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A Coronation for Generation Stream: How King Charles’ crowning marks a new media age
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For almost 70 years the British Royal Family has been inextricably linked with television. But whether Buckingham Palace likes it or not, that bond will be broken come Saturday 6 May as Operation Golden Orb is delivered.
In 1953 tens of millions of people huddled around TV screens and listened to the BBC’s voice of truth Richard Dimbleby as the young Elizabeth II, aged just 27-years-old, took to the throne at Westminster Abbey.
The rush for the black and white sets to watch the Coronation helped popularise the then new media technology in the UK, especially as Britain was starting to get back on its feet following the Second World War thanks to The Marshall Plan and rationing was fading out.
It was also the first time in UK media history that TV consumption had overtaken radio, with 27 million watching the ceremony on ‘the box’ and 11 million others listening in.
The first televised Christmas message wouldn’t come until 1957 when the Queen sat down in front of a camera at one of the Royal Family’s favourite bolt-holes, Sandringham House in Norfolk.
“25 years ago my grandfather [George V] broadcast the first of these Christmas messages. Today is another landmark because television has made it possible for many of you to see me in your homes on Christmas day,” the monarch noted. “I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct.”
Beyond the annual State Opening of Parliament, the Christmas Broadcast is one of the few regular times the British hear from their head of state.
The Royal Family has attempted to keep the press at arm’s-length (to varying degrees of success) with the infamous ‘never complain, never explain’ mantra of media relations over the years. The more heavily regulated broadcasters, meanwhile, have been absorbed into the workings of ‘the firm’.
This is especially true of the BBC which effectively becomes the state broadcaster on days like the Coronation of King Charles III and Camilla.
“The BBC will be at the forefront of technology with proceedings on iPlayer streaming live from multiple locations in Ultra High Definition and High Dynamic Range,” the Corporation has promised.
The broadcaster’s chief presenter Huw Edwards will be joined by the likes of TV veterans Clare Balding, Kirsty Young and Sophie Raworth throughout the big day, with Young returning to the screens on Sunday for the Coronation Concert.
BBC insiders will no doubt be hoping that the major event will mark the end of a tumultuous start to the year after reports of low morale at the organisation amid cut-backs, a tricky merger of the BBC News and BBC World channels and Richard Sharp’s resignation as BBC Chairman last week.
The Coronation will give the BBC an opportunity to reset as it heads into a mega-May, with its hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest also on the horizon.
Elsewhere, ITV will air a special programme on 6 May hosted by Julie Etchingham and Tom Bradby. Sky News, meanwhile, is making a point of its ‘Ultra HD’ coverage across TV, YouTube and online.
Dame Joanna Lumley will be the broadcaster’s star turn when she joins the team during the famous Buckingham Palace balcony shots and RAF flypast in the afternoon.
Channel 4 has taken a different tack, highlighting the return of its satirical show ‘The Windsors’, who are “more deluded and dysfunctional than ever before”. The publicly-owned channel will be broadcasting Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English Strikes Again when King Charles gets crowned.
Upstarts GB News and News Corp-owned TalkTV will also be covering the Coronation. Piers Morgan will be joined in his studio with several ‘special guests’, while Sharon Osbourne will be on the streets of the UK capital talking to the British public.
“The Osbourne matriarch is primed to take the helm on a special ‘TalkTV London Tour Bus’ and is also planning to join those camping out in the capital ahead of the Coronation procession,” the outlet has said.
GB News, meanwhile, will start the day as normal at 05:59 BST by playing the national anthem, ‘God Save The King’. Full coverage of the event will include appearances from Nigel Farage, historian David Starkey and super-experienced newscaster Alastair Stewart.
Some of the more thoughtful journalism around the Coronation could come this Thursday, with publication of The New Statesman, The Spectator and other current affairs magazines. All eyes will also be peeled for Private Eye’s take on the event after its ‘Jubilee Special’ last year.
The main expected weapon of choice amongst print outlets will be the live blog, standalone videos and clips as well as social media posts.
The Telegraph is odds-on to have one of the biggest live blogs in the industry with The Times likely to be a strong second, while it’s unclear how much resource the left-leaning Guardian, a pioneer of the technology, will put behind it for the Coronation.
The event will undoubtedly give outlets of all shapes and sizes the opportunity to attract more readers and followers. Matilda Head, a trainee journalist at The Telegraph, who has attracted tens of millions of views on her news-focused TikTok page, spoke to Future News about the medium.
“The most popular videos tend to be ones with a pop culture link. My first video to get significant numbers was an explainer of the G7 summit, which I started by referencing a picture from a previous summit that became a meme.” Matilda said.
“The key to creating and connecting to your audience is personality. Keeping your content personality focussed also allows you to connect better with your audience, as an individual. I talk in my videos as I would to my friends when I explain a news story.
“You should focus on creating an audience of followers that find your content valuable, keep your videos relevant to your target audience by explaining things they might not understand, don’t use lots of acronyms or jargon, and never assume your audience will understand something in the same way you do.”
