Is This App the Future of Game Shows?

Courtesy of HQ
Improv comedian Scott Rogowsky hosting a competition in the app HQ.

HQ, offering up to $1,500 in cash prizes, is drawing millennials to a live trivia competition.

Forty minutes into Game 5 of the World Series and a half-hour after the kickoff of Sunday Night Football, nearly 30,000 people tuned in to an event that couldn't be found on television: the new installment of trivia competition HQ.

The app, a sort of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire for the mobile generation that awards a cash prize to anyone who can correctly answer a handful of timed trivia questions, has become an overnight sensation among millennials on both coasts.

Every day at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET, a perky host presides over a test of knowledge. Anyone who selects the correct answer to all 12 multiple-choice questions will split a prize, which has ranged from $250 to $1,500, depending on the day.

"It's different from a television format where you're playing along," says HQ co-founder Rus Yusupov. "With HQ, you can actually play." 

Yusupov and co-founder Colin Kroll already knew a little something about how to create entertaining videos for mobile phones when they first began working on HQ. They are two of the co-founders of Vine, the six-second video app that Twitter bought in 2012 and shut down earlier this year. Their first venture post-Vine was a live-video social network called Hype that failed to take off. But with HQ they appear to have found a hit. 

HQ's audience has grown steadily in the two months since its launch, and it now regularly brings in tens of thousands of players for each game — even before releasing its Android app. "It shows that live video can be so much more than what we were seeing," explains Jeremy Liew, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, which has a seed investment in HQ.

Yusupov and Kroll say that they were influenced by the game shows typically found on television. With HQ, they sought to combine the high production values and real prizes with the interactivity made possible by mobile phones. HQ has a handful of writers who drum up new questions each day (they can vary from "What is the plural of Hippopotamus?" to "What are the bildungsroman genre of stories about?") and experienced hosts in improv comedian Scott Rogowsky and British personality Sharon Carpenter. They also established set game times (twice a day on weekdays, once a day on weekends) to help create habits among HQ's players, though occasional technical difficulties have plagued the app in recent weeks, causing games to be delayed. 

For now, HQ is funding its prizes through its pool of investment money, though it has tried out sponsored games. There's also potential to start charging for extra lives or other perks that would help a player succeed (Perhaps the 2017 version of "Phone a Friend"). The founders say they would eventually like to reach a prize pool of $1 million.

Meanwhile, the media and entertainment worlds are already starting to pay attention. Yusupov and Kroll say that they've received outreach about partnerships and from reps seeking to book guest-hosting gigs for their clients, but they demur about any Hollywood ambitions for the app. "We haven't even begun to think about what HQ might look like on a television," says Kroll, "though it's an interesting thought."

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.