
AL: More and more people are watching TV on their own terms, on iTunes or Hulu. The “secret sauce” we’re building is being able to simulate watching a show with other people, even though they may not be watching at the same time. It feels like there’s real-time commentary, it feels like the show is really alive, even if you’re watching it on time delay or On Demand.
DN: Our iPad and iPhone app is different from what other companies are doing—where you check in and say you’re “watching Mad Men” but there’s not a lot of interaction. Ours is an emotional connection.
NAMES: Andy Liu and David Niu
TITLES: Cofounders of BuddyTV
FAVORITE SHOWS: (AL): “I was a big fan of Lost and 24. Now I like Chuck.” (DN): “Entourage, The Bachelor and Project Runway.”
SHOWS MOST DISCUSSED ON BUDDYTV: Reality and celebrity TV, sci-fi and anything about vampires.
MANTRA: Watching TV doesn’t have to mean being a couch potato—it can be interactive.
Published November 2010