Most-Watched Live TV Broadcasts Of All Time: Where Will The Royal Wedding Rank?

Meghan And Harry will have to draw in hundreds of millions of viewers if they want to top the viewers that Charles and Diana had in 1981.

will the royal wedding be the most-watched tv event of all time
Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Images

Meghan And Harry will have to draw in hundreds of millions of viewers if they want to top the viewers that Charles and Diana had in 1981.

Will the royal wedding (of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, that is) be the most-watched live TV broadcast of all time? Probably not, for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it’s surprisingly hard to get hard data on these types of things. Oh, and there’s also the fact that Harry’s mother and father, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, set a pretty high bar when they got married in 1981.

So what are the most-watched live TV broadcasts of all time, and where will Meghan and Harry fit in? Let’s take a look at the facts.

It’s Surprisingly Hard To Come Up With Hard-And-Fast Answers About This Sort Of Thing

If you do a Google search for “most-watched live tv broadcasts” or something similar, you’re going to get conflicting results. There may be a lot of reasons for that. For example, not all countries compile their TV ratings the same way (if at all) nor do they report them the same way (if at all). So while the number of Americans who watched, say, the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final may be unambiguous, the number of, say, Jamaicans who watched it may be less clear.

So based on what information we have, how do things shake out?

As it turns out, Muhammad Ali boxing matches may possibly hold the top four spots. According to a 1981 Nevada Magazine report, Ali’s “Last Hurrah” match against Larry Holmes in 1980 drew in 2 billion TV viewers worldwide.

Ali’s 1978 rematch against Leon Spinks, his “Thrilla in Manila” fight against Joe Frazier in 1975, and the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight against George Foreman are all believed to have brought in between 1 and 2 billion viewers.

Outside of Ali boxing matches, there’s the 2010 Sydney New Year’s Eve broadcast, which is believed to have drawn in 1.1 billion viewers, according to News Corp Australia.

As for where the 1981 royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana ranks, at 750 million reported viewers, that puts that particular wedding well below the top record-holders. And as for the wedding of Harry’s brother and sister-in-law William and Kate in 2011, it’s not even in the top 10, according to a Deadline report from the time.

Where Will The Harry And Meghan Royal Wedding Fit In?

At this point, all anyone can do is speculate; so speculate we shall.

This particular royal wedding will almost certainly have more resonance with American viewers since Meghan is American. However, considering that coverage starts at 4 a.m. Eastern Time, Americans may want to stay in bed.

Which raises another point. Now that it’s possible to watch a TV event long after it has aired, thanks to DVR’s and whatnot, that throws into question the number of “live” TV viewers an event gets.

There’s also a problem with the definition of “TV” itself, as many viewers will undoubtedly watch the wedding on the internet, either via a streaming service, a TV network’s internet stream, YouTube, or any of a number of viewing options that weren’t available in Charles and Diana’s time.

If you’re in the U.S., here are your options for watching the royal wedding, via USA Today.

Over-the-air TV: ABC will begin five hours of live coverage early Saturday morning. CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS will also be covering the event.

Cable/Satellite: Your cable or satellite package undoubtedly includes network TV, but if you’d prefer to watch on a cable or satellite channel, there will be coverage on BBC News, BBC America, CNN, TLC, HBO, BritBox, and others.

Streaming: Most of the providers listed above will also carry the content either on their websites, smart TV streaming apps, or both. And if all else fails, you can watch it live on YouTube.