Spectacles: The Next Generation

Almost 30 years ago, on July 29, 1981, 750 million people worldwide tuned in to watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana tie the knot -- mostly through quaint old live television. If you missed it, there were news programs rerunning endless highlight reels, and maybe you had a VCR, a kid in AV club, and a blank tape. Chances are, you didn't have cable yet -- MTV, the cable station that brought cable subscriptions to a new level with their "I want my MTV" campaign, would debut just three days after the Royal Wedding. 

Archive interviewee Linda Ellerbee covered that wedding and had this to say: "I was lucky enough to work in television news when nobody ever asked you how much did you spend on the story, they only asked you, did you get the story and did you get it right, fast and first? There were about 90 people full-time in the London Bureau of NBC, and yet we sent over another 90 for the wedding of Diana and Charles, just to make sure that we were fully covered on this story. I was one of the people that went over. I had a great time. Let's face it, when you come right down to it, being a journalist is like being paid to have a front row seat on history. I don't know that it was all terribly serious, and as it turns out, the wedding lasted; the marriage didn't. But we spent gobs of money on it. Television loves a costume story."

A generation later (sorry, Linda) television still loves a costume story. And this time, in this economy, money is an object for some of the old standard-bearers of TV news. This time we'll see a lot of smaller outlets producing usable content -- the equipment has become affordable, user-friendly, and efficient, and social media sites are ready and willing to host the content.

Not only will the audience numbers be a lot higher for this iteration, there will be more content from this much-heralded event -- both professional and amateur. As people in each time zone wake up to their first cups of coffee, for better or worse, social media outlets will be trending higher and higher with royal commentary and perhaps a record number of streaming video recaps will be available. Leading up to the big day, even T-Mobile's brilliant viral "T-Mobile Royal Wedding" spoof video has had over 10.5 million pre-wedding streams on YouTube alone.

Whether or not a spectacle like this is deserving of worldwide coverage will always be debated. In fact, we're still debating whether Tiny Tim's 1969 marriage to Miss Vicki on "The Tonight Show" starring Johnny Carson was a big deal -- even though it garnered a spectacular 50 million viewers. One thing's for sure, Prince William will not be tiptoeing through any tulips....



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