These are heady times for the creators of HQ Trivia.
The app, which broadcasts live shows to iPhones and iPads twice a day, has taken off since its debut in August. Its ability to attract tens of thousands of people to log in for each 15-minute segment in hopes of winning money by answering a dozen trivia questions has some wondering if it has reimagined the TV game show for the cord-cutting era.
And its success with livestreaming video on phones — an area in which Facebook and Twitter have heavily invested, with mixed results — has the technology and media worlds buzzing. It has even weathered its first public relations crisis, after Rus Yusupov, one of HQ Trivia’s founders, tried to quash a profile of the show’s host by The Daily Beast, an embarrassing kerfuffle that nonetheless increased awareness of the app.
“It’s clear that there’s a lot of attention on us now because this thing has blown up overnight practically,” Yusupov said in an interview. “We have ambitions to essentially build the future of TV, and, yeah — there is a lot of pressure to get everything right all the time, and I admit that I made a mistake.”
Yusupov and his co-founder, Colin Kroll, both 33, previously founded the 6-second video app Vine, which Twitter bought in 2012 and shuttered this year. The two, based in New York, have been working to develop video apps for the past two years with “a few million dollars” in funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners, the first institution to invest in Snapchat.
The firm is also the source of HQ’s daily cash prizes, at least until the company figures out an advertising model.
HQ emerged from the ashes of a less popular live-streaming video app the men created called Hype, which sought to let users add pictures and music to broadcasts but lost its audience over time. HQ takes its cues from traditional game shows like “Jeopardy!” as well as Twitch, the video streaming site for gamers that Amazon owns.
It’s easy to feel that a strange new future has arrived upon opening the free app for the first time. The game — available only on Apple devices, though an Android version is scheduled to arrive around Christmas — features a counter in the corner of the screen that ticks up as people log on to play at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern Time on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends. (Its highest number of concurrent viewers was 240,000 on Nov. 26. For comparison, the exploding watermelon that BuzzFeed live-streamed on Facebook last year reached just over 800,000 concurrent viewers at its peak.)
The show, which can be glitchy, is typically hosted by an energetic comedian, Scott Rogowsky, who cracks jokes as he asks a dozen multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty. Players use their touch screens to respond in less than 10 seconds, and the app shows how many people are eliminated after each round. Players can also share their reactions via a rapid-fire chat function at the bottom of the screen.
It can make one cringe to see what questions lead to a “savage” (translation: major) elimination of players. For example, at least 20,000 people were unable to identify the correct spelling of “embarrassed.”
But the app tests a range of knowledge: Carson Daly, the former MTV host, posted on Instagram that he was excited to be an option for “Who co-hosted the first season of American Idol with Ryan Seacrest in 2002?”
Early questions tend to be on the easier side, like: “Which president is featured on the U.S. one dollar bill?” Those who answer all the questions correctly share in a prize that has fluctuated between hundreds and thousands of dollars and is distributed via PayPal.
Kroll, a Twitch fan, said that much of what people knew as live video from apps like Twitter’s Periscope lacked a sense of urgency and participation.
“There’s a point-of-view live, where you’re experiencing something through someone else’s phone, and then there’s this idea of interactive video, where the audience is actually a key component of driving the content,” he said. “I became really interested in the latter and saw there was a real absence in the market of that sort of experience.”