HQ Trivia Is Dictating When and How Consumers Use Apps and Inspiring a Host of Imitators

It's providing a potential model for marketers

A silver hand holds a phone up to the ear of a bearded man in a colorful suit, against a purple background.
Scott Rogowsky is known as “Quiz Daddy” to fans.
Photo: Justin Bettman for Adweek; Suit: Shinesty; Prop styling: Dianna McDougall

Since December, twice a day, like clockwork, Terry Berger, a 17-year-old high school junior from Atlanta, has been playing HQ Trivia, the mobile app game-show sensation. At 3 p.m. Berger, her fellow students and teachers huddle together over their smartphones, answering often silly, mostly vanilla questions about pop culture, science and history for the chance to win cash prizes. At 9 p.m. she’s at it again, this time with her family. In fact, HQ’s daily-double playing schedule is so drilled into Berger’s internal timetable that she doesn’t even need the app’s triggered push notifications to remind her it’s game time.

Nearly two weeks ago, Berger won $9.50, and while not exactly Powerball spoils, she calls it “the most exciting moment of my life,” saying, “I just [like] the thrill of playing, knowing that it’s a real money prize and seeing how many people are playing—you want to be a part of that.”

Justin Bettman; Suit: Shinesty; Prop styling: Dianna McDougall

Like Berger, scores of players in offices, schools, factories and cafés across America—known as “HQties”—have made the game-show app their twice-daily habit. According to the app-research firm Sensor Tower, since launching in August, HQ has been downloaded more than 5 million times.

For those few uninitiated souls, HQ works like this: In real-time, the show’s emcee poses 12 questions with three possible answers, while players vie for a shot at splitting a jackpot—averaging anywhere from $1,500 to $25,000. (HQ doesn’t run ads, subscriptions or sponsored content; it’s completely fueled by venture funding.) On Super Bowl Sunday, 2 million people logged on for a single session, angling for $20,000 in winnings (168 people shared the prize). As for HQ’s main host, one-time stand-up comic Scott Rogowsky (“Quiz Daddy” to fans) has become a bona fide breakout star (see Adweek’s Q&A with Rogowsky).

The brainchild of Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, co-founders of video app Vine, HQ is a throwback to the old group quiz shows stretching back to World War II, paired with the best elements of mobile gaming and live video. More than merely the digital version of Jeopardy! or, say, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? however, HQ has turned our current fetish for whenever-you-want-it entertainment on its head, creating a shared, communal experience. And that, say marketers and brands, has potentially broader ramifications when it comes to cracking the digital universe to reach consumers.

HQ Trivia is 7 months old.

“People are scheduling their days around playing HQ,” says co-founder and CEO Yusupov, “and it’s a very dramatic shift from what we’ve been seeing in digital media with Netflix, Hulu and these services that promise convenience.” What distinguishes HQ, he says, is “these shared moments,” much like back in the day of Must-See TV.

Only 7 months old, HQ has already spawned a host of knock-off game apps like The Q, Cash Show and TopBuzz’s Beat the Q.

Will Jamieson, CEO of video platform Stream, created The Q in December after he noticed HQ’s app was buggy with lags and other glitches and offered to help. When they never called him back, he “realized this was going to be an excellent opportunity to hop back into the consumer space.” Blue Label Labs, a New York-based app development firm, reports an uptick in marketers looking to capitalize on HQ’s success. The company says it is in the process of building a dating app with gaming features for an unnamed client.

At the moment, HQ is not too worried about the imitators, touting its superior graphics and production values. What’s more, The Q, according to Jamieson, pulls in 10,000 to 15,000 daily players—a fraction of HQ’s active user base. Says host Rogowsky, “The competition that’s starting to come out is only helping us.”

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This story first appeared in the March 5, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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