On Saturday 19th May 2018, a monotonous occasion took place as Chelsea and Manchester United played out one of the dullest FA Cup finals in recent history. Fortunately, the nation was distracted by the momentous occasion that was the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the newly-titled Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Reach and average audience
Prince Harry’s wedding had a reach of 27.7m individuals, some way behind the 36.7m who watched at least some part of his brother’s wedding seven years earlier. Including highlights shows, the wedding was covered on nine BARB-reported channels compared to the 12 that covered Prince William and Kate’s wedding, which may explain some of the shortfall for Prince Harry’s nuptials. Of course, the glorious weather on 19th May 2018 might also have kept people away from their TV set; Prince William and Kate’s big day wasn’t quite as sunny or warm.
Of the channels that showed some kind of wedding coverage, BBC1 dominated, with an average audience of 8.9m and a reach of 19.9m. 88% of those watching on BBC1 did so live, a figure matched for those watching on the next most popular live channel – ITV.
The coverage was certainly plentiful, lasting five hours on BBC1, five hours 35 minutes on ITV and six hours on Sky News. We have broken out some of the key events to see how they impacted on audience figures for the live coverage. Naturally, the average audience figure peaked when the newly-wed couple shared a kiss for the cameras at 1.05pm, but highlights included:
- 10.27, audience – 8m: Celebrity guests started to arrive, including George and Amal Clooney
- 11.19, audience – 11.1m: Meghan Markle left her hotel in a vintage Rolls Royce
- 11.35, audience – 13.2m: Princes Harry and William arrived at St George’s Chapel, in Windsor Castle
- 11.56, audience – 16.3m: The Queen was the last guest to arrive
- 12.05, audience – 17.6m: The service began
- 12.40, audience – 17.2m: The Archbishop of Canterbury pronounced the couple married
- 12.59, audience – 15.9m: Audiences took the chance for a short break from coverage while the registers were signed
- 13.05, audience – 17.9m: Average audience peaked as Harry and Meghan kissed on the steps of St George’s Chapel and started their carriage ride around Windsor
- 13.37, audience – 14.3m: The carriage returned to Windsor Castle and disappeared from view, causing a sharp dip in viewing levels. At the end of the coverage at 2pm on BBC1, the average audience figure had dropped to 8.2m, while at the end of the coverage at 3pm on ITV, the figure was 3.7m.
Online TV viewing
We can also look at online viewing of the wedding on computer devices using TV Player Report data. Taking BBC coverage, we can see that there were just over 60 million minutes of viewing that was live or on demand. This was split 71:29 in favour of live, as we might expect. These device-based viewing minutes represent an increment of 2.3% on the consolidated BBC 1 broadcast minutes. However, we should note that in assuming one viewer per view on other devices the real increase is likely to be higher. Nevertheless, this increase is ahead of the overall average increase we see through device viewing, but well behind the sort of numbers that viewing on computers, tablets and smartphones generates for programmes such as ITV’s Love Island.
In terms of live streams, the BBC coverage was comfortably the most streamed show of the week ending 20th May, with 143,960 average programme streams. ITV’s live coverage received 36,350 average programme streams (including Sky Go streams), well behind the FA Cup Final’s 97,800 average streams. Sky’s own live coverage, on Sky News, generated 2,460 average programme streams. If we also take into account on-demand shows for the same week, however, the wedding coverage on BBC was only the ninth most popular programme. Further detail can be found on the TV Player Report section of the BARB website.
So, while Prince Harry and Meghan’s big day may not have attracted as many viewers as Prince William and Kate’s did, they did comfortably eclipse the world’s oldest football match, which achieved an average audience of just 6.2m. We are unlikely to have a royal wedding of comparable importance until the 2040s. By then, viewing data may look very different indeed.