Update 5/1/11: Royal Wedding Sets US Viewer Record
US media outlets have been bombarding the public for days now about the upcoming British royal wedding, leading me to ask how many American viewers are going to tune in to this event anyways? All information I found is pointing to one obvious conclusion: This wedding will be watched more than the 1981 wedding between Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Here is how I got there.
First, we need to look at how many viewers watched the last royal wedding. 17 million. Only 17 million watched the much fabled wedding between Prince Charles and Diana in the United States. The July 29, 1981, 5 AM EST telecast of the wedding was across three broadcast channels before the proliferation of cable and before the internet, yet this telecast only pulled in 17 million viewers.
For a little perspective, let us look at the number one show on television right now. In an age of choice with the DVR, internet, and hundreds of channels, American Idol pulled in over 22 million viewers for 90 minutes last Wednesday night. So why would viewership go up for this 6 AM EST wedding in today’s world?
Something people may not remember is that the 1981 wedding aired at 5 AM EST. Friday’s wedding will be at 6 AM EST. That will contribute a massive bump in itself, but that is not the only thing. Do not forget the US population has grown roughly 35% since 1981 from 229 million to over 310 million people today.
Perhaps the most important player here though is the media’s role in promoting the event. As someone who is completely out of the televised weddings demographic, I have been sold to on this thing in some way, shape, or form at least five times in the past 48 hours alone during news and late night programs.
As for the increased number of channels available to watch in today’s world, even more of them will be airing the royal nuptials on Friday than in 1981. Even if some of the cable news channels opted not to cover the event, broadcast television is still hugely watched in the mornings. According to Nielsen, the combined viewership of morning news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC exceeds 12 million viewers for the season to date.
The final reason I believe this number will be high is Princess Diana nostalgia. According to Nielsen, Princess Diana’s funeral was watched by over 33 million people at 6 AM on a Saturday morning. I use this as my leading benchmark for the event. The media coverage was the same, the cable and broadcast networks were the same, and the time was the same. Only the mood was different. People in the United States suddenly care more about this type of thing since the tragic death of Princess Diana in 1997, and this will undoubtedly contribute to a surge in viewers on Friday morning.
My prediction for the event? I am pretty convinced it will do somewhere between 20 and 30 million total viewers because two high profile funerals in recent years, Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson, each hovered just above the 30 million viewer mark, and those did not air at 6 AM.