The BBC regards the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 as “the event which did more than any other to make television a mainstream medium”.
So it’s fitting that her funeral on Monday marks the end of the television dominance that began when she ascended the throne.
At the time, the lack of consumer televisions meant that viewers gathered in friends’ living rooms, churches and other public spaces to watch the coronation, creating a shared broadcast experience and a shared sense of story.
Now, the divide between social media and TV in the aftermath of the Queen’s death has highlighted how new media is changing culture. On social media, the Queen has often been discussed and in many cases denounced for the history of British colonialism and her handling of royal scandals. Television, meanwhile, has largely stuck to a script of loving remembrance and celebration of his 70-year reign, particularly in the first 24 hours. The social media narrative challenged and perhaps even altered the one originally presented on television.
Yet despite all the revolutionary media disruption and fragmentation already wrought by the Internet, television remains the primary storyteller of national life in countries like the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. .
“Yes, the Queen’s coronation was the defining moment that made Britons realize that the television was the essential piece of furniture of modern life…and the glue of post-war British culture,” said Thomas Doherty, media and cultural historian at Brandeis University.
While acknowledging the massive changes in the media landscape between 1953 and today, he nevertheless added, “I think the final send-off and the eulogy will have a large audience – the drama, the pageantry, the ritual. .a shared universal experience that TV thrives on.”
Anticipating a huge TV audience for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral seems a safe bet, at least in the UK where the queue to view her coffin at Westminster Hall was five miles long on Friday morning as mourners were temporarily repressed. On Friday afternoon, the UK government’s live queue tracker said mourners should wait until at least 10pm to see Queen Elizabeth lying in state.
Viewership forecasts for the US are more complicated, in part due to the five-hour time difference between the UK and the US Eastern Time Zone. CNN, for example, will start airing live TV coverage at 5 a.m. ET on Monday, which is 10 a.m. in Britain.
The BBC will broadcast the events from the opening of Westminster Hall at 8am UK time. Its coverage will include funeral and burial services. It will be the first time cameras have been allowed inside a monarch’s funeral. The BBC’s coverage will be both on television and on its website where it will be available worldwide.
The time difference between US and UK viewers as well as work schedules could mean that more Americans view the funeral later in the day on the internet and on social media than on live TV. Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, thinks the jet lag is enough to affect Monday’s audience size.
“Jet lag will make a big difference and yes, people will take advantage of jet lag, something that started with smart VCR owners in 1981 for the Charles-Diana wedding, and is much easier now,” Thompson said. .
Although Thompson expects a “very large” audience, he doesn’t see it proportionately rivaling the 1953 coronation.
“I don’t think this funeral can capture global attention the way the 1953 coronation did – or even the 1981 wedding. There may be more viewers, but there are also more people. The identity and positioning of the monarchy is vastly different than it was less than a decade after World War II, and the menu of things people could pay attention to was much, much smaller then.
At the Queen’s investiture in 1953, Americans could only get full coverage on a deferred basis. NBC and CBS News, the two main television news divisions at the time, filmed the events in Britain and then flew the footage across the Atlantic to broadcast on the networks, according to the 10 issue. June 1953 from the trade publication Variety.
And yet the coronation coverage found an audience of 85 million viewers in the United States, according to the BBC.
A notable aspect of how American networks presented their coverage involved the inclusion of advertisements. This had a profound effect on how television developed in Britain compared to America, according to Doherty.
“When the Coronation movies aired on American television, the networks naturally sold advertising,” Doherty said. “And Britons were upset that the cigarette adverts were in disrespectful proximity to Her Majesty. It helped reinforce the British in their view that television should continue to be government sponsored and paid for by television taxes and distracted them from seeing the business model for television as our own.
Although both Thompson and Doherty appreciate the growing power of digital media and recognize that the days of television as master storyteller are coming to an end, neither believe Monday’s funeral will mark the end of the era of television.
“I don’t think sending the queen will mark the medium’s swansong,” Doherty said. “If something like 9/11 were to happen again, we would all flock to our televisions, drawn to the simultaneity and universality of the collective experience and the hypnotic power of the bigger picture.”
Thompson agreed, “I don’t think the funeral will be the last big global event of the television era,” he said. “But, alas, the major global television events of the future are likely to be disasters: an assassination, a terrorist attack, a deliberate or accidental nuclear event, a huge natural disaster, a pandemic, a coup d’etat in a great North American democracy. American – something everyone will have to watch.