There’s an app to listen to silent TVs in public places—and it might just help TV take on the web

Measure this.
Measure this.
Image: Reuters/Dylan Martinez
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It seems obvious in retrospect. We can watch television on our phones, so why not listen to television on our phones?

In airport terminals, at gyms, bars and coffeeshops, hospital waiting rooms, and elsewhere, there are typically televisions tuned to the news, sports events or music videos, but with the sound turned off. You can rectify that with Tunity, a new app, that works like a Shazam for moving images. Point it at the television (on most big channels in the US, but not yet outside America) and it will pull in the sound over the internet so you can listen via your smartphone.

Why might this be a useful tool? Yaniv Davidson, who created Tunity, says it will enable television channels to count the app’s users among its viewers.  Measuring these out-of-home users right now is hard. He cites Neilsen, a ratings and measurement company, to argue that adding out-of-home television viewers would bump up the size of the 25-54-year-old audience by nearly a tenth. A CNN report found that adding out-of-home viewers would boost its reach by 52%. These are pretty big numbers for an industry that is about to enter battle with the giants of the web for audio-visual advertising.

Davidson’s argument is seductive for media professionals. They don’t need to create more content. They don’t need to invest in fancy gadgetry or whizzbang new machines. All they need to do is improve measurement of what they already broadcast—and measuring who has seen which ad is, as the industry knows only too well, the single trickiest thing about advertising.

Tunity promises to deliver this measurement. Instead of estimating some vague number of half-interested viewers, Tunity can tell television networks precisely who is watching what, for how long, and where exactly they’re watching it.

It is a clever way to bring tracking—around which web advertising is built—to television. That is not something consumers like the idea of, but it is something that media buyers increasingly demand.

The only hitch will be getting people to use the app. Davidson is convinced there is plenty of demand: People in gyms, bored people in airport lounges watching the news, even people at home who want to watch something on a big screen without disturbing their spouses, flatmates or pets.