For the first time, social media will play an enormous role in how people consume (and react to) every last detail of Harry and Meghan’s historic knot-tying festivities. The U.K.’s last royal wedding — the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton — was seven years ago. Back then, Snapchat didn’t even exist, while Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter had yet to fully blossom.
“It’s a completely different world from 2011,” said Rashida Jones, senior VP of specials for NBC News. “We didn’t have a social-media team the last time we did this.”
Sure, there’s going to be wall-to-wall TV coverage of Meghan-Harry in the States, the U.K., and elsewhere. But social media has changed news organizations’ strategies both in terms of how they cover the rare royal nuptials and how they distribute that content.
In the past, media coverage of such major events has centered on monolithic TV broadcasts and large feature articles. But today, especially among Gen Z and millennial audiences, people get more of their news in bite-size chunks instead of in one big gulp. For the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the diet will be more like a series of amuse-bouches rather than, say, a formal seven-course meal.
“There’s a generational difference,” said People senior editor Michelle Tauber, who oversees royals coverage. “Instead of one big story about the wedding, we’re going to have a bunch of yummy nibbles.”
Another factor influencing the coverage: The British monarchy has embraced social media since the last go-round. Kensington Palace, for instance, has been disseminating news about the wedding directly on official accounts on platforms including Twitter and Instagram. Although Markle, as had been anticipated, canceled her social-media accounts in January, the mixed-race American actress is perceived as a down-to-earth personality with millennial appeal on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. Both Markle — former star of USA Network’s “Suits” — and Prince Harry also have been active in promoting social causes.
“There’s a seismic shift in how the royals relate to digital audiences. Harry was one of the first digital-first royals,” said Jon Laurence, deputy editor of social-news publisher NowThis. “There’s less of a stiff upper lip… It’s a sea change that makes them more relevant to our younger audience.”
NowThis will deliver real-time updates on Facebook, Facebook Live, Instagram and Snapchat, designed for a mobile-first audience. The outlet will employ social-listening tools Facebook’s CrowdTangle, Spike and Twitter’s TweetDeck to monitor what people are responding to in real time, according to Laurence, who previously worked at the U.K.’s Channel 4 News as head of digital.
Besides the proliferation of social platforms, live-streaming video has taken off in a major way since Kate Middleton and Prince William got hitched.
There will be more ways than ever for cord-cutters to catch Meghan and Harry — and you don’t even need a TV. On Saturday, CNN will live-stream coverage for free across its platforms from 4-9 a.m. ET (normally, its feed requires pay-TV login credentials). BBC World News also will stream the wedding live for free on BBC.com globally, beginning at 5 a.m. ET.
Others in the over-the-top game include Meredith’s PeopleTV free, ad-supported streaming network, which will present live coverage of Harry and Meghan’s wedding on Saturday, May 19, starting at 6 a.m. ET anchored by “People Now” host Jeremy Parsons. “You can’t help but anticipate that more people will experience this wedding because of the ease of accessing it,” said Susanne Mei, GM of PeopleTV.
Is there a risk the royal-wedding fire hose will overwhelm? “I do think there’s such an insatiable demand for every aspect, it’s hard to imagine people getting fatigued,” said Lucy Hockings, a BBC World News presenter who is one of the anchors for the network’s royal wedding coverage.
The important thing is that “you’re not just flooding the zone with generic content, but programming for those specific platforms,” said NBC News’ Jones.
CNN is prepping digital coverage aimed at two distinct audiences: royals superfans hungry for absolutely last tidbit related to the wedding, and a second group that’s less ravenous. For the “too-long-didn’t-watch” crowd, the network will package the best moments and video highlights, along with photo galleries.
The hub of CNN’s digital reporting will be anchored by a live blog on CNN.com, with each post acting as a shareable unit that can travel across social platforms. CNN also plans to launch an interactive “gigapixel” photo feature, to be shot from the Long Walk as Meghan and Harry’s carriage passes by on the wedding day. It will be similar to the ultra-high-resolution feature CNN produced for Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, allowing users to zoom in and pan the scene.
