When getting started in the media production industry, lots of new words you don't know come up in conversations.
Different terminologies pointing out small details and professional lingo can be very confusing, so today we are answering a very common question for those new to TV studios: What is the difference between an Autocue and a teleprompter?
- Which is correct? Teleprompter vs Autocue
- A brief summary of the origins of the teleprompter
- TelePrompTer Corporation and Autocue: Two manufacturers for the same device
- How did the first teleprompter evolve into the compact modern iPad teleprompter?
Which is correct? Teleprompter vs Autocue
The short answer is easy: they are basically the same thing. Teleprompter and Autocue are different ways of referring to the same device, a system that allows actors, news anchors, etc. to read their script while looking directly at the camera.
According to The Cambridge Dictionary a teleprompter is:
"An electronic device that makes it possible for people speaking on a television programme to read text while looking directly at the television camera."
When looking up the definition of Autocue, The Cambridge Dictionary reads:
"A brand name for an electronic device used by people speaking on a television programme that shows the words they have to say while they look directly at the television camera."
A brief summary of the origins of the teleprompter
You may be wondering why there would be two such different names for the same thing. Here's some history about this device.
The word teleprompter originated in the late 1940s, when Fred Barton Jr, a veteran Broadway actor, transitioned into the world of television. In this medium, he had to memorise the text of his performances without much time to prepare and without the time to rehearse before recordings or live shows.
After discussing his concerns with the then vice-president of the well-known 20th Century Fox studios, Irving Kahn, they contacted an electronic engineer and researcher by the name of Hubert Schlafly.
Hubert got to work and created the first electric prompter in history, it consisted of a precarious system of pulleys and gears that moved a roll of paper on which the actors could read the text of their dialogue.
This device used to be placed on top of a camera, which resulted in a somehow uncanny look in the actors' eyes. They were almost looking into the camera but the audience could tell they were looking at something else.
TelePrompTer Corporation and Autocue: Two manufacturers for the same device
The world teleprompter is actually the trademark of the first company to ever produce this kind of device. Ever since, it has been used as a broad term for any system or device that fulfills the same purpose.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, in 1949 the first design of this device was patented under the dominion of the newly founded TelePrompTer Corporation.
The term Autocue, however, stems from the brand name of the first UK-based manufacturer of such devices. This company licensed the patent to the teleprompting company Autocue in 1955, which also started with paper roll scripts. The term Autocue became a synonym for teleprompter, and nowadays it is used indistinctly to refer to any prompter device.
How did the first teleprompter evolve into the compact modern iPad teleprompter?
The use of the teleprompter in the United States and the device's inclusion on the presidential speech podium as podium prompter or speech teleprompter during the 1960s onwards took the teleprompter from only being known to those working within the film and TV industry to the general public being familiar with it.
This popularization brought it out of international anonymity and teleprompters began being exported to Europe.
Over the years, the system was perfected: the use of reflective beamsplitter glass was introduced to improve the star's eye contact with their audience or the camera, and later the scripted paper was replaced by the first screens.
The format of the teleprompter changed progressively, with a tendency to reduce its size to improve portability and handling.
Today, even television companies and major production companies use the tablet or iPad teleprompter for their recordings, especially for on-the-go recordings or for live news reporting outside the studio. The introduction of the wireless remote control to adjust the settings and play and pause the script meant that recording assistants were no longer mandatory.
This opened lots of possibilities for entrepreneurs, small business and amateur filmmakers to benefit from the use of teleprompters for digital marketing and social media content creation.