The Royal Baby: Boon for Magazines, Less So for Television

Magazines and television networks have been waiting nine months for this

Prince William and Kate won't be the only ones celebrating the royal birth: Celebrity weekly magazines will soon be proud parents of a bouncing baby sales bump with their inevitable royal baby issues.

Television news' benefit, however, is less certain. Magazine sales will mean revenue. Televison ratings, on the other hand, may not.

"The royal birth will be the lead story on the morning shows and the entertainment magazines," Katz Television Group VP Bill Carroll tells TheWrap. "It is the ultimate celebrity story and will bring viewers to the set looking to see the first pictures of mother and baby."

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Royal news has traditionally done well for the magazines, even as sales have declined overall. William and Kate's April 2011 wedding produced about $31 million in retail magazine sales, AdWeek reported at the time — $13 million in regular issues and $18 million in special or commemorative issues.

People and US Weekly's royal wedding issues did especially well. US Weekly told TheWrap its Royal Wedding issue was the bestselling of that year; People told TheWrap it sold about 2.1 million copies. People's coverage of Prince William's 1982 birth, by comparison, sold 2.6 million copies. That's not much of a drop considering the state of the print industry and the major shifts that have occured in media in general since that time.

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As magazine sales declined over the years, celebrity weeklies such as In Touch, People and US Weekly were hit especially hard. While all three remain in the top 25 single-copy sales in America according to the Alliance for Audited Media, they saw double-digit percentage drops between 2011 and 2012: 14.8 percent, 12.2 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. Those were on top of significant drops between 2010 and 2011.

Television outlets covering the birth (a.k.a. just about all of them) will have a less sure path to economic success. "Feel good stories always bring positive increases in ratings for the shows," Katz said. "The expense and resources pay off with potential viewership. But not necessarily in revenue."

While ratings were generally good for 2011's wedding and wedding specials (CBS, for instance, won the night for its April 29 wedding primetime special), the royal birth is not quite "event" viewing. The wedding was a known entity with a start and end time; the birth was, obviously, far less predictable. Journalists have been gathered outside St. Mary's hospital for weeks now — that's a significant dedication of expensive resources for an extended length of time.

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And for less of a payoff. The news of the birth was not accompanied by any photos of the baby nor the new parents; we will have to wait until Tuesday at the earliest for those. The baby's name may not be known for several days yet. It's not quite the same concise, TV-friendly story package as the wedding.

"The difference between a walk down the aisle and kiss on the balcony and a herd of reporters standing outside a hospital is pretty obvious," Katz said.

Monday night, weekly magazines go to press (perfect timing, Kate!) and networks will start airing their long-planned royal birth specials. CNN will re-run its "Will and Kate Plus One" special and Natalie Morales will host a "Dateline" special from London on NBC Monday at 10 p.m. ABC will have a special edition of 20/20 anchored by Barbara Walters on Tuesday at 10 p.m.

CBS told TheWrap it currently has "no plans" for any royal baby specials.