TV networks get in on the live trivia app trend even as the hype cools

HQ Trivia became a viral sensation last year, getting millions of people to show up for daily live trivia games in hopes of winning cash prizes. Competing live trivia apps like The Q and FleetWit followed. Even Under Armour had created one. Now, TV networks are getting in on the trend — though they might be too late to the party.

On Sept. 5, Samantha Bee, star of TBS’s political satire show “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” played along with a roomful of people at the Helen Mills Theater in Manhattan to demonstrate the show’s new live trivia app, “This is Not a Game: The Game.” The game, like the show, is tied to the midterm elections and is meant to get people to the polls (and watch “Full Frontal,” of course).

“Just a few years ago, it was enough to use advertising to funnel customers through the front door of TV,” said Michael Engleman, chief marketing officer for TBS and TNT. “Today, we must create paths to discovery across digital, social, live events and, of course, gaming.”

Fox also introduced a live trivia app in August, “FN Genius,” hosted by Jordan L. Jones, who stars in the new Fox comedy “Rel.” An executive at another TV network said they are actively working on an app as well that would rival HQ, but requested anonymity because they are under contract to not reveal the project.

Like HQ, all these trivia games invite people to sign onto apps at specific times during the day to play live games and win prizes, mostly money. For the networks, they’re a way to promote their shows and get first-party data, something they generally lack. TBS’s game has players sign in through Facebook or with an email while Fox’s FN Genius asks for players’ phone numbers to alert them to upcoming games.

“Studios already are paying big marketing dollars to reach the rabid, albeit fickle, young audience and promote their latest movies and television shows,” said Peter Csathy, founder and chairman of advisory firm Creatv Media. “Why not do it themselves, with their own IP, and at least gain some valuable insights and intelligence in the process?”

Acquiring more first-party data is becoming increasingly important as the industry moves toward an addressable advertising model, which lets TV advertisers target viewers based on location, income and time spent thanks to the rise of streaming services.

Launching a gaming app also opens up other sponsorship and advertising opportunities. HQ has driven revenue from brand takeovers with companies like Nike and Warner Bros. Although most apps don’t immediately launch with an advertiser, Fox’s FN Genius has already signed on Twix.

There are obstacles, like money. TBS, for instance, has to cough up up to $5,000 in prize money for each game. “I think these brands will quickly find out that it is a huge undertaking, resource-wise and technically,” said Bridget Fahrland, svp of client strategy at digital agency Fluid.

Advertisers also say the desire to play live trivia apps might be cooling. “If you play HQ Trivia, like me, a few times a week, you will also know that the love affair with the app is cooling, and fewer people are playing the everyday rounds, although big purses still have a draw,” Fahrland said.

HQ Trivia’s downloads and app store rankings are definitely sinking. TechCrunch recently ran an article laying out HQ’s decline. App Annie’s ranking history show HQ Trivia has slipped from No. 1 in the Apple app store in February to No. 585 in August. HQ Trivia is likely hoping that new features will kick up participation. A tweet in August from Rus Yusupov, CEO and co-founder of HQ Trivia, parlayed questions about the app’s growth to new game formats coming out, one of which is the app’s new integration with Apple TV.

“Experimentation is always a good thing, even if it is a bit late in the curve,” said Csathy.

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