Note to the Networks: William and Kate Won't Be As Big as Chuck and Di
by Joel Keller, posted Nov 18th 2010 5:30PM
As the morning news shows breathlessly came on the air Tuesday morning with their "Breaking News" about the engagement of England's Prince William to his long-time girlfriend, Kate Middleton, I got an eerie feeling. I flashed back to 1981, when the engagement of William's parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, sent shock waves throughout both the US and the UK.
I was only ten years old at the time, but it's not hard to recall how captivated the US was by the couple, and by the prospects of viewing a royal wedding on live television. The country was going through a rough time; a divisive president was in the White House, the country was in the throes of a recession, and the country was under constant threat of attack.
Sound like a familiar scenario? It does to the news divisions of the various broadcast networks, because they're hoping against hope that the William/Kate wedding will be as big or bigger than the Charles/Di wedding, which drew an estimated 750 million viewers worldwide. "I think this (wedding's audience) is going to be close to (the Charles/Di audience). Maybe bigger," 'Good Morning America' executive producer Jim Murphy told the New York Post yesterday.
But it's not 1981 anymore. Which makes me wonder if the network's overheated coverage of this engagement is just an exercise in wishful thinking on their part.
Once the news was out, the networks went into blanket coverage mode, with all three morning shows sending anchors to London to cover the story (Erica Hill on CBS, Natalie Morales on NBC, Bianna Golodryga on ABC). CBS dedicated a portion of 'The Early Show' to the Kate/William story, and last night NBC dedicated an hour last night to telling the story, complete with an interview with Piers Morgan.
Some estimates have put the worldwide TV audience for the William/Kate wedding at 1 billion people. That just seems like an outlandish number in this day and age, doesn't it? We're in a television landscape where if a network show draws seven million people, it's considered a hit. That's about 2.3% of this country's population. To even come close to approaching that 1 billion number, the wedding will likely have to attract the vast majority of people in the US to gather around the TV, just like they did in the three-channel and pre-web world of 1981, and watch the wedding live.
Can you see that happening? Neither can I. Not as many people care about the royals as they did in those heady days of the early '80s. Even if a lot of people are interested, what will likely happen is that people will stream the wedding on Hulu or view clips of it on their phones or iPads. Sure, those are revenue generators for the networks, but that revenue isn't nearly what the ad revenue from a gigantic TV audience would attract.
I asked two of our resident Brits, Laura Prudom and Catherine Lawson, if the coverage of the engagement in the UK is as breathless as it is here. They both felt that the coverage in the US was a bit more fawning than the coverage in the UK, as they seem to be more obsessed with Middleton's "commoner" upbringing rather than the love story or who will design Kate's wedding dress.
"While our US cousins are concerned with the glamor of the occasion and the romanticism of royalty, the UK press is much more interested Kate's suitability and her breeding," wrote Laura, who currently lives in LA. "Is she good enough for William? Does the queen approve? How much will their wedding cost, in these harsh economic times?"
Catherine, who lives in the UK, pointed out to me that the US networks' fanfare for the royal engagement hasn't slipped the attention of broadcasters where she lives. "BBC Radio's been making fun of US coverage -- one morning show (I don't know which) played a fanfare introducing their coverage, which news producers here thought was hilarious."
It's not like the news networks over there haven't been giving it blanket coverage; Catherine wrote that Sky News -- News Corp's cable news channel in the UK -- ran with the story for the first 24 hours and entertainment channel Sky 1 ran an 8PM special. But things have gone back more or less to normal already, while the morning news shows here are still running multiple stories about the engagement.
Will there be a huge TV audience watching these crazy kids get married? Sure. People are suckers for a good romance, and the legacy of William's mother Diana is still strong enough that a lot of people are going to be curious to see him get married to his college sweetheart. It just won't captivate the country the way Charles and Diana did.
With two wars going on, people getting patted down at the airport, and unemployment still hovering near 10 percent, many Americans are just not going to care about some lavish wedding between two beautiful people a whole ocean away. That's just a sign of the times, a concept the network news divisions fail to embrace on a daily basis.
Will you be watching the Prince William / Kate Middleton wedding? Have the networks gone overboard with their coverage?
(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)