Two billion viewers

If you ever get that sneaking suspicion that too much of the authoritative-sounding facts in the news are mindlessly made up, it’s great when you find evidence of this. Everyone from the Daily Mail and the Sun, through the Croydon Advertiser and Shropshire Star, on to CNN, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian blindly reported that “an estimated two billion people” watched the royal wedding.

Whenever real journalists complain that bloggers — mere amateurs! — couldn’t possibly do the work of professionals who have been through proper training, it’s exactly this kind of nonsense that permits you to stare at them, silently, before giving a little giggle and walking away.

There are lots of difficult and ambiguous things that anyone, professional or amateur, could understandably get wrong when reporting news. We all make mistakes and many things are complicated. But for all these very professional news outlets to repeat a “fact” that’s plainly wrong, without even attributing it to anyone, makes you wonder about everything they write.

Really, two billion people? At Sporting Intelligence Nick Harris has a piece in which he pulls out some other high viewing figures.

For example, according to the India Times, the viewership rating agency TAM said the most-watched TV event in India was the 2011 India vs Sri Lanka cricket world cup final, with 135 million viewers. That’s only 11.7% of the Indian population.

The Royal Wedding would have to do a lot, lot better than that in India, China, and many other populous parts of the world where TV ownership is less than in the “West” to reach a global audience of two billion. Even the most fervent royalist can’t think that’s likely.

Really, two billion people? Stop and think before you file that article.

Two billion people is 29.5% of the world’s population.

In the UK the wedding was watched by around 24.5 million people according to BARB, or 39.6% of the UK population.

Does anyone think for a moment that global viewing figures would be three-quarters the level of those in the UK itself? Yes, journalists, I know these are terribly big numbers to deal with but you did all that training, remember? You’re professionals. You’re supposed to question things and when something is as simple as one number, this shouldn’t be too much to ask.

If you want to get complicated you could ask whether the “actual” viewing figures, like those from BARB and TAM, have any basis in reality, or if they’re merely something the advertising-funded TV industry doesn’t want to look at too closely for fear their towers of money will come tumbling down… but maybe that’s too much to ask.


  • Oh, thank you for this! I hear these inane figures often, but have only anecdote to combat them with (I didn't watch, my People Magazine (etc) wife didn't watch, and I don't know of anyone who watched, but I and my family and acquaintances may not be representative). But, shouldn't news organizations have some basis for extravagant numbers they relay about widely-covered events?

  • Two billion isn't just 29.5% of the world's population, as best I can find out it's closer to half of the world's population with access to electricity. Seems more than a little implausible...

  • There was a piece on estimating viewer numbers on the Radio 4 programme "More or Less". Should be available on the Radio 4 website. The programme, which is about maths and statistics(!) queried this inflated figure.

  • Perhaps they were referring to the fact that with all the repeats over and over again each of the 24.5 million in UK actually ended up seeing it 81 times, which works out at around 2 billion viewings!

  • I saw on a American CNN broadcast where the woman newscaster said it was 3 billion people...

  • When I heard people saying before hand it would be an estimated 1 billion I couldn't see how that would be possible either. Thanks for using Maths to make them look daft!

Commenting is disabled on posts once they’re 30 days old.

6 May 2011 at Twitter

  • 9:57pm: BBC should have kept TOTP going even if the current viewing figures were tiny… it's an investment in footage for use in the future. Serious.
  • 9:40pm: @realmonkeybear I'd never have guessed some of these bands would have been on 'Top of The Pops'. PWEI?!
  • 9:36pm: Oceanic, 'Insanity'. It's only a short step from this to broadcasting old episodes of 'Hitman and Her'. Retro can go too far.
  • 9:21pm: With @maryloosemore watching Madchester bands mime on 'Top of the Pops' in 1991 on BBC Four. TWENTY YEARS AGO! 20!OMG!! Singing along.
  • 8:56pm: <tipsy>Isn't London great.</tipsy>
  • 4:22pm: @infovore I think PHP has a top-level function especially for that. Well, chances are.
  • 4:20pm: The sound of applause echoes across Shoreditch. “Is the bubble back?”
  • 11:33am: My ‘Beginner’s Guide to Freelancing’ is now updated: Thanks for feedback. Let me know of anything that could be better.
  • 10:30am: @corinthino Very good point - done! Thanks.
  • 10:28am: @chrislunch @Zoonie @dracos GET IT RIGHT NEXT TIME!
  • 10:23am: @dracos You could certainly have a “near full time commitment” plus another “near full time” job. (LOL! Tell another one!)
  • 10:22am: @corinthino Well yes, that’s my point - it’s nonsense :)
  • 10:20am: @chrislunch @dracos Man, I can’t wait for your stand-up gig Chris. It’ll be a right laugh!
  • 10:20am: @dracos I take “unemployed” to mean “having no job at all”. Which implies the lost councillorship was the person’s only job.
  • 10:18am: eg “the vast majority of Councillors have full time jobs, families and hobbies”
  • 10:17am: @dracos No - I could be paid £100k a year for an hour a week (I wish) but it doesn’t make it a full time job. I’m talking time, not money.
  • 10:13am: @dracos Seems like schmeems like. Would be genuinely interested to see how many have full time jobs too.
  • 10:10am: @dracos Yes, but... I bet being a councillor is not a “job” for very many of them at all.
  • 10:09am: @chrislunch LMFAO
  • 10:07am: Did two billion people really watch the royal wedding, as the news says? Me, writing:
  • 10:06am: @chrislunch I’m perfectly aware of it, but “unemployment” doesn’t seem to apply :)
  • 10:01am: @chrislunch You seem to be assuming that being a councillor is an actual job, rather than something done in free time.

6 May 2011 in Links