Royal Wedding Broadcast Expected to Break Viewership Records

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Broadcasters around the globe will provide an unprecedented amount of multiplatform coverage for the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

On Wednesday night from 8-9 p.m. a special on NBC, Inside The Royal Wedding, was the fourth-highest-rated show, drawing about 5.2 million viewers, which was about a quarter of the number watching American Idol on Fox, half the number who watched Survivor on CBS and slightly less than the 5.2 million watching The Middle on ABC.

That may not sound like a very royal rating, but it cheered NBC, because it was an improvement over the 3.2 million who had watched the same time period the week before. And it in no way will dampen the spirits of the legion of global broadcasters who have descended on London to provide an unprecedented amount of multiplatform coverage for the nuptials of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton.

When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer nearly 30 years ago, an estimated 750 million viewed the ceremony. The event in Buckingham Palace scheduled for early Friday morning U.S. time will be seen live or in a delayed broadcast by more than 2 billion people, by most estimates, and by another 400 million online over YouTube, Google, Yahoo or on other sites.

Not only is this the first and biggest event of the digital broadcast age, it also is the most interactive media experience of all time because the royals have chosen to reach out to their audience through social media from a Facebook page to Twitter to various apps that will allow people to watch on their iPad or cell phone or other devices.

Google and its YouTube are the official providers of the live stream of the events, but lots of others on broadcast and online have climbed aboard the royal bandwagon as well.

Yahoo, for instance, has had more than 80 million people click from its home page to special pages dedicated to wedding coverage, and about 200,000 people have taken the trouble to sign their online guest book and provide comments for the royal couple.

"People are extremely interested," says Jessica Jensen, vp of Yahoo Shine (the section aimed at women). "We have had an incredible outpouring of interest for Shine. We have already surpassed all records, and we're sure tonight and tomorrow will bring new records."

While Google has the official stream, Yahoo will have a live video stream as well, provided by ABC News, which in turn bought its rights from a British provider.

But who exactly is going to watch hundreds of hours of programs that will start Thursday night and run throughout the weekend and into next week on broadcast, cable and online? Based on who watched the shows leading up to the event, it's the ladies.

"We put it on our women's site because we believe women are naturally more interested in pretty dresses and fun events like this," says Jensen. "We have seen a very, very wide age range from teens to older women but definitely skewing extremely female."

The syndicated show Entertainment Tonight, which has sent a small army to cover the wedding, has already seen a boost it attributes to interest in the event. For the first three days of this week, which have been wedding heavy, ratings have been up 11% compared to the average for Monday through Friday the prior four weeks. That is a 4.2 rating (based on overnight results from Nielsen) compared to 3.8 the prior four weeks.

Yahoo drew 6 million unique visitors to its wedding site last month, which Jensen says was "very impressive," but nothing compared to the past 10 days when, she adds, "it has just caught fire."


The buildup has been going on for weeks. On April 18, for instance, ABC's magazine show 20/20 drew 7.5 million viewers for William & Catherine: A Modern Fairy Tale. That same night, a Lifetime movie William & Kate was the most-watched movie of the evening on ad-supported cable, per the network, up 41% among women 18-49 compared to the Lifetime's average for the year to date.

The Yahoo coverage is global, Jensen adds, with 10 special sites and features around the world. "Not surprisingly the Commonwealth countries are showing particular interest," she adds, "but it's also huge in Brazil. Its definitely a global event."

It certainly has drawn a global media thong. About 8,500 journalists are in London, most of whom will be crammed into temporary studios set up next to the Canada Gate at Buckingham Palace. At least 36 studios have sprung up for everyone from the U.K.'s Sky News to the major American networks (with CBS' Katie Couric, NBC's Brian Williams and ABC's Diane Sawyer among those on hand) and even al-Jazeera, all housed in a three-story structure with equipment overflowing into nearly Green Park.

Inside Westminster Abbey, the wedding and 1,900 guests will be captured by 40 cameras, a dozen still photographers and 28 reporters. The BBC is one of the few actually operating inside, with part of its staff of 550 dedicated to the event.

The U.S. broadcasters won't just be broadcasting either. Taking their cue from the media-savvy happy couple, ABC will be twittering, NBC will twitter and has a Facebook page, as does CNN, among others.

Ryan Seacrest will be leading the E! channel coverage, which will go nonstop all weekend beginning with five hours of wedding coverage and including Fashion Police: Royal Wedding with Joan Rivers, Kelly Osborne and others.

Kelly's mom, Sharon Osborne, will be there as well for CBS, as will Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira of Today and many others. There are specials on all the networks this weekend, including a Couric-hosted one on CBS, where she is soon to get a divorce from the Evening News, with The Royal Wedding: Modern Majesty.

There are also tons of coverage on cable. TLC plans 89 hours of programming. WE tv has slated 109 hours of programs including How to Marry a Prince. BBC America calls itself the Home of the Royal Wedding and plans 184 hours of coverage and related programs. Lifetime will have specials all day Friday and into the weekend.

Amy Mulcair of BBC America says the network has seen a rising tide of interest all week. "We've seen an increase in ratings for our royal programs in daytime, fringe and prime," says Mulcair. "The biggest increase was in fringe with viewing up 39% over first quarter 2011."

And if that isn't enough, Charles Osgood will have coverage and comments on past wedding quirks on CBS Sunday Morning.

People just love those quirks. Jensen said one of the biggest numbers of visitors they got was for a story about a souvenir mug that mistakenly put a picture of Prince Harry on the front instead of Prince William. "That was wildly successful," she says.

Whether all of those networks will be wildly successful is a story to be written next week.