Journos, TV personalities queue up for marital bliss in London

LONDON — Prince William and Kate Middleton both admit to pre-wedding jitters; they’re not the only ones. Those in charge of delivering the live TV feed of the April 29 royal nuptials to a global audience, which U.K. culture secretary Jeremy Hunt claims could reach 2 billion people, are pretty nervous too.

Tim Santhouse, operations manager at AP Television News’ Global Media Services, which will provide coverage to more than 700 broadcast and online customers globally, says: “There has been no other event like this, and I have to say I wouldn’t be too upset if there wasn’t another event like this in the future.”

When William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, married in 1981, the aud was estimated at 750 million. Since then, economic and technological developments — including the growth in 24-hour news channels and the number of broadcasters streaming live coverage on their websites — have driven up the number of viewers, outlets and costs.

“The change between now and then is that there are many more TV stations worldwide,” Santhouse says.

He is one of an estimated 8,000 media types expected to cover the wedding, an unprecedented level of interest for a single-day event.

Many outlets will get footage from the BBC, which is spearheading the coverage under deputy director general Mark Byford.

BBC Worldwide has licensed the live feed to 40 broadcasters in 25 territories, with sources saying the Beeb plans to donate the undisclosed fees to charity.

The BBC feed also goes to the 61 pubcaster members of the European Broadcast Union and outlets in the 54 Commonwealth countries for free.

The Beeb has, by far, the biggest team working the event: 550 staffers — 100 more than at the Beijing Olympics.

It will be the only broadcaster covering the service inside Westminster Abbey, where it will have some 30 cameras, plus 70 camera positions along the ceremonial route from Buckingham Palace to the abbey and at street parties across the country.

“It will be the biggest outside broadcast in London in recent times,” says a BBC spokesperson.

It is perhaps a sign of the times, in an era of governments cuts — as well as the sensitivity of the occasion — that no exec from the pubcaster would comment for this article.

“People aren’t really doing interviews,” the BBC spokesperson says. “People feel it is not our gig. The wedding is the story; it’s not the BBC that’s the story.”

Carol McCall, the person in charge of overseeing TV coverage along the ceremonial route as head of contingency communications at the government’s Cabinet Office, says she’ll try to ensure that those on hand to view the event as well as those at home will be well served.

“We have to strike a balance between maximizing the broadcast coverage and ensuring that all the public who come to watch this are able to do so without the media getting in their way,” she says.

Aside from the BBC, McCall says satcaster BSkyB and news group Independent Television News (ITN) will also supply coverage of the ceremonial route, with other broadcasters restricted to fixed positions along the route, including opposite the palace and the abbey and a purpose-built studio in Green Park, next to the palace.

McCall adds that newsies also have booked buildings — and roofs — throughout London from which to cover the proceedings. “And that is absolutely fine, she says.

McCall has been working with the Foreign Broadcaster Service, a body that brings together the U.S. broadcast networks, the EBU and APTN to make sure everything runs smoothly.

The AP network, which will have in excess of 20 live positions, has sourced equipment and staff from around the world to mount the operation.

“It’s the most expensive story that we have ever covered in my lifetime, for what is a short buildup and then a one-day event,” Santhouse says. “In days gone by, there was help financially from various government departments, but this one is entirely down to the people covering it.”

The challenges have been heightened by the decision to cover the event in HD, a first, according to Santos and ITN’s Jonathan Munro.

Another new element is the use of social media and amateur video. “We will look at Facebook and so on for views, news, reactions etc.,” says Munro, deputy editor of “ITV News.” “Everybody who’s out there with a mobile phone can be a newsgatherer.”

Another indication of the scale of interest in the event is the number of shows linked to it.

BBC America, for example, has skedded 184 hours of royal wedding-related programming, including Cat Dealy presenting “Royally Mad,” which brings five royalty-obsessed Americans to the U.K. in the period leading up to the big day.

“There is a tremendous interest in the royal wedding in the U.S.,” says Perry Simon, BBC America’s general manager. “I was working at NBC in the early ’80s when the Charles and Diana wedding occurred, and I remember, as a young programmer, being stunned by the level of interest from the American audience.

“I recall walking into my living room at 3 a.m. and finding my wife on the couch with tears streaming down her face … that left a permanent imprint on me,” he says.

Simon also hopes the wedding coverage will attract new viewers to the channel. “We really look at this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” he says.

Kate McAndrew, the exec producer in charge of Sky News’ wedding coverage, which will be going out to around 30 international broadcasters including Fox News, as well as to APTN, says she wants to serve up the kind of coverage the soon-to-be-newlyweds desire.

“We will be led by the Palace,” she says. “They said that William and Kate wanted it to be a marriage first and a state occasion second. It should be fun, and lively and celebratory.”

Indeed, at a time when the economic downturn, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the conflicts in the Middle East dominate the airwaves, broadcasters have grabbed the chance to focus on good news.

“We are tapping into the emotion of it, the glamour of it, and frankly the fact that there aren’t that many things right now that people can celebrate and feel good about,” Simon says.

And while Stanhouse knows the job will be stressful, he’s looking forward to it. “Everybody really does need a nice story,” he says, “and it will be exciting to pull it off.”

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