BY: CASSANDRA VINOGRAD
LONDON – For the world’s media soon to descend on London for the royal wedding, fairytale endings don’t come cheap.
Already faced with declining revenues and stretched resources, media organizations have been hit by a bevy of expensive large-scale news events — the Gulf oil spill, the Chilean miner disaster, Australian floods and the chaos gripping the Middle East.
Now comes the mega-story of Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton.
“It’s a major event and that takes resources and people,” said Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president at ABC News. He refused to say what the network was spending but said costs would entail live coverage of the April 29 wedding and paying for correspondents and anchors on the scene.
The media’s bill will also include highly paid royal commentators, purpose-built studios, extra bandwidth, platforms for photographers and cameramen, transcontinental flights, and hotels in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Some networks are hoping to shave some expenses but most say it’s just a hit they will have to absorb — one that could very well yield lucrative returns. The good-news appeal and the couple’s uber celebrity-royal status have created a stir on the Internet and social networking sites, offering a chance for news organizations to increase audiences and ad revenue.
Most organizations are betting that the appetite for the wedding will eclipse Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981, when there was no Facebook, Twitter and far fewer online outlets.
MSN UK’s editor-in-chief Matt Ball said advertisers started calling to reserve space on the website for April 29 “within a nanosecond” of the wedding date being announced. Yahoo has created a special micro site dedicated to the royal wedding countdown.
Royal Wedding Details
Bob Satchwell, executive director of Britain’s Society of Editors, said the event will be big for both British and global news organizations alike.
“They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t think they could sell newspapers or gain viewers,” Satchwell said.
Not everyone agrees the royal wedding merits a freespending approach.
CBS’s newly-installed president David Rhodes recently told a company town-hall meeting that after seeing figures committed for coverage of major events, he has asked for less spending on the wedding so more can be spent on harder stories. As examples, he cited the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the shooting of U.S. Congress Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, according to a person at the meeting, who declined to be identified due to company policy.
Most news organizations declined to share their budgets for the royal wedding — some because details have not been finalized and others for not wanting to appear overly spendthrift.
“No one will tell you what it costs,” said Christopher Wyld, director of London’s Foreign Press Association. “It will be costing them tons in terms of airfare, hotels and the like … They feel it looks very bad.”
In Canada, a commonwealth nation that still retains Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch, CTV is “treating it like an Olympics,” said Susanne Boyce, president of creative, content and channels. That means a full crew — not to mention the costs of a scouting team around a month ahead of the event.
Royal commentators such as Katie Nicholl, Ingrid Seward and Andrew Morton are also in high demand. Many organizations have even inked lucrative contracts with royal insiders for use of their expertise — and accents. Most experts have been locked into deals months in advance.
Boyce said finding a balance between hard news and a royal, celebrity-type event is a daily part of newsmaking.
“People want some good news as well,” Boyce pointed out. “There’s darkness, light, that’s life.”
NBC will also be sending “an army of people” to London. “It will be hundreds,” according to a person familiar with the planning who asked not to be named because she wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.
The impact of the influx of journalists expected in London is more pronounced because news organizations are attempting to compensate for diminished numbers in foreign bureaus — or for the fact that many bureaus have been closed altogether. Most newspapers have dramatically slimmed their international staffs to cut costs, relying on wire services to fill the gap.
But the wedding has so much appeal that organizations with cash will invest — despite financial pressures.
“It’s a story that we would not consider scaling back on,” said Dennis Moore, USA Today’s entertainment team leader.
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