U.S. Media Braces for a Bloody Royal Wedding Blitz

With an estimated two billion people expected to tune in, NBC, CNN, others ramp up coverage and branded products, walking a fine line between comprehensive and overkill

The Royal Wedding is a week away, and with the biggest audience in television history expected to tune in to see Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows on April 29, the American media is losing its collective, bloody mind covering it.

None of the news organizations contacted by TheWrap would disclose what they are spending on Royal coverage. But, like other big global news events, the cost — estimated in the $5 million-$10-million-range for some networks — is excessive.

Costs include airfare and hotels for talent and production staff, makeshift studios, and licensing of the official wedding feed from BBC, ITV and Sky (the only networks allowed to shoot the procession).

And for U.S. news outlets whose 2011 budgets have been decimated by the costs of covering global catastrophes like Egypt, Libya and Japan, it’s surprising that so many of them appear to be ponying up the resources without blinking an eye.

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"It's an event — something you have to cover, even if the P&L isn't that great," Brad Adgate, senior VP of research, Horizon Media, told TheWrap. "There’s no choice but to cover it like a Presidential inauguration."

But is the ridiculous American media interest in the Royal Wedding — and the cost — justified? There is evidence it might be.

An estimated 2 billion people are expected to watch the Royal Wedding on TV, with another 400 million streaming it online and roughly 800,000 crowded outside Buckingham Palace. As WSJ.com noted, about 35 percent of the world’s population will be tuning in.

To put that figure in perspective, the last Royal Wedding — Charles and Diana — was watched by 750 million.

Yahoo said worldwide searches related to the new Royal Wedding have skyrocketed since the Novemeber announcement — 1,523 percent in the last month alone.

NBC was first in line at the Royal Asylum, devoting a full hour of "Dateline" to the engagement less than a day after the couple's November announcement. (The show had been in the works since they began dating, according to Adage.com.)

The “Today” show followed, devoting countless segments that fed the hype — including a mind-numbing interview with the stars of Lifetime’s made-for-TV movie, "William & Kate," conducted by Jenna Bush Hager — and even offering viewers a chance to win a trip to London for the big day.

And that was before NBC announced its official coverage plans, which will include reports from more than a dozen network anchors and correspondents — more than 20 hours of combined coverage from NBC and MSNBC on the day of the wedding, beginning at 3 a.m. ET.

Here's what the Peacock has in store:

>> Meredith Vieira will begin broadcasting from London on April 25, with Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Ann Curry arriving later in the week.

>> Brian Williams will broadcast his “Nightly News” beginning Wednesday, April 27.

>> NBC’s “Dateline will air on a two-hour documentary, hosted by Curry, on April 29.

>> MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” will be live from London April 25-29.

They’ll all be joining NBC Universal siblings Access Hollywood, Bravo, E!, iVillage, Telemundo and the Weather Channel — the Weather Channel! — in providing exhaustive coverage of the affair.

Online, NBC has a dedicated blog (“The Windsor Knot”), the @royalwedding Twitter feed and is partnering with GetGlue to offer “virtual stickers” to viewers who watch NBC’s Royal Wedding programming.

NBC News even launched a branded “Royal Wedding App” for the iPad, promising more than 300 photos and 40 NBC News reports.

“By any definition, this is a news story,” Mark Lukasiewicz, who oversees NBC News Specials, told TheWrap. “It is a big event, an unusual event. They don’t happen that often.”

The Peacock is not alone in succumbing to — and cultivating — the feeding frenzy.

CNN will likely have the largest U.S. media presence on the ground, with 50 journalists and producers from the CNN news group covering the spectacle in and around Buckingham Palace.

The network’s coverage will be anchored by its British primetime import Piers Morgan, who is planning to do a week’s worth of shows from London. (On Friday, Morgan had George Michael debut his new song for William and Kate’s wedding exclusively on his show.)

Anderson Cooper will broadcast from there, too, Wednesday through Friday.

CNN is planning the requisite specials — with four half-hour shows anchored by London-based correspondent Richard Quest — and will stream “various angles” of the event on CNN.com and assorted apps, including views from inside the Abbey as well as the parade.

And like its coverage of global disasters, CNN plans to lean on its international arm to supplement its coverage, as well as its community of "ireporters."

Fox News will be in London throughout the week, and its live coverage of the knot-tying — anchored by Shepard Smith — begins at 4 a.m. ET from Buckingham Palace and will feature former "Good Morning America" host Joan Lunden, who covered the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981. (FNC will run commercial free from 5:30-8:00 a.m. ET.)

WE tv and Wedding Central are planning 109 hours of wedding-related shows, as the Wall Street Journal reported, including "How to Marry a Prince," a “user's guide to nabbing a royal fiancé.”

TLC is hosting a Royal Wedding viewing party in Times Square (including a live performance of Colbie Caillat’s new single “I Do”!) as part of its 89 hours of coverage.

Online, Yahoo has been trumpeting its dedicated Royal Wedding mini-site, which it expects will attract traffic comparable to the portal's sites built for the Oscars and Super Bowl.

Even the Associated Press is boasting “multiplatform coverage,” offering seven hours of live, streaming HD video to customers of its global video feed — and that’s in addition to the more than 1,000 images the AP expects to deliver on April 29.

Ironically, the enormous attention cast by U.S. media outlets on the Royal Wedding will end up resulting in coverage that’s oversaturated compared to its U.K. counterparts.

"Of course we'll cover the day of,” Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of London’s Guardian, told the Cutline a few weeks ago. “We're planning a supplement for the next day, and we'll live-blog it. But [Prince William] is not even next in line for the throne, so his constitution significance is pretty tiny at the moment. It will be a nice human story on the day, but we won't go overboard."

Rusbridger said he wouldn't be assigning more than a dozen journalists to cover the event.

Contrast Rusbridger’s approach to, say, the USA Today: "It's a story that we would not consider scaling back on," the paper’s entertainment chief Dennis Moore said in March.

“The U.S. has always had a fascination in the Royal Family, since Diana and Charles,” Lukasiewicz said. And given the addition social media, the fascination will seem even higher.

With numbers that big, marketers have taken note. MSN’s U.K. editor-in-chief Matt Ball told the Associated Press that advertisers began calling "within a nanosecond" of the November announcement of William and Kate’s wedding date to reserve space on the website for the big day.

And Lifetime has already sold international rights to "William & Kate” to a European distributor — not bad for a cable movie that’s yet to air.

For the glossy print industry, royal family covers have traditionally been among the best-sellers. Five of People magazine's 10 all-time best-selling covers feature royals.

And there may be another factor at play in the U.S. media’s eagerness to cover the royal vows. “I think with all of the disasters this year, people are looking forward to something that’s lighter,” Lukasiewicz said. “They want to gather together and watch the pageantry.”

There is at least one major American media outlet not going overboard on the royal coverage.

David Rhodes, CBS's newly-installed president, reportedly said during a company meeting that they would spend less on the wedding in order to preserve the budget for “harder” stories. Make no mistake, though: Katie Couric, the soon-to-be ex-anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” will be there.