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LONDON — As the big day draws near, it’s not just the bride who may be feeling a little anxious.
With predictions are that it will draw the biggest audience in television history, broadcasters around the world are shifting into their highest gear for the royal wedding, and for the next few days London will become the focus of the world.
“Yes, we’re moving to London. Where else would you be?” says Chris Hampson, NBC News’ director of international news. “Everybody wants to be here. You can’t sit in New York and tell this story. You have to be right in the thick of it.”
And the thick of it is exactly where the world’s biggest media organizations will be. Take a stroll down London’s Mall toward Buckingham Palace, and the bland, tree-lined vista used mainly for bypassing the traffic chaos of Piccadilly has been transformed into a hive of pre-ceremony activity.
The traffic has been shut off, and behind the milling tourists and Japanese camera crews, two huge temporary media studios have been erected opposite either flank of the Queen’s London residence.
This media zone in Canada Gate will host more than 40 stand-alone studios with full play-out facilities for broadcasters including the BBC, ABC, Sky News, NBC, CBS and Al Jazeera English.
It is just part of a network of locations including Westminster Abbey, the Mall and Trafalgar Square that are host to a raft of specially erected broadcast locations.
“It’s our biggest international technical build-out ever,” said Hampson, who added that NBC and its sister networks including MSNBC and Telemundo, E! and Bravo began planning wedding coverage even before the royal engagement was announced in November. “We began to focus very early and had a team in London scouting locations and planning for months.”
The result is a series of prime locations, including a prestige slot beneath Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square from which NBC will broadcast a special edition of Today on Friday kicking off at 4 am EST as well as four studios in the media village at Buckingham Palace.
It is also bringing over a host of anchors including Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer, Natalie Morales and Al Roker.
NBC is far from alone in pulling out all the stops; ABC will have live coverage of the ceremony from London anchored by Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, and the network will air a special edition of Good Morning America from London.
CBS is sending Katie Couric on what could be her swan song for the network. Couric will lead the main wedding coverage and anchor an hourlong news special at 8 p.m. Friday.
CNN will use its London squad as well getting as an insider’s take from Piers Morgan, while Fox News is sending over around 50 staff including Shepard Smith and Martha Macullum.
Fox will piggyback on the feed from its sister U.K. network Sky News, which, like all the British broadcasters, is planning wall-to-wall coverage of the event.
The near-universal appetite for the wedding marks an interesting about-turn in the fortunes of the Royal Family, which experienced an unprecedented erosion in popular support in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana.
The dark days of 1997 — when crowds booed the Queen — seem very distant now, in no small part because of a new generation has helped to rehabilitate a royal brand that at times appeared to be under severe strain.
“I think Australians feel more enamored of this younger generation of royals,” said Rachael Brown, who will co-anchor coverage for ABC Australia. “Prince William visited Queensland and New Zealand after the recent natural disasters, and people generally think of him as a good bloke. Even hardcore Republicans are finding it hard to knock a hole in this wedding.”
Balancing a glamorous feel-good story with the ever-changing global news agenda nonetheless remains an anxiety for news broadcasters, with the shifting profile of the Arab Spring still threatening to overshadow the London events.
“We’re putting a lot of resources into our coverage, but we are very mindful of events in other parts of the world,” said Barbara Serra, who will anchor Al Jazeera English’s royal wedding coverage from London.
“Friday has often been a critical day in recent weeks after prayer, and with the situation developing in Syria, it’s very much a judgment call about how much coverage we do.”
It’s a point echoed by NBC’s Hampson.
“It’s a great happy story and we hope for a wonderful day, but we don’t have any influence on those who would have other plans. Our job is to report the news as it happens and we are prepared whatever the story will be.”
Al Jazeera English, the English-language sister channel to the Arabic news network, will deploy reporters in various London locations including Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Mall as well as covering street parties and getting among the crowds.
Interest in the wedding from Al Jazeera English’s audience, said Serra, “is huge,” right down to the frothy details. “As a reporter, I give my personal view of what is going on, and I can tell you that I want to see the dress, I want to see the bride.”
In fact, she said, the eccentricities of a full State Wedding are hard to match.
“Foreigners in particular are fascinated with the way British people dress for weddings, with the hats and morning suits and the whole ceremony. It’s a matter of taste how frothy you want to get, but this is feel-good stuff in a difficult time, and people will be very interested.”
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