21st Century Laugh Track: ABC News Unveils Social TV App

Viewers will share instant reactions to programming on Facebook

ABC News announced a new app called Social Soundtracker that will allow users to tap emoticons to instantly convey their feelings about a television program—clap, boo, laugh, gasp and aww—with a goal of turning TV viewing into a simulacrum of a communal event, according to The Hollywood Reporter

The Web app will debut on Saturday during the White House Correspondents' Dinner, while the iPhone app will be available in May.

Social Soundtracker will sync with Facebook so that users can share the experience of watching TV news with their friends. The app will show the percentage of your friends who expressed the same emotion, "just as if you were all watching together in the same room." When a "significant number" of friends click the same emoticon, ABC News said, the app will produce a corresponding sound—such as "aww" or "laughter." 

Television networks and advertisers all want to use social media to gauge audience reactions—Twitter recently implemented the Oscars Index to track positive and negative reactions in real time.

"We will see how people choose to use the app, and that will drive its evolution," said Maya Baratz, head of news products at ABC News. The network intends to use the data to make a search function that would allow viewers to search for "shows that made your friends laugh" or the funniest highlights of an awards show, said Baratz.

These options are not available yet, so presumably the app will appeal to TV watchers who want to participate in one-sided focus groups, giving the network—and by extension, advertisers—valuable feedback without asking for much of anything in return.

Glossing over privacy concerns, Baratz said future versions of the app may employ facial recognition technology.

"Right now, users tap or click an emoticon to express how they feel in the app, but you can imagine a potential scenario in the future where they may choose to instead laugh into a camera on their laptop or TV while watching a program, and have that recognized in the app via facial detection software," Baratz said.

Though the app is now "very beta," said Baratz, ABC News intends to develop it so that  "your media will be able to even more literally watch and hear you as you watch and hear it, alongside everyone watching with you."

Recommended articles