EXCLUSIVE: Fox is rolling out an answer to the viral success of HQ Trivia. Its new mobile video game show, FN Genius, is already live in Apple and Android app stores and has been pitched in sales meetings since May.
FN Genius will officially enter the spotlight this weekend with major promotions Saturday night and Sunday during The Simpsons. It will premiere on Sunday’s the Teen Choice Awards on the Fox broadcast network, according to sources with knowledge of the launch plans.
Jordan L. Jones, who stars in the new Fox comedy Rel, will host the short-form show, which gives out cash prizes to players who download the app and play along in real time, as is the model of HQ. Sources say the initial episode is being treated as a pilot. Based on results from the initial airing, a determination will be made about the size of a series order, frequency of airings and other details.
Pilot stage or not, the network has been having active talks with brands about FN Genius episodes in the high-profile fall/holiday corridor. (Sunday’s premiere is sponsored by Twix.) Fox is traditionally loaded that time of year, but this fall will add NFL Thursday Night Football and the WWE’s Smackdown Live to its traditional broadcasts of baseball’s World Series in October.
Technology is of some concern at launch given some of the wobbles of HQ. After the upstart app owned by Intermedia Labs saw its popularity soar last fall, with daily audiences reaching 2 million simultaneous viewers, latency issues and other streaming glitches cropped up. Brands, among them Nike, Warner Bros. and NBC, have nevertheless flocked to HQ to execute co-promotions and multi-million-dollar buys.
Fox is preparing for its future as part of a smaller, more focused entity divorced from 20th Television and the other assets being acquired by Disney. Live, unscripted programming will be the focus. NFL football, WWE wrestling and reality fare will create a Fox lineup that is more than three-quarters live programming, helping differentiate the network and also, in theory, keep advertisers in the fold.
During 21st Century Fox’s earnings call earlier this week, executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch said promotion was key to the outlay of billions on the NFL and pro wrestling.
“The reason we chose to do that was the incredible promotional platform it gives us,” he said. “Not only for sports, but also for news and entertainment.” Programming fewer nights of the week (especially with 52 weeks a year of WWE action headed to Fox “gives us an opportunity but it gives us an advantage to really focus that programming on those nights,” he said. (The comments reinforced those of Fox co-chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman at the just-concluded TCA summer press tour.)
In addition to fitting the network’s specific strategy, the investment in FN Genius reflects the complex landscape media companies are navigating. Well-capitalized players like YouTube, Amazon and Netflix continue to throw their weight around, while an upstart like HQ can also come out of left field and draw viewers away from network programming.
At the same time, network advertising remains a $70 billion-plus industry, with rates managing to rise on many networks even though linear viewing continues to erode. The reach of a broadcast network is difficult to match and a heavy reliance on digital means advertisers have to contend with a range of issues, from privacy to viewability, and thus far most are still invested in traditional TV. The vision for FN Genius is that it will fuse the digital and the linear in a way that hooks viewers and satisfied ad buyers. As oppose to ceding the live mobile opportunity to Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook, this gives a traditional player a new sandbox of its own.