A clap-o-meter, clapometer or applause meter is a measurement instrument that purports to measure and display the volume of clapping or applause made by an audience. It can be used to indicate the popularity of contestants and decide the result of competitions based on audience popularity. Specific implementations may or may not be based on an actual sound level meters. Clap-o-meters were a popular element in talent shows and television game shows in the 1950s and 1960s, most notably Opportunity Knocks, but have been since been supplanted by other, more sophisticated, methods of measuring audience response.
One of the first appearances of a clap-o-meter was in 1956, on the British TV game show Opportunity Knocks, developed and presented by Hughie Green. The clap-o-meter itself was a wooden box labelled "Audience Reaction Indicator". The prop is now part of the collection of the National Media Museum, in Bradford. Clap-o-meters were used in many other TV shows and at live events.
In 1989, Green unsuccessfully attempted to sue the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation for copyright infringement over a similar programme. The clap-o-meter was one of the distinctive features of the format by which Green sought to define it as copyrightable. The courts found that a loose format defined by catchphrases and accessories, such as the clap-o-meter, was not copyrightable.
Clap-o-meters continue to be used. They are often regarded as a novelty or item of amusement rather than an accurate method to measure popularity. Even so, they are sometimes used to judge winners in fairly serious competitions such as battle of the bands competitions. In politics, a politician's popularity is sometimes gauged by the applause they achieve when giving speeches. News organisations sometimes use the concept of a clap-o-meter to gauge popularity of a politician or of components of a politician's overall message.
Quite often a clap-o-meter is a complete sham, having no real sound measuring equipment at all. It is, instead, manipulated by a person, based on their estimation of the audience reaction. This is normally done semi-openly, with the audience under little or no illusion that the clap-o-meter is genuine. This was apparently the case on Opportunity Knocks, where the clap-o-meter was not used to actually determine the winners and was disclaimed with the phrase "Remember, folks! The clap-o-meter is just for fun!".
A number of alternatives to the clap-o-meter exist. A studio audience can be polled by a simple show of hands, or for more visual impact by having them hold up different coloured cards indicating their vote. They can also be polled by electronic means using individual voting devices with buttons for each option. These options are more accurate than a clap-o-meter but lack the element of excitement generated by frenzied applause.
In recent years, phone voting has become the main method of deciding popularity in talent shows. This has the advantage of expanding participation to include the full TV audience. It can also be used in programmes which do not have a studio audience. Phone voting can provide a significant source of additional revenue for the broadcasters from the use of premium rate phone numbers.
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List of TV shows using a clap-o-meter
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December 2009)
- Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts (USA) (1948–1958)
- Queen for a Day (USA) (1956–1964)
- Opportunity Knocks (UK) (1956–1990)
- The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (USA) (1962–1992)
- Late Night with David Letterman (USA) (1982–1993)
- Kids' Court (USA) (1988–1989)
- Late Show with David Letterman (USA) (1993–2015)
- The Slammer (UK) (2006–2015)
- BBC: Press Your Buttons Now!
- Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Discover hidden treasures
- The Beatles Diary: The Beatles years. Barry Miles, Keith Badman pp15-16
- GREEN v. BROADCASTING CORPORATION OF NEW ZEALAND (Details of the ruling)
- Core77 Live 1 Hour Design Challenge at 'A Better World by Design'
- Irish Independent: World air fiddle championships
- Plymouth Herald: Clapometer installed at The Hippo
- UK Game Shows: Opportunity Knocks
- The Guardian: Bring back the clapometer!