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REVEALED: Royal Wedding TV audience closer to 300m than 2bn (because sport, not royalty, reigns)


By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

9 May 2011

Fanciful predictions said two billion people would watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton live on TV around the world – and around 300m actually did, according to preliminary findings of research by sportingintelligence into the real global audience.

That figure is an extrapolation from figures in 11 major countries that account for almost half the world’s population: China, India, the USA, Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Canada and Australia.

Those countries are all in the top 50 by population, and include the three most populous. The total wedding audience for that half share of the world was 161.92m people. See the table at the bottom of this piece for a more detailed breakdown.

We have also looked at data from a selection of other countries, including Brazil and Japan, but have yet to establish viewers there in terms of actual numbers of people (as opposed to a ratings figure, which tells us only a percentage share of an audience at a time of day, but not how many people overall, yet). Early findings in those countries are consistent with a global 300m audience.

Viewing figures are routinely exaggerated before events. Made-up numbers erroneously go down in history as fact. This often happens in the sporting world, as this website mused ahead of the nuptials of William – who is the president of the English FA, and a defender of the Aston Villa faith – and Kate.

So in an attempt to find the real numbers – and show why sport, not royalty, reigns in any given territory – sportingintelligence considered the official TV figures for the wedding from the UK and 10 other countries of varying size, politics, wealth and geography from Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australasia. (Africa, the forsaken continent, has one billion people but even in the richest countries only one in three people have access to TV at home, and in the poorest African countries fewer than one per cent have TV. Data in most African countries is less reliable diary data in any case).

Extrapolated to the whole world, the 162m from our 11 ‘sample’ countries would make a total audience of around 340m people but 340m is almost certainly too high because our 11 countries contain key nations where interest is especially high, including the UK (where a massive 42 per cent of the population watched), the USA, Canada and Australia.

A number of countries – including Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and North Korea among others – had no live coverage on any state or other domestic channel, and while it is possible people in those countries could take feeds from other places, the audiences would have been so low as to be almost insignificant.

The percentage data we have from nations like Brazil and Japan can be included in our findings when confirmed as numbers of people. (And anyone with reliable data for nations not mentioned, please feel free to email it to us at

Provisionally it appears that around 1.2m Brazilian urban households watched live on TV, but whether that translates to 2m or 5m viewers (or anywhere in between, in a country of 191m people) is not yet certain. It will be a decent share of a small 6am audience.

Similarly, we know that the wedding had a 23 per cent audience share of Japanese viewers at the relevant evening local time on NHK, but without knowing the number of people watching TV, we don’t want to count numbers that are guesses. If a third of Japan (population 128m) was watching on 29 April, and 23 per cent of those were watching the wedding, that would be 9.75m people, or almost eight per cent of Japan, a very decent figure. But we don’t know, yet.

To put the popularity of the wedding in context, a greater share of the audience in Japan at the same time (almost 30 per cent) was watching coverage of the figure skating world championships in Moscow.

As a general rule, only major global sports events – namely Olympic ceremonies and football World Cup finals – will get anywhere close to 1bn viewers, let alone 2bn, as discussed here.

And in any given territory, records will be set (and are held) mostly by major sporting events, which will always be of local interest either because teams from that nation are involved, or that nation is a host.

Britain’s most watched TV event of any genre in history was the 1966 World Cup final, with 32.2m viewers, beating this year’s wedding by more than six million. A number of other football matches have had better ratings in Britain than the wedding.

The American TV audience for Wills ‘n’ Kate was 22.8m, a whopping figure for the time of day, but a small number compared to the 111m people in the USA who watched this year’s Super Bowl live on TV in its entirety.

In India, 42.1m people tuned in to the wedding, which in gross terms made it the biggest single wedding audience by country. But that equates to only 3.48 per cent of India’s population of 1.2bn people. And the cricket World Cup final this year attracted 25m more people than the wedding.

In China, the wedding rights were bought by the Shanghai Media Group, and while it was available across the country, in many areas it was via pay-TV, which always limits the audience. Local sources say a maximum of 30m watched live in China (2.24 per cent of the population), although this may be slightly high. China’s highest ever TV confirmed audience was 500m (ish) watching on state TV, CCTV, from a global 1bn audience who tuned in to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In Canada, a very respectable 5.2m of 34m people watched the wedding (15.29 per cent of the population) but this pales besides the 16.6m (half the country) who watched Canada win the Olympic ice hockey gold medal last year in Vancouver.

Some of Britain’s European neighbours posted decent wedding figures (see table) but nothing compared to their sporting highs. In Germany, for example, the wedding figure of 4.48m people is small compared to the 30m who watched Germany play Italy in the semi-finals live on domestic TV during the 2006 World Cup.

One surprise in our research was the massive wedding audience, relatively, in the supposedly anti-monarchy enclave of sports-mad Australia. The biggest reported TV audiences in Australian history were for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with more than 6m people, albeit before the introduction of the most accurate meter monitoring in 2001.

Since that date, the most-watched programmes on Aussie TV have been the Australian Open tennis final of 2005 (Hewitt v Safin, 4.04m people) followed by the rugby union World Cup final of 2003 (Australia v England, 4.01m).

The wedding beat them both Down Under, with 4.34m. Call yourselves sports fans, cobbers? Seems like you’d rather have a Royal love story to us . . .

For those interested in further reading on selected audiences, follow links to stories about wedding ratings in the UK, in the USA, in Canada, in Australia, in France, in Spain, in Germany, in Italy, in New Zealand, in Argentina, in India, in Brazil and in Japan.


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