Gravy is a livestreaming, gamified shopping show that has arrived on a scene currently flush with live mobile trivia game shows. Amid the uncertainty of making money from trivia shows, Gravy may have found a sustainable monetization model.
In the works for more than a year, Gravy launched about four months ago. Co-founder Brian Wiegand has founded several startups in the advertising space. In 2014, he sold his digital, targeted marketing firm hopster to Inmar.
His latest company is still working with brands to boost exposure, but it’s not an advertising play. Instead, brands pay Gravy for the exposure and messaging provided by its platform, which Wiegand said is his company’s core method for monetizing its live game show.
“When you think about new media opportunities like radio, TV, print, search, and recorded video, live was this new media type. And whenever you have a new media type, the ad models are very new and untested and unproven,” Wiegand said.
HQ Trivia has been able to score big sponsorship deals from major brands including Warner Bros. and Nike. But it hasn’t been an easy for similar live trivia apps like Cash Show, Genius and The Q to lock down major sponsors. Gravy hasn’t quite made it to the $3 million advertising deal level yet, but it’s attracting a lot of smaller brands by providing a stage and featuring their products in seven- to nine-minute interactive video experiences for audiences that are about 80% millennials.
“If you’re a brand trying to reach a millennial audience, how can you get seven to nine minutes of a millennial’s attention? That’s really difficult to do,” Wiegand said, clarifying that Gravy is a media event, not a sales event.
Gravy is a live shopping game show that runs about 10-15 minutes, once a day. Users check in to the live show to play a buying game where an unknown amount of a product starts at full price and then begins ticking down. The idea for viewers is to wait and let the price get as low as possible but still buy the product before they’re all gone. Recently featured products include North Face jackets, Adidas Solarboost running shoes, iPhone X, Apple HomePod, Xbox, Beats headphones and the Oculus Go VR headset.
Wiegand said a recent show was selling Vitamix blenders and the host demonstrated the product by blending up a banana and his phone bill, and drinking it. Wiegand said the host almost puked during the live show, but it was entertaining.
A second aspect of the show is a guessing game where users predict the discount level at which the product will sell out. The closest guesses get to split a cash prize.
“A lot of times, you’re not intending to purchase but you’re listening to the host talk about the product and you end up saying ‘I could actually use that’ and you end up buying anyway,” Wiegand said. He said the products often sell out and then a percentage of the sales goes toward charity.
Wiegand said that the challenge for Gravy is to present products without coming off like it’s pushing a sales agenda. To fill in the full runtime of the program, Wiegand said the company and hosts focus on learning what story the brands want told about their products, researching and testing the products themselves, and then combining those facts into an entertaining format.
Wiegand said Gravy still struggles to attract top-tier brands to its platform but that the Indiegogo/Kickstarter level of brands are endlessly lining up to get the attention of Gravy’s user base. He said that as Gravy’s audience increases, it will become easier to attract bigger brands.
How it works
Gravy is headquartered in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, in an office space two floors up from a comedy club.
Wiegand said the office used to be occupied by a bank and that the company is “still trying to debankify” its surroundings. But for the company’s purposes, the space seems to do the trick.
“We built a really simple studio and we actually use the iPhone X for video,” Wiegand said. Gravy’s studio is efficient, with enough room for the host and a producer, a white board covered with production notes, lighting, monitors and microphones.
Wiegand said that as Gravy grows it may invest more in its studio but he said that the slicker the production gets, the more it feels like a sales pitch. He likes the show as it is right now, where the camera comes on and the host starts riffing on the product.
Gravy’s full team is just less than 20 people and about half of the staff focuses on tech and product-related work. Weigand said Gravy also has a few marketers and brand relationship sales people. The hosts—who Wiegand said are often former comedians or on-air professionals who can be engaging in front of a camera—do not work full-time for the company.
Wiegand said now that Gravy has found a product market fit and is taking off—Gravy is growing around 20% to 25% per month virally—the company plans to expand its operation. He said Gravy intends to launch a beauty and fashion show, and an outdoor and fitness show, both following the same formula as the original Gravy.
Definitely not trivia
The live interactive game show on mobile is a bustling trend right now, and many apps and shows are focusing on trivia after HQ Trivia has seen so much success.
It’s still unclear how big the market for interactive, app-based TV shows will grow but the current crop seems to be attracting large audiences of millennials and other demographics. If the popularity persists, it could lead more traditional programmers and digital media companies to weave more interactive and possibly gamified elements into their own online video strategies.
For now, Gravy is focused on setting itself apart within the app-based interactive game show space by steering clear of trivia, which Wiegand said is relatively easy to do.
“[Trivia has] been fairly commoditized and done over and over again. I think there are more than a dozen companies. And it’s not that difficult to add a live poll question,” Wiegand said.
Wiegand said that the news that Facebook recently added gamification features to its live videos was a little overblown, particularly since the company didn’t add a payment platform.
He likes Gravy’s niche as far as gamifying a shopping experience and touted the amount of work Gravy does in terms of brand coordination, e-commerce and inventory.
“There’s a lot more involved than coming up with some questions and giving away some money,” Wiegand said. He added that since Gravy features different products each night, it makes the show more dynamic and engaging.
Wiegand said Gravy’s retention rate is “amazing.” He said that, at 90 days in, more than 50% of Gravy users are still seeing three shows per week. He doesn’t think that’s the same case for trivia shows, which he said, based on anecdotal evidence, tend to lose audiences over time.
“[Trivia] a game you play and have fun but then it goes away. I just don’t think shopping goes away. The hunt for a deal is something that I’ve done my entire life,” Wiegand said.