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The royal wedding offers media companies something rare: An epic news event they can actually plan for

Everyone from the TV networks to fashion magazines are scrambling their jets to cover one of the few events people still watch live.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pictured during a visit to Cardiff Castle on January 18, 2018 in Cardiff, Wales
Ben Birchall - WPA Pool / Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

On Saturday, a hundred thousand people are expected to crowd the tiny town of Windsor, England, to watch the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

But for media companies, the bigger event will be in your living room, or on your phone or laptop, where they are hoping you will focus on a rare worldwide spectacle.

At a time when media attention is fractured on an unlimited number of screens and distractions, Harry and Meghan are a unicorn: An event guaranteed to generate attention around the globe.

The last royal wedding — Prince William and Kate Middleton, in 2011 — drew 23 million viewers in the U.S. and nearly three billion worldwide. Even though TV audiences have been shrinking for years, some media executives hope to see similar numbers this weekend.

Kate Middleton and Prince William stand on the Buckingham Palace balcony at their wedding.
Kate Middleton and Prince William at their wedding in April 2011. Their wedding raked in around three billion TV viewers worldwide.
Christopher Furlong / Getty

“A wedding like this doesn’t come along very often, but any time you can, that is sustained coverage, and it’s kinda why you get into the business” said Ryan Kadro, executive producer of “CBS This Morning,” which is programming six hours of coverage on Saturday.

Everyone who makes a living getting people to look at a screen is trying to cash in, and they’re mustering whatever resources they have to make it happen.

TV networks have been planning for the event since the royal pair announced their engagement last fall. NBC secured a deal with a local hotel to get views of Windsor Castle, which is off-limits to cameras besides a pool camera, and is sending a crew of more than 10 correspondents to England, including all four “Today” hosts. CBS — which aired a prime-time special on Meghan Markle in April and is running another wedding recap special Saturday night in addition to live coverage — has its own hotel deal.

NBC “Today” hosts Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie sitting in an open carriage in Windsor, England
NBC “Today” hosts Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie in Windsor, England, filming a prime-time special for the network that’s airing Wednesday night
Colin Hutton/NBC

The internet is doing its part, as well. From fashion sites with large millennial audiences to traditional print media, newsrooms are assigning teams of reporters to generate wall-to-wall coverage.

“It’s rare for us that there’s such an epic event that we can prepare for. This only happens one time,” said Kate Lewis, who oversees editorial for Hearst Magazines’ digital properties. Lewis said Hearst Magazines has around 100 to 150 people — about half of its digital staff in the U.S. and U.K. — covering the wedding in some way.

Freelance journalist Elizabeth Holmes, who is covering the wedding for Hearst’s, isn’t going to England. But she is still doing lots of prep work. For starters, she’s booking a room at a Four Seasons hotel — away from her husband and two small children in the San Francisco Bay Area — so she can zone in. Holmes plans on looking at three screens at once — one with live video coverage of the wedding, one monitoring social feeds and another to type up her stories.

The way people consume media has also changed so much since the last royal wedding — Instagram was less than a year old and Snapchat didn’t even exist — so media outlets are adapting to new distribution outlets.

Many are making content designed for social platforms, especially vertical video for Snap. TLC is doing a four-part video series on the platform, and NBC is sending a correspondent to Windsor just to host its Snapchat show, Stay Tuned.

Media companies that have already been flooding the zone with wedding coverage have been rewarded with eyeballs. At Town & Country magazine, for example, royal coverage made up more than 40 percent of digital traffic last month.

A screen grab of Town & Country’s special royal wedding site showing multiple Harry and Meghan stories.
Town & Country’s special royal wedding site. The magazine said royal wedding stories made up more than 40 percent of digital traffic in April.

“The thing that’s changed is how we cover it. Before, it was really simple: Just say the facts, ‘they got married, she wore this.’ But now, because there’s so much competition for royals, you have to do much more or go to a strong POV place,” said Hearst’s Lewis.

Any royal wedding would be a big deal. One thing that may make this a bigger deal is the bride. Markle is an American, a divorced TV star from Los Angeles, with a father who seems to love the limelight. All of that makes her interesting to audiences who might not normally pay attention to a wedding, royal or not.

Perhaps most interesting: Many women of color see themselves in Markle, who has written about her biracial identity.

“Women of color are excited about this, and there’s a natural enthusiasm from our writers and editors, which is why we are doing the stories we’re doing” said Yael Kohen, executive editor of Refinery29, an online lifestyle and fashion publisher that has featured hundreds of articles about Markle. They are mostly about her fashion, relationships and career, but also include some that touch on the cultural significance of blackness in the royal family — like a story that traces the history of another British queen from the 18th century who was mixed-race.

The Root and Essence — publications focused on black audiences — have also dedicated coverage to the significance of Markle’s racial identity.

Audience expectations aside, a royal wedding can be entertaining for the people in charge of covering it. One editor is throwing a viewing party at 4 am at her home, celebrating with champagne once the coverage ends. Another editorial director threw a party for editors in the newsroom with royal-themed food, like a crown made out of brie.

“Stepping out of the politics and into an event like a wedding is so much fun and so different,” said Libby Leist, executive producer of NBC’s “Today” show, and who used to oversee the show’s political coverage. “It’s uplifting. We can celebrate the event, take in the fashion, take in the history, take in the scenery of Windsor and all the pageantry around it.”

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