ABC News Unveils TV App That Registers Emotional Reaction of Viewers

ABC NEWS Social Soundtracker Screengrab - H 2013

ABC NEWS Social Soundtracker Screengrab - H 2013

The product allows users to click emoticons for applause, booing or laughing during programming and see how others are responding.

ABC News is introducing an app that aims to create a communal TV experience where viewers can register reactions based on specific moments in programming and see what friends' emotional responses are in real-time. 

The idea, as conceived in a beta product called Social Soundtracker, allows users to stream a speech by, say, President Obama, sign in using Facebook, and register emotions by clicking on five emoticons -- clap, boo, laugh, gasp, and aww -- in the app. 

STORY: Twitter's Oscars Index Crowns 'Silver Linings Playbook' the Social Sentiment Winner

Sentiment analysis has been tried out before with several experiments by Twitter, including the Oscars Index, that attempted to extract positive or negative trends from chatter on the microblogging platform. The difference with the ABC News product is that users are registering simple emotions for specific moments. 

"It’s more direct, you’re asking the user to tell you how they’re feeling so we don’t have to do any guessing," says Maya Baratz, head of new products at ABC News, to The Hollywood Reporter

The product, which will debut online during a live stream of the White House Correspondents' Dinner this Saturday, offers possibilities for the news network to further analyze what viewers like (the "clap" emoticon) or dislike ("boo") in programming.

Baratz tells THR that the product has the potential with Good Morning America clips as well as sports offerings in the future. 

A demonstration of the product shown to reporters on Thursday showed a Correspondents' dinner speech by the president. During moments where Obama joked, emoticons indicating clapping or laughing appeared on Facebook profile pictures of those who signed in with the app to watch the speech along with accompanying sound. 

Baratz says that with the data collected, ABC News will potentially be able to create a search function based on shows that "made your friends laugh" or a feature to "see the highlights of an award show by actual reactions of your friends."

STORY: Top New York Times Political Reporters Headed to ABC News

Social Soundtracker's success is presumably based on a large audience tuning in to register reactions on the app. Currently, the product will only be used online for a limited number of events. An iPhone app for the product will debut in May. 

In the demonstration, the network's representatives mentioned potentially introducing more emoticons to register more emotions, and possibly experimenting with facial detection software in the future. 

"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 explains to THR. "We will see how people choose to use the app, and that will drive its evolution."


Twitter: @Erik_Hayden