NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Now that a date has been set for Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton -- April 29, 2011 -- the media has five months to feast on the public's anticipation and one big payday to anticipate for itself.
It's not likely to be disappointed. Covers on the royals comprise five of People magazine's 10 best selling covers ever, with its 1997 "Goodbye, Diana" cover ranking only behind People's cover package on the Sept. 11 attacks.
But there are questions, including whether Prince William and Ms. Middleton can capture Americans the way Princess Diana did, both in life and death.
"Royals equals Diana for People, historically," said Larry Hackett, managing editor of the magazine, adding that she was the main subject of perhaps 54 covers and appeared in some fashion on another 80 or so. "It remains to be seen, although I'm hopeful that this wedding will yield similar interest."
That said, the early signs are great, Mr. Hackett said.
NBC's "Dateline" dedicated an hour to Prince William and Ms. Middleton's engagement just 24 hours after it was announced on Nov. 17, entitled "William & Kate: A Royal Love Story." The program had been in the works ever since the couple began dating. And even though NBC had no time to promote it, ratings climbed throughout the broadcast.
The wedding itself will receive the same treatment, only amplified to a heady degree, from NBC and its rivals. "I'm sure we'll do a prime-time version of that and who knows what else," said David Corvo, a "Dateline" executive producer. "I already have a team assigned and working to figure out what our coverage will be."
The biggest question is probably whether the changes to the media business, including a never-ending news cycle driven by seemingly endlessly proliferating websites, will diminish the royal payoff to each media company covering it.
Yahoo published seven edit packages surrounding the royal nuptials within five days of the engagement's announcement, according to Liz Lufkin, Yahoo's homepage editor. "Nearly all of them have seen more than a million clicks, some three million clicks," