Monday, 9 May 2011


In the leadup to the recent British Royal wedding, it was repeatedly suggested that the event would be watched by 2 billion people worldwide, that is, about 30 per cent of the world’s population. It says something for the quality of the news media that none of those reporting this estimate offered a source or the most elementary checks on plausibility, and hardly any tried to check afterwards. So, now that we are relaxing after Mother’s Day lunch, I thought I’d do the numbers.

Of the world’s population of 6.7 billion, 1.4 billion don’t have access to electricity, and almost certainly have more pressing concerns than faraway weddings. Overall, I’d guess the number with any access to TV is probably something like 4 billion, suggesting that 50 per cent of all potential viewers would need to be watching. That includes large numbers of children, and many people who’ve barely heard of Britain, let alone followed the details of its monarchical soap operas.

The wedding was conveniently timed for Australian viewers on a primetime Friday, but we are the exceptions. In Europe, Africa and much of Asia, the wedding was in the daytime, when most of the population was at school or work. In the Americas, it was late at night or in the small hours of the morning.

And of course lots of people, for example in the Arab world, may be preoccupied with other events at this time.

On this ex ante basis, I’d say that 200 million would be closer to the mark than 2 billion

So, let’s look at how things turned out.

UK 24 million or about 40 per cent of the population

Australia 5.7 million or about 25 per cent of the population. This was the highest-rated recent event on TV, outdoing the 2005 Australian Open and the final of Master Chef with 4 million, but then, it was shown on four channels. A starting point for any assessment would therefore be the number of people who watch free-to-air TV regardless on Friday nights. It’s surprisingly hard to find these numbers, but I’d guess that it’s about 20 per cent of the population. If that’s right, the wedding managed to attract a million or so extra viewers.

US 22.8 million or about 7 per cent of the population (I also found this at the WSJ who note that this seems low in the light of the 2 billion estimate, but the link doesn’t work)

India 42 million (under 4 per cent of the population)

As far as I can tell, the event was barely covered in China

I also saw a reference to another 70 million Internet viewers, but as a blog owner, I’d take numbers like this with a large grain of salt. In my experience, it takes three or four goes to get any kind of livestreaming working properly.

Overall, the total might be marginally above 250 million worldwide (about 4 per cent, as in India), but not much, I would say.

The Australian numbers cast some light on Kevin Donnelly’s claim that

Fast-forward to recent events like the celebration of ANZAC Day and the Royal Wedding and it is clear the left has definitely lost the culture wars and that generations of Australians continue to embrace and support conservative ideals and values.

That’s a pretty strong claim to make given that the vast majority of Australians, offered the spectacle of the first big royal wedding in three decades, and presumably the last for some decades to come, overwhelmingly preferred a night out with friends, relaxation with the family, a good book or perhaps even blogging.

Donnelly, who claims to be one of Australia’s leading education commentators goes on to endorse the absurd claim that ‘billions of people around the world’ watched the wedding. Donnelly is an opponent of critical approaches to education, so I guess it’s appropriate that he should uncritically accept any nonsense that fits his prejudices. (For a further response, see Mark Bahnisch at LP).

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