If reality television is the pop-culture equivalent of the NFL, then a celebrity-reality wedding is, well, the Super Bowl. When E! star Kim Kardashian marries the New Jersey Nets’ Kris Humphries on Aug. 20 in Montecito, Calif., cameras will document the nuptials for the network’s two-part special Kim’s Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event (airing Oct. 9 and 10).
E! has a history of capitalizing on talent weddings: Kim’s sister Khloe‘s wedding to Lamar Odom brought in 3.2 million viewers in November 2009, making it the most-watched broadcast in the network’s history at the time. The Kendra Wilkinson-Hank Baskett affair on Kendra drew 2.1 million viewers in August 2009, E!’s best first-season finale since 2002. Horizon Media’s Brad Adgate predicts that Kim’s wedding could attract 5 million-plus viewers. He posits that if the event aired live, it could lure “a Jersey Shore-size audience” of 8 million. “The Kardashians have contributed to E!’s growth and serve as some of the network’s key talent,” says Lisa Berger, E! president of entertainment programming.
“Kim knew that to get where she wanted personally, she had to create a relationship with her fans,” Kris Jenner told THR this year. With three unwed daughters left, Jenner has a formula. “All my girls are following suit, even the little ones.” While this wedding might not get the 17.1 million fans who tuned to ABC when The Bachelorette‘s Trista Rehn wed Ryan Sutter in 2003 (beating that week’s Monday Night Football game by 2 million viewers), reality TV has become a key tool for the billion-dollar wedding industry. Vendors rarely receive the mass publicity a Kardashian wedding can provide, says celebrity event producer Tony Schubert, so many offer free goods. Because Kim is viewed among many brides-to-be and bridal hopefuls as a tastemaker, association with her is priceless. A single tweet from the star can get a brand’s name in front of nearly 9 million followers (dress designer Vera Wang is already receiving frequent mentions), compared to the 200,000 circulation of a wedding magazine like Brides.
Schubert says a wedding of this scale could easily cost $500,000-plus, but not only will the family not spend money, it will likely make money. In addition to E! fees and gratis goods, Jenner — the mastermind behind reality TV’s $65 million 2010 paycheck and point person on all Kardashian-related deals — negotiated a whopping $1.5 million weekly magazine deal for exclusive photos, according to insiders. And while E! does not get a cut, insiders say the network could earn nearly $13 million in ad revenue (the usual $5,000 ad spot rate is expected to run upward of $100,000). Why does this all work? “The Kardashians represent a new type of exotic subculture,” says Truth Consulting’s Linda Ong. “Today, when most people are just trying to survive, seeing them thrive gives us all hope.”
Luxury invitationers Lehr & Black designed crystal-embellished black-and-white engraved gatefold invitations for the affair (they also created invitations for Khloe’s 2009 wedding to Odom). With a 500-person guest list, Event Eleven’s Schubert estimates the designer invites cost well over $10,000 to create, but it is believed that in exchange for publicity, the company comped the bride the stationery.
In June, the 55-year-old mother of six went under the knife of Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Garth Fisher. It is uncertain how much Jenner paid for the procedure, but his “pinnacle” facelifts start at $50,000. She has openly discussed it, leading one to believe publicity in exchange for goods could be part of the deal.
THE BACHELORETTE PARTY
On top of the seven-figure deal she inked late last year with Tao nightclub for a handful of 2011 hosting gigs at her favorite Las Vegas haunt, Kim negotiated another $50,000 to host her bachelorette party there. After arriving with family and friends on the Palazzo hotel’s private jet, the bride-to-be settled into the $2,000-a-night penthouse courtesy of the hotel.
On July 29, the happy couple went cake tasting at Hansen’s Cakes in Los Angeles (they reportedly want to re-create the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal cake). While luxury wedding cakes average about $6,000, the insider says the bakery is gifting it to the couple. “They’re going to get free publicity,” says Schubert. “They can make this cake in three days and move on to the next.”
Legendary designer Vera Wang created a $20,000-plus custom wedding gown for Kim that is being given to the bride-to-be along with extensive fittings and alterations.
The 20.5-carat stunner has been estimated to have a $2 million price tag, but a source close to the family says that, like Khloe’s 9-carat engagement ring, the Lorraine Schwartz bauble was given to the couple for a fraction of the cost.
THE TV DEAL
With three shows already on E!, the Kardashian franchise is expanding to include the two-part wedding special (the family currently splits a five-figure salary per episode). Although direct income from the shows is usually the least lucrative slice of the Kardashian empire, they offer an unparalleled platform for the brand.
According to an insider, Jenner is hoping to land a star performer like Christina Aguilera or Jennifer Lopez to serenade the newlyweds at the reception. While private concerts from these pop divas begin at $1 million, Jenner is unwilling to offer compensation.
Three months might seem like a short engagement, but compared with Khloe’s nine-day engagement to Odom, 90 days seems like a lifetime. In little more than a week before Khloe’s wedding on Sept. 27, 2009, the Kardashians were able to secure the same luxury vendors (including a custom Vera Wang) they are using for Kim and Humphries’ big day and a $300,000 deal with OK! Magazine for exclusive photos. The two-hour wedding special for Khloe and Odom, which aired as Keeping Up With the Kardashians‘ season-four premiere on Nov. 8, 2009, averaged a record-breaking 3.2 million viewers and pulled in $15,000 per 30-second ad spot.