Sources close to the deal tell Variety that the battle has now boiled down to U.K. broadcaster ITV and Discovery, with the latter U.S. media giant keen for the interview to land on its new Discovery Plus streamer as well as one of its U.K. free-to-air channels.
Discovery is understood to be throwing its might behind the interview, especially as it looks to grow the profile of Discovery Plus in the U.K., where the freshly launched platform is available on Sky Q and Amazon Fire TV.
Variety revealed earlier this week that Comcast-backed pay-TV operator Sky was also bidding for the CBS primetime special, hosted by Oprah Winfrey, but later dropped out. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a BBC source confirmed that the public broadcaster is not involved in the process. “The BBC is not involved in a bidding war on this,” said the source.
It’s not believed that streaming giants Amazon or Netflix are in the running.
It’s understood that ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group, which is selling the program overseas, is keen for the interview to land on a free-to-air broadcaster, which would ensure a significant profile in the U.K. It will undoubtedly also come down to what platform Markle and Prince Harry prefer.
Despite Discovery’s bid, ITV is still thought to be the frontrunner for the special. The broadcaster has a proven track record hosting content featuring the British Royals, notably the annual “Royal Variety Performance,” which is attended by senior members of the Royal Family.
Markle and Prince Harry also gave one of their most high-profile interviews to date to ITV journalist Tom Bradby as part of the broadcaster’s 2019 documentary “Harry & Meghan: An African Journey,” during which Bradby famously asked Megan whether she was okay — a very human gesture that Markle even referenced in her recent op-ed in the New York Times.
Discovery’s free-to-air might is considerably smaller, spanning channels including Quest, Really and DMAX. Discovery would likely be pushing its new SVOD, for which the CBS interview would be a major coup and signal a new, more competitive direction.
Other potential U.K. broadcast partners could have included ViacomCBS-backed Channel 5, which airs its share of archive-driven royal fare, as well as Channel 4. Channel 5 doesn’t have a track record of winning such high-profile interviews, and it’s not necessarily the most obvious home for the special, but ViacomCBS backing should have helped its case. Meanwhile, Channel 4, which aired an “Alternative Christmas Message” from a deepfake Queen Elizabeth II over the holidays, may not be the best cultural fit.
The timing of the CBS special is key, and would have caused problems for the BBC from an optics perspective.
The Queen’s annual Commonwealth broadcast is due to air on BBC One on Sunday, March 7, the same day as the CBS interview. Pre-recorded at Windsor Castle, the broadcast is part of the Anita Rani-hosted program “A Celebration For Commonwealth Day,” which will also feature the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex.
Last year, the Commonwealth program aired at 2:15 p.m. U.K. time, but it’s still unknown when this year’s edition will air. If it airs in the evening, the BBC would have been looking at a near back-to-back block of royal programming.
The couple’s interview is due to air on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/PST, which will be 1 a.m. in the U.K. The more likely scenario, Variety understands, is a Monday broadcast in the U.K.
It’s noteworthy that the major streamers haven’t jumped on the CBS special, particularly as Markle and Prince Harry have a multi-year deal in place with Netflix. But it’s not altogether surprising: the most logical home in terms of viewership for such a high-profile, topical interview is undoubtedly a broadcaster, and despite the bitter divorce from the Royal Family and the barrage of negative press while they were living and working in the U.K., Markle and Prince Harry have their share of supporters and fans in Britain.
Announced last week, Winfrey will first speak with Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, about stepping into royal life, marriage, motherhood, her philanthropic work and how she handles life under the public eye. The two will then be joined by Prince Harry to discuss their move to the United States and future goals.
The special is produced by Harpo Productions. Terry Wood and Tara Montgomery will executive produce, along with co-executive producer Brian Piotrowicz.