Cable Networks Roll Out Red Carpet for Royals

Cable Networks are ramping up programming connected to the April 29 nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton, as anticipation of wedding bells in the British royal family builds among American audiences.

From documentaries about the royals to specials on famous television weddings to post-wedding roundup specials, BBC America, TV Guide Channel, E! Entertainment Television, Wedding Central and other outlets will provide wall-to-wall coverage of what is expected to be a highly viewed event.

“Women across America grew up thinking that they were going to meet their prince and walk down the aisle in a big ball gown and live happily ever after,” says Kim Martin, president and general manager of WE TV and Wedding Central, which is devoting 110 hours to royal wedding-themed programming.

For WE and Wedding Central’s young female audience base, “the royal wedding is a fantasy come true,” Martin says.

Networks such as CNN, Fox News, Wedding Central and BBC America will air or stream live the April 29 earlymorning (U.S. time) ceremony from Westminster Abbey.

In the weeks leading up to the event, a larger number of networks will offer specials that focus on the royal family.

While Prince William and Kate Middleton have become media celebrities, Diane Robina, TV Guide Network executive vice president of programming and marketing, says that part of the appeal of the upcoming royal wedding is tied in to the legacy of William’s mother, Princess Diana, who was revered by Americans and whose wedding to Prince Charles drew a reported global audience of 750 million viewers.

“I do think it’s about that connection to Diana —America loves Diana, and [Prince William] looks so much like her and he seems to be a classy young man,” Robina says.

With so much coverage slated for the wedding, Suzanne Kolb, president of marketing, news and online for E! and Style, says networks will have to build on their brand strengths to break through the clutter with audiences.

“It puts pressure on the different services that are choosing to cover the wedding to be distinctive on how they’re doing it, which is difficult considering that for the live portion, we’re pretty much all watching the same event,” Kolb says.

On E!, Giuliana Rancic will provide live coverage of the wedding, and there will be a primetime special episode of Fashion Police, with Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne recapping the day’s events.

Wedding Central will tap online pop culture personality Perez Hilton to host a best-of royal wedding special April 29. “We’ll have footage interspersed with his comments in the language that our young female audience is accustomed to reading on his site,” Martin says.

TV Guide will have Kathy Griffin in a post-wedding special that takes a more humorous look at the royal nuptials. “We feel by primetime Friday night, everyone would have seen everything, so we thought we would have a fun, humorous take of it,” Robina explains.

BBC America will create a short series around the wedding dubbed Royally Mad, hosted by Cat Deeley of So You Think You Can Dance. The show will take five U.S.- based royal wedding fanatics to London to visit places and people associated with the event. The network, which began airing royal wedding-themed content in December, will air the commercial-free BBC feed of the wedding to America.

“Our goal is to really make you feel like you’re in a British living room experiencing the wedding,” says Perry Simon, BBC America general manager.

“Royal weddings come along very rarely…it seems like the one event the world comes together around in a very romantic, filled-with-pageantry kind of way,” Kolb says. “They are in many ways this wonderful, young couple that is a sign of hopeful happiness in a window of time where there isn’t a lot of that happening in the world.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.