HQ Trivia delays new show and sponsorship deal with Google

Founder's death causes company to reschedule

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HQ Trivia will promote Google Assistant as part of an ad deal.
HQ Trivia will promote Google Assistant as part of an ad deal.

HQ Trivia plans to run its regularly scheduled game on Monday evening, but without a significant new promotion it planned with Google.

The company has also decided to delay the premiere of its gameshow called HQ Words, which was scheduled to debut tonight, before the death of company CEO Colin Kroll.

On Sunday, Kroll, 34, was found dead from a likely drug overdose in his Manhattan apartment. The death came as HQ Trivia was set to unveil one of its most important marketing deals to date with Google; it was also aiming to go live with HQ Words, likened to a speed round of Wheel of Fortune. The new initiatives were to signal the next stage in development for a successful startup that is also in need of a fresh hit.

Brandon Teitel, senior VP of programming and partnerships at HQ Trivia, discussed Google's sponsorship on Friday, before the death of its founder, about the advertising tie-in and Words.

"Google is taking over HQ for the holidays," Teitel said during the interview. "There are a bunch of parts to this campaign. The first part is on HQ Trivia, where [host] Scott Rogowsky is going to do live demos, a live integration on air, using the product."

HQ Trivia is the live mobile gameshow app that lets viewers answer 12 questions, and the people who answer all of them correctly share in prizes. Rogowsky is one of the standout stars who often hosts the games.

Now, Google's ad campaign has been postponed until Wednesday December 19 and HQ Words will air Sunday December 23. The order of the Google campaign has also been disrupted. On Wednesday, Google commercial spots will run ahead of the quiz, and a brand integration into the actual game will now happen Sunday.

The Google sponsorship will include promotion of Google Assistant, the voice-activated service that runs on Home speakers, phones and other devices. During the game, Rogowsky is supposed to ask Google Assistant for help revealing the answers to the questions. In one case, the assistant will be told to dim the lights, showing off the smart home capabilities, and the correct answer to the question will then glow in the dark. Assistant will also answer some of the questions directly, Teitel said.

The company initially planned to go directly into streaming the first episode of HQ Words at 9:30 p.m. after Monday night's regularly scheduled round of trivia. The trivia game will still be played, but without the Google integration.

"We learned yesterday of the passing of our friend and founder, Colin Kroll, and it's with deep sadness that we say goodbye," an HQ Trivia spokeswoman said by e-mail on Monday. "Our thoughts go out to his family, friends and loved ones during this incredibly difficult time."

Teitel declined to disclose how much money Google was paying for the campaign. However, in March, Warner Bros. ran the first sponsorship with the app, and that deal was worth $3 million to promote three movies.

HQ Trivia generated about $10 million in ad revenue this year, according to people familiar with its sales.

In 2017, HQ Trivia catapulted into popularity as an innovative live game that attracted a devoted following. Kroll founded the app with Rus Yuspov, after the duo first collaborated on creating Vine, the 6-second video app that was bought by Twitter, which shut the app down in 2016.

HQ Trivia raised $15 million this year and was valued at about $100 million. In September, Kroll replaced Yuspov at the top of the company reportedly because of concerns about strategy. Also, Kroll's tenure started with a formal complaint by an employee about his "aggressive management style," according to Recode, but an investigation didn't uncover any impropriety.

Teitel acknowledged that the initial euphoria around HQ Trivia has settled down, but claims the app still commands the largest live audience on mobile phones. HQ Trivia does not reveal its average daily audience, but Teitel says the app can still draw 500,000 to 2.4 million people depending on the prize pool and other promotional efforts.

What the game maker does need is another hit property. HQ Trivia is competing with platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, all of which have live options, and Facebook has interactive programs that could mimic the gameplay of HQ Trivia.

"We have a whole ton of programming we are interested in developing," Teitel said.

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