Royal wedding online: not as popular as soccer

April 28, 2011: 9:47 PM ET

With America asleep and saturation coverage available on old-fashioned TV, online viewership for the wedding was meager.

So much for today's royal wedding straining the Internet to the breaking point.  Even at the ceremony's height, Internet users around the world only downloaded 5.4 million pages per minute. That makes it only the sixth most popular online news event in history -- right behind the U.S. match with Algeria in the World Cup last June.

The ceremony's timing, nighttime in North America, seemed to be the main factor keeping online viewership down.

Earlier:

Will you be able to stream the royal wedding online? Or will you spend half the wedding staring at an icon that says "buffering"?

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While tomorrow's royal wedding may or may not match the TV viewership of Charles and Diana's nuptials, it's a good bet that it will set an all-time record level of Internet traffic for any news event. Which raises this very British concern: Could Will and Kate bollix the Internet?

The networks preparing for the online deluge say no. Most are broadcasters like E!, CNN and the BBC that have arranged for extra online capacity, even though they expect most viewers to tune in on their TVs, not their laptops.  Most (if not all) of the globe's broadcasters are relying on the help of outside "content delivery networks" run by companies such as Akamai (AKAM), Limelight (LLNW), and Level 3 Communications (LVLT) to accommodate the expected flood on online viewers.

Still, the Internet was never designed as a broadcast medium and will face a serious test as viewers around the world demand videos of the couple walking into Westminster Abbey. In a typical, uneventful minute the web now serves up about 3 million page views per minute. The most its ever handled: 10.4 million pages a minute.  That record occurred last June 24, during the qualifying matches of the World Cup. (A real-time map of Internet traffic around the globe, is available here.)

If the wedding does set a new record it will only highlight the one-of-a-kind power the royals have to compel public attention: every previous traffic record has been set during a sporting event, a natural disaster or a moment of real political upheaval. (Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision not to seek reelection, for instance, caused the 10th largest traffic surge).

Of course, record-breaking traffic often says less about the relative importance of the news than it does about the relentless growth of video online.  Back on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama's election set a record with a mere 4.3 million pages views per minute, little more than an average Tuesday in 2012.

If traffic jams do occur during the wedding they will more likely appear in Europe and Asia, where the ceremony will be occurring during the workday.  According to analysis Akamai has done of past news events, office viewership is a major and reliable determinent of online traffic. Due to the time difference, most American viewers who choose to get out of bed to watch the wedding live will still be at home and have the option of simply flipping on the telly.

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Sophie Wade
Sophie Wade

Sophie Wade is founder and CEO of Flexcel Network, LLC, which provides flex-focused placement services for entrepreneurs and growth companies. Sophie writes and speaks regularly about flexible work and employment issues. She has an MA from Oxford University in Chinese and an MBA from INSEAD.

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