ABC News Social Soundtracker Dubiously App-ifies The Laugh Track

Pres-Obama-BI kid because I love. ABC News began experimenting this weekend with a new Web app called Social Soundtracker that registers and even verbalizes group response to a live broadcast. The event-based program launched with this weekend’s Washington Correspondents Dinner, but will be hosting social TV responses every morning on GMA as well as upcoming Presidential addresses.

The app has you sign in with Facebook Connect so that you can watch a program with your declared friends. The interface sports five emoticons suggesting laughter, liking, disfavor, applause or (I think) OMG! amazement. You tap the icon for your current emotion as you respond to the live event, and your response and your friends’ responses are turned into a crawling ribbon beneath. When a sizable percentage of your friends registers the same emotional response to an on-air moment, the app lets out a corresponding laugh, gasp, clap, etc.

The promotional materials for the platform promise an iPhone app, but it turns out that the mobile version won’t be available until May. You have to use the Web app on a laptop or tablet until then.

The smart part of this is that it strips down the second-screen experience to simple emoticon responses and an audio track, allowing the viewer to keep his or her eye on the main screen. It addresses the common complaint about second-screen apps that they are too cluttered and distracting and require too much tending. Clearly, ABC News is thinking about a less intrusive complementary experience that is even more stripped down than Twitter, which requires some reading and typing.

But the app adds something strangely regressive -- canned laughter and other responses. How weird to have return in the most advanced of platforms mechanical emotional responses, albeit ones that are triggered algorithmically by your social graph.

In her post about the new program, ABC News' Maya Baratz says the apps will also provide programmers with an instant feedback loop of sentiment -- an “emotional intelligence layer.” “Hosts of a live show can, for instance, sign in to the app to literally hear their audience in real time, from anywhere in the world.” She also speculates that the record of emotional responses could become a media discovery tool, perhaps for finding the shows that made your friends laugh most.

On the other hand, how involved does an audience feel when they are punching five buttons that someone else has determined is the acceptable range of responses to what they are seeing? Is this audience involvement -- or does it start to feel like a dehumanizing behavioral experiment?

On an advertising note, Baratz suggests having this kind of real-time feedback could improve promotions by allowing for more “dynamically intuitive integrations -- and opt-out scenarios -- that resonate well overall.”

Now there is a clause a media buyer might want to put into the buy order: pull the spots with audiences registering below 50% in show enjoyment.  

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