This is something which The Washington Post has been able to achieve with 1.6 million followers and 77 million likes on TikTok. The Jeff Bezos-owned outlet will integrate breaking news coverage and real-time updates with “royal insight and local context” in a bid to transport its readers to Westminster Abbey.
Bureau chief William Booth and correspondent Karla Adam will lead the reporting from London, while opinions editor and royal expert Autumn Brewington will pen her daily Post Elizabeth newsletter from the capital.
Live video coverage, anchored by Libby Casey alongside senior correspondent Rhonda Colvin and contributing royal correspondent Sarah Hewson, will be aired on The Post’s website, apps and on YouTube.
The New York Times will also livestream the Coronation on its home page, with desks including International, Food, Culture, Styles, Travel and Business contributing to the coverage, which includes interactive FAQs.
Real-time analysis will be provided from London bureau chief Mark Landler, fashion director and chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman, classical music critic Zachary Woolfe, London correspondent Stephen Castle and international correspondent Megan Specia.
“More than a dozen journalists from The Times’s London newsroom will be contributing to our coronation coverage, in addition to those filing from our bureaus and newsrooms around the world,” spokesperson for The New York Times told Future News.
US broadcasters, including Fox News and CNN, will also host special programmes for the ceremony. The latter outlet will see its coverage led by Anderson Cooper outside Buckingham Palace with analysis and reporting from Christiane Amanpour and Max Foster.
Again, in our age of broadband internet, smartphones and a multitude of platforms across a plethora of devices, the broadcast will be streamed live online as well as across all CNN apps.
Though much will be the same during the ceremony, with some traditions dating back more than 1,000 years, the days of a monolithic media are long gone.
In this vein, the Coronation will very much mark the current Streaming Age with find ourselves in and the reality that there are a multitude of ‘truths’ in circulation, a phenomenon kings, queens and journalists all have to get used to.
🎯 AI is a moving target
Sir James Lighthill’s pessimism about AI and his infamous report about the technology, where he criticised the field for failing to achieve grandiose objectives, was a major catalyst in ushering in the first ‘AI Winter’ four decades ago.
Research grants were axed, the private sector grew weary of the technology and the fledgling industry subsequently saw a brain drain.
AI’s fortunes ebbed and flowed until the internet age unlocked new possibilities and thinking in the 1990s, with IBM’s Deep Blue making a major splash by beating world-famous chess maestro Garry Kasparov in the summer of 1997 and the commercial adoption of neural networks in 1998 as banks first used the technology to read hand-written cheques.
The last six months, however, have probably been the most significant in AI’s recent history as we have witnessed an incredible interest boom in the technology thanks to the launch of Chat-GPT, with GPT-4 being unveiled by OpenAI in March.
Despite the cries for a slowdown, AI has well and truly entered the fast-lane and major technology businesses, namely Microsoft and Google (Alphabet’s last earnings call was dominated by AI chatter), have found themselves in a Cold War-style arms race after a limited and relatively quiet phoney war period roughly between 2010 and 2022.
Some companies and organisations are scrambling to catch-up, while others are embracing this Napster-esque moment as AI tears through the status-quo and establishes a new paradigm for our civilisation.
We are all still coming to terms with the potential first, second and third order impacts of the technology, which, by some accounts, is displaying traits of compounding exponential growth.
That is why I did have a chuckle when The Observer’s Science and Technology Editor Ian Tucker proudly boasted of stopping a freelancer from getting his AI-generated pitch approved. “The Observer remains AI-free,” he claimed.
Tucker would do well to read Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News. Davies, who used to write for The Observer’s sister paper The Guardian, warned back in 2008 that 60% of the news item copy in UK national newspapers were wholly or mainly made up of agency copy.
Since newsrooms have shrunk and PA Media and Reuters, to name just two agencies, have been using AI for years now, how sure is Tucker that The Observer is AI-free? Perhaps, as they say in the AI world, it was just a ‘hallucination’?
🎮 Activision Blizzard drags FT into it
Activision and Microsoft are not going quietly. First, Microsoft’s President Brad Smith claimed “people's confidence in technology in the UK has been severely shaken”, and then Activision inadvertently dragged the FT into its fight against the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after the regulator blocked the merger between the companies.
Activision, which is best-known as the publisher of Call of Duty, has now launched a social media campaign presumably targeting the CMA, the UK government and media stakeholders.
The business is promoting an article from the FT headlined ‘UK tech scene raises alarm over block to Microsoft-Activision deal’ on its Twitter feed. At the time of writing, it had more than 1.2m impressions.
🤔 Other things I’ve found interesting
Inside a 1993 electronics superstore
Geoffrey Hinton warns of AI’s dangers
AI faces copyright crackdown from the EU
Vice Media cuts staff as it tries to sell itself
What does NBCUniversal’s future look like?
Joshi Herrmann on how to keep local journalism alive
Casey Neistat on CNN, gonzo journalism and YouTube
Clubhouse is reportedly laying off half of its employees
Wikipedia won’t comply with the UK’s Online Safety Bill
Rupert Murdoch and the long-game (featuring yours truly)
UK PM Rishi Sunak is navigating more carefully after Richard Sharp’s resignation as BBC chair