The coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, a year after she became queen, was the first mass audience for a live TV event in the U.K., attracting 20 million viewers, and prompting many families to buy their first TV set. Sixty years later, the queen’s diamond jubilee was just as much a media event. The four days of festivities that began Saturday drew huge crowds to the streets and huge TV audiences for various events.
On Sunday, 10.3 million people, 55.9% of all viewers, tuned into the BBC’s coverage of a Thames pageant, when a barge carrying the royal family was accompanied by more than 1,000 vessels along the river in central London. Some 1.2 million folk braved torrential rain to line the river banks.
The BBC triumphed again on Monday — a public holiday, as was Tuesday — when it staged a pop concert in front of Buckingham Palace, attended by the royal family, and featuring perfs by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Kylie Minogue and Paul McCartney.
As well as 10,000 ticket holders, another 500,000 people watched from surrounding parks and streets.
The concert averaged 14.7 million TV viewers, a 57.4% share, making it the most-watched show since last year’s royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, which drew an audience of 19.3 million.
The ratings came as a relief for the pubcaster, which had been criticized for its coverage of the pageant by commentators who felt the BBC team of anchors were poorly informed and had trivialized the event.
On Tuesday, the queen’s carriage procession through London drew 7.4 million at its peak, a 45.5% share.
For the multichannel era such large TV audiences are rare and left the opposition fighting over scraps. The flagship channel of the BBC’s main rival, ITV1, for example, fell below 10% audience share on Sunday, compared with its share for the year to date of 16.5%.
Sky News, a free-to-air digital channel, also carried live coverage of the pageant on Sunday, but averaged only 479,000, a 4.3% share.
In addition to the live events, the BBC aired a raft of jubilee-themed programming, such as a docu about the making of an album to mark the event, “Gary Barlow: On Her Majesty’s Service,” in which the Take That musician visited other countries where Elizabeth is head of state.
With all this going on, many expected biz at movie and legit theaters to suffer, but thanks to the two public holidays, everyone was a winner.
The U.K. box office gross was £27.4 million ($42.4 million), compared with £9 million ($13.9 million) the previous week, according to Rentrak. This was helped in no small part by torrential rain, compared with the previous week’s sunshine.
Live theater had been braced to take a big hit from the jubilee following the savaging the West End box office suffered last April during the royal wedding.
London B.O. figures aren’t published, but anecdotal evidence suggests it was business as usual.
West End theaters, with only a couple of exceptions, are dark on Sundays, but at the curtain calls of Saturday and Monday perfs of tuner “Sweeney Todd,” leading man Michael Ball led near capacity audiences in singing the National Anthem.
Matthew Byam Shaw, producer of “Sweeney” and drama double bill “South Downs/The Browning Version,” said both shows saw a spike in business.
Sonia Friedman’s revival of Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” with its trans-Atlantic cast of Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths, did typically steady business.
Elsewhere, producers speaking confidentially to Variety, suggested that attendance was marginally down on Friday and Saturday but higher than expected on Monday and Tuesday, likely because many jubilee tourists went to theaters to escape the rain.
The jubilee provided the entertainment biz with an indication of how the Olympics will effect it later this summer.
Execs at Film London, responsible for film shoots in the capital, claimed that the jubilee caused little disruption and say they are prepared for the Olympics, too.
“Over the past four years, Film London has been working with London’s councils, London Mayor Boris Johnson and various agencies in the capital to ensure we are able to keep the production industries fully aware of what disruptions the Jubilee and the Olympics will have on the city, so there will limited impact to filming,” said Film London rep Colette Geraghty. “In addition to sending out factual and logistical info (about) road closures etc., our advice has been to plan in advance and to suggest alternatives/doubles outside of Central London.
“Therefore we are pretty confident no productions were disrupted this weekend and certainly no productions have been in touch with any surprise issues.”
(Diana Lodderhose, David Benedict and Steve Clarke contributed to this article.)