My favourite quote from the last 36 or so hours of intense TV coverage from the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s hospital is courtesy of BBC News presenter Simon McCoy: “I’m at St Mary’s where the worlds media is waiting for news and so far there isn’t any.” That really did sum up the theme of the television coverage of the Royal birth. A waiting game. Presenting hour after hour news with very little information to report.
The work of journalists and presenters in London has to be commended. Over 12 hours of broadcasting from both Buckingham Palace and the hospital and viewers had no more information than they did at 6am on Monday morning. 45 words of a Kensington Palace statement confirming the Duchess Cambridge being admitted to hospital is what fed rolling news channels around the globe and national news programme in the UK. All of the Monday news bulletins spent a huge portion of their time live from the hospital eagerly awaiting the news. And rightly so. Anything could have happened. But it didn’t. And so you could describe it as a waste of the viewers time. Certainly on Twitter, there was frustration amongst viewers about the devoted time to the “imminent arrival”. Even those from the industry mocked the amount of time they had spent waiting for news.
Throughout the “birth day” what news providers did do was create an usual art of tension and anticipation amongst the reporters and TV crews and viewers at home. #RoyalBaby was a top Twitter trender and with no updates on the progress of the pregnancy, we were all left largely unaware of what was happening and whether the baby would actually be born within daylight hours. Reminders of the traditional process of announcing the birth are now engraved in my mind for it was repeated that much. But presenters couldn’t simply hand over to the studio for other news because the birth could be at any minute. It would be the biggest scoop of the year and a hugely historic day. To miss it would be a travesty.
Nicholas Witchell and co did an outstanding job of thinning out such little news over a long period of time. Although you would be forgiven for thinking no other news had happened. Come 4.24pm and with Kay Burley still preparing an interview with the Royal baby, none of the worlds media were aware that the Prince of Cambridge had been born. The same news headlines that had dominated the day continued well into the evening until presenters, reporters, correspondents and viewers were greeted with the most rewarding scene of the day. A man walking out of the hospital door. At that moment, breaking news straps, interruptions to normal programmes and a media frenzy began. Over three hours of secrets kept away from the public eye and TV news broke into a spontaneous royal outburst. Interviews with anyone available. Doctors, photographers, tourists and even kids in royal themed pyjamas padded out a further two hours of repeated news coverage.
By 9pm, the news had been broken around the globe. “Huge crowds” gathered at Buckingham Palace proclaimed newsreaders. Indeed the tradition of a hospital bulletin being posted in the forecourt of the palace was a grand spectacle of theatre for television viewers. The excitement from the hospital and other relevant locations from around the country, even a horse in a pub, did provide a sense of relief that the waiting ordeal was over. After ten minutes of hurtling around the UK for reaction, the novelty soon dried. Everyone was “delighted” at the birth, including Her Majesty, The Prince of Wales and The Obamas; Even the Prime Minister made an unsurprising appearance from Downing Street to congratulate the couple on their “brand new baby” in comparison to perhaps a brand new car.
Special news programmes ditched the schedules. BBC News once again dominated for another two hours on BBC One. Over on ITV, Grandmas who had been waiting for Long Lost Family were left despondent by the appearance of Mary Nightingale and an ITV News Special before the News at Ten O’clock which repeated, in summary, the news we had been subject to for most of the evening. In respect, both the BBC and ITV pitched up a programme featuring it’s main presenters and full package of reports, an example of outstanding preparation. ITV was the victor in the league of special programmes with 3.5m viewers tuning in. The BBC One programme held onto 2.9m viewers.
Come 10.30 and following the excitement of the days event and the end of the regional news, you would presume that would be the end of programming about the Royal birth. Not quite. BBC One altered its schedule again to welcome a Sophie Raworth presented programme, Born to be King, a pre-recorded documentary looking to what the new baby can expect in it’s role. Come 11.15pm and the television ordeal, for many, is over. Mainstream channels returned to their late night schedules.
The following day. A similar story. This time, the long awaited appearance of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their new baby. As I write this blog at 4.50pm there is no sighting of the family yet. The nearest excitement has been a visit from the Middleton parents. And with news to suggest the couple and baby may not leave until after 6pm, possibly the next morning, it seems the worlds media is in for another trying evening, padding out hours of broadcast with the same news until the prized presence of the Royals.
Although there probably has been too much TV coverage for the birth of the new baby, it has done digital news channels a huge favour. All day coverage on Monday saw BBC News take a 2.8% boost and Sky News a 1.6% share. Whilst such little news being panned over a long period of time frustrated many, it is true the event is very historic for the country. What the rolling news channels and special programmes did create was a sense of celebration, theatre and national pride. An example of excellent and historic journalism.