The TV Column: Counting royal wedding watchers . . . before the wedding?

April 28, 2011

It has been breathlessly reported in the press that nearly a third of the world’s population will watch Friday’s royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Presumably, the other two-thirds will be too busy dodging shrapnel, or searching for potable water, to watch the adorable couple exchange vows at Westminster Abbey. Hopefully, they’ll DVR it and watch later.

It’s hard to tell from where the press is getting this 2 billion figure. They did not get this number from Nielsen. For all its faults, Nielsen draws the line at reporting numbers before viewers actually have something to, um, view.

It appears to have sprung earlier this month from British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, who, in turn, pointed the finger at Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who apparently coughed it up during a briefing at a cabinet meeting, according to a Reuters report.

“The Culture Secretary . . . said [the wedding] is likely to be a major global event viewed by around 2 billion people around the world,” the representative said.

The world’s population is estimated to be 6.8 billion people these days.

(For comparison’s sake, the 1981 wedding of William’s parents, Charles and Diana, was reported to have been watched by 750 million in 74 countries, about 17 percent of the estimated 4.5 billion people on Earth at that time.)

Part of the fun of covering big-ticket TV events is watching the spread of hysterical ratings forecasts.

Back in 2009, when Michael Jackson handed in his dinner pail, it was reported that 1 billion people around the globe watched the singer’s celebrity-spangled memorial service at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Except the press had begun reporting that number before the memorial.

Once again, the media did not get this number from Nielsen. No, this number, which was being swallowed in big gulps by the press, came compliments of AEG. AEG is the concert promoter that was supposed to mastermind Jackson’s London comeback concert series but instead wound up putting together his memorial service.

The press also reported Jackson’s memorial service would set a U.S. TV-viewing record.

It did not.

About 31 million people watched Jackson’s last act across 19 television networks, according to Nielsen. That was less than half the crowd that had collected in front of their sets in August of ’98 to watch President Bill Clinton apologize for the Blue Dress Incident. Still, it meant that about one in every 10 people in the country watched the Jackson send-off.

But AEG’s horseradish doesn’t begin to match that of BBC’s, which, back in ’97, told an equally unquestioning press that 2.5 billion people around the globe — half the world’s population at the time — were going to watch Princess Di’s funeral.

That number was repeated so often that it, too, became fact before the funeral, and has continued to be cited as fact ever since, living on like an eternal flame. As recently as this month, it was used in that Reuters article in which Britain’s culture secretary unveiled the official 2 billion viewers figure for the wedding of Di’s elder son, William, to Middleton — nearly a month before the happy event’s occurrence.

In the United States, Nielsen reported, after the fact, that 33 million people did watch Di’s funeral. That’s a larger crowd than watched Jackson’s memorial service or Ronald Reagan’s funeral in 2004, which attracted an audience of nearly 21 million.

CW’s new chief

As had long been expected, CBS and Warner Bros. on Thursday named Mark Pedowitz the new president of CW.

He’s sort of replacing Dawn Ostroff, who is entertainment president at CW.

But while Ostroff oversaw programming development, marketing and publicity, Pedowitz will oversee all that plus the business side of the venture.

Who better than a middle-aged guy lawyer to oversee “Gossip Girl,” “Vampire Diaries” and “America’s Next Top Model” on a network that targets 18-to-34-year-old chicks?

We’re glad you asked.

Ostroff is leaving the gig to relocate to NYC with her family. The thought was, CW could use someone with major business-affairs chops to rethink the CW model, what with CW struggling to click in a really big, broadcast kinda way with its target audience.

And while Pedowitz formerly was president of ABC Studios, overseeing such shows as “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Scrubs,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Ghost Whisperer” and “Criminal Minds,” he has a strong biz background.

For instance, he used to oversee all business, legal and financial affairs for the ABC network’s prime-time schedule, ABC’s daytime schedule and for ABC-parent Disney’s television-production division, which, in those days, was called Touchstone TV.

He joined ABC in 1991 as senior vice president of business affairs and contracts. Before joining ABC, he was senior veep of business affairs at MGM/UA’s television production division. He began his career in the entertainment industry as an attorney at MCA.

And now he’ll determine the fate of “Nikita” and “Hellcats” — which were not among the shows CW announced this week it had picked up for next season and are still waiting to see if they’re getting the ax.

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