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Were You One Of The Few Who Didn’t Watch THE Wedding?

They expected about two billion people globally to watch the British Royal wedding although numbers in the US were a bit lower than predicted and for anyone who wanted to see the pomp and pageantry that Britain does best it was the only place to be.

cartwheel at the AbbeyWatching the coverage on three British networks (and all were available globally via the Web) really gave a lesson to the rest of the world’s TV honchos on just how such an event should be covered. Again, when the Brits do these things, they do them right.

Some 70% of the 26 million Brits who watched the wedding tuned in where they usually do for all great occasions (this was not a state occasion only in name) and that’s the BBC. Very formal, very proper, and very good. But if you wanted some light-hearted coverage then the places to be were the satellite Sky News or ITV, the commercial network. Not near as pompous, but not irrelevant.

And how do we know how many UK households were watching. Well, yes, there are the regular ratings systems but the most immediate information comes from the people running the electricity grid – once the wedding was over the use of electricity surged by 2,400 megawatts indicating that was the time housegolds across the kingdom put on the kettle on for a cup of tea! That surge beat the 1,800 megawatts that followed the conclusion of the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

ITV’s coverage was particularly joyful and it’s a shame not more people tuned into its commercial-free presentation. To try and get the figures up – the BBC always wins in such head-to-head special events -- it chose as anchors one of its main news anchors, Julie Etchingham, and a presenter from one its top-rated daily programs, Philip Schofield. The chemistry was very good -- in fact everyone was having such a good and happy time that soon after Prince William gave Princess Catherine two kisses seen on the famous balcony shot that Schofield leaned over and planted one on Etchingham’s cheek for all to see. And she didn’t seem to mind –“I never get that on News at Ten,” she exclaimed --    and it was just another sign of how the country as a whole was having such a good time.

ITV’s regular news anchors besides Etchingham were left to cover from set spots such as Westminster Abbey and the Goring Hotel where the Middleton family stayed, but the usually very stiff Mark Austen was left to be the one working the crowds along The Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace and he seemed, in the early hours, none too happy with that assignment. But the crowd got to him, offered him some pink sparkling wine by 8 a.m. -- comments from colleagues seemed to indicate he might just like the occasional tipple – and by lunchtime he was as happy as anyone marching up the Mall, putting on a tie someone in the crowd gave him, doing the live interviews and absolutely getting caught up in all the good fun everyone exhibited. 

In a way what we saw with Austen and how his demeanor changed during the day was an indication of how Britain as a whole took to the wedding. By the time the ceremony began there was hardly a soul on the streets outside of the wedding zone. The motorways were empty, this was something to be a part of whether in person or via TV.

And it wasn’t just the Brits – watching the live crowd interviews a couple of days before the wedding and then on the day itself and it was amazing how many Americans and Australians and other nationalities had made it to London to join in. The wedding was shown on 11 US channels with total viewership around 22 million whereas for the Charles and Diana wedding it was around 33 million, both numbers way short of this year’s Super Bowl watched by 111 million. But the UK networks made much of the international coverage, all of them doing interviews from US asking the pundits why Americans were so interested in a US wedding – basically the Presidency just isn’t royalty!

ITV after the wedding had on NBC’s Ann Curry dressed in all shocking pink – including knee length boots and she herself should have been the subject of a fashion story --  and she was the proper American diplomat in saying how great a day it was for the British, how great the provided camerawork in Westminster Abbey had been, and how Americans like to share the British royalty. Over on Sky they had the American ambassador, Louis Susman dressed in his top hat and tails – who basically had the same message and when asked if the “special relationship” between the Brits and the US hadn’t been a bit sour lately; he gave an enthusiastic thumbs up that the relationship was really strong. And with that Sky switched immediately to the British ambassador in Washington – who was giving his own big wedding reception that day – and he echoed that the “special relationship” was as strong as ever. So, the wedding apparently helped Brand UK in that relationship and probably other relationships around the world.

But it wasn’t just satellite, cable, and terrestrial that ruled the day. The wedding was streamed by the official UK royal wedding web site and the networks, too, and it is estimated that some 400 million watched there, making it the largest video internet event ever. Interestingly, the Royal courtiers have become quite savvy with the new Internet age and they realized early on that the wedding could have severe repercussions for Internet resilience, so they made arrangements with Google to show the event live on You Tube, figuring if anyone could handle a huge deluge Google could. The BBC’s web site at one time crashed, although streaming continued.

Mobile phone vendors doubled their capacity around London and one vendor estimated that some 65 million digital phone pictures were taken and uploaded to such sites as Twitter and Facebook.

If there is a sour TV note to report on all of this it has to be CNN’s coverage. Oh my, what a disaster! There was absolutely no chemistry between Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper and Cooper made it pretty clear royal weddings were not his forte – he probably would have been far more at ease covering the terrible tornado disaster in the American South -- although he did get excited when he saw the Queen. Morgan, who really is a decent interviewer and is finding his mark on his daily show that took over from Larry King, should go back to interviewing guests instead of doing live coverage – he left no doubt he was proud to be British which was fine, but at times he was way over the top and the entire commentary from everyone really seemed ill-prepared. We know Richard Quest, who also has his moments of being over the top, was lurking around the Buckingham Palace studios and CNN made a big mistake in not having him lead the commentary team. But then again it is Morgan CNN is trying to promote to the world, not Quest.

There were several images that remain, besides the obvious one of THE kiss. The police, for instance, had the responsibility of leading some 500,000 people down The Mall to fill the huge area in front of Buckingham Palace. God forbid a stampede as has happened in so many other places. Can you imagine the carnage? But the police stood side by side across the entire width of The Mall with mounted police ahead and everyone just took a nice slow walk down the road. No running; no one getting hurt and the aerial shots showed just how competent the police were in completing this so effortlessly and without injury. A lesson for others!

And there was even a constable who got to play to the crowd with various antics getting roars of approval – not often you see crowds cheering a policeman. But it was such a good-humored day everyone was in the right spirit, police included.

But perhaps the best image of the day of what a joyous time it was for all showed up on ITV at the very end. The Abbey had emptied out, and there was a verger – a church official who acts as a caretaker and attendant – still in his robe who was so happy that he did two cartwheels on the red carpet. And, indeed, in spirit, so did most Brits, too.

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