“We’ve seen extraordinary interest in this couple since their engagement announcement,” said Blathnaid Healy, CNN Digital’s director of international coverage.
Anticipation of the wedding on social media has been building to a fever pitch over the last six months, ever since the couple’s engagement became official. In some ways it’s even bigger than major worldwide sporting events like the World Cup, the Olympics or the Super Bowl, according to royals watchers: A British royal wedding comes along once in a blue moon — the next in line will be Kate and William’s kids in two decades or so.
In the last 30 days alone, Twitter users have posted more than 500,000 tweets about the upcoming #RoyalWedding. Since Harry and Meghan’s engagement announcement last November, Harry has been tweeted about 3.8 million times and Meghan has 3.3 million mentions. (The most-retweeted to date: Markle’s “Suits” co-star Patrick Adams reacting to the engagement: “She said she was just going out to get some milk…”)
News orgs of all stripes will be attuned to the public mood by scanning social media — staying alert if, say, they can quickly turn around an animated GIF of Harry and Meghan or if they need to scramble to cover online reactions.
“We have to be more nimble, because we are going to be so conscious of what the public is going to be sharing on social media,” BBC World News’ Hockings said. “As a presenter, I have a script in my head of how things could go, but on the wedding day things could go differently. It makes it more exciting and interesting.”
NBC News, in addition to sending all four anchors of the “Today” show and presenting four hours live from Windsor, will splash its TV coverage across Telemundo, E!, Access Hollywood and NBC affiliates.
The presentation won’t be as stodgy or formal as past royal weddings, reflecting not just current viewer expectations but the more relaxed tone set by Meghan, Harry, and the family themselves have set for the affair. For example, NBC reporters and producers will use cellphones to capture video in the crowd. “We want to be in the throngs,” Jones said. “We’re getting to play with toys we didn’t get to last time.”
Snapchat is also going to play up its royal hand, the first time the youth-skewing mobile app will get to cover a British royal wedding. Along with shows like NBC’s “Stay Tuned” news show, Snapchat is teaming with TLC for a special four-part series, “Inside the Royal Wedding” which premiered Wednesday with new installments on May 17, 18 and 20. But TLC is sticking to TV for the main event: On Saturday, the cabler will present a four-hour live block royal wedding programming.
With the global interest in the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the event could break video-streaming traffic records. In 2011, William and Kate’s wedding hit a peak of more than 2.9 million simultaneous streams on Akamai Technologies’ delivery network — a record at the time. That has since been surpassed, most recently by Donald Trump’s 2017 presidential inauguration (which had 4.6 million peak concurrent viewers), but industry observers are expecting Harry and Meghan’s wedding to easily top that.
Even non-news digital companies are latching onto Harry-Meghan fever. For example, Zynga’s “Words With Friends 2” mobile game this week unveiled a special “Royal Social Dictionary” addition curated by “Royals” actress Elizabeth Hurley. And live game-show app Hangtime is hosting a live round of royal-wedding themed trivia on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.
Well after the event, the royal wedding will provide grist for the celebrity-media mill. “We know Meghan and Harry are going to go right back to work within days with official engagements,” said People’s Tauber.
To be sure, news outlets aren’t dwelling exclusively on the feel-good, fairy-tale storylines of the wedding. The BBC, for instance, has a segment about the issue of homeless people on the streets of Windsor ahead of royal union. As NBC News’ Jones put it, “It’s a bit of an escape from the regular news cycle, but it will in no way temper our coverage of news that has nothing to do with the wedding.”
On Saturday, major news will be things like Markle’s official post-wedding title, her dress, the couple’s kiss and reactions to the event. As for possible surprises on the Big Day — wedding crashers, perhaps? Tauber doesn’t think so: “There’s no reason to think this will not be as well run” as Kate and William’s shindig, she said.
Added Tauber, “The Brits really know how to do a wedding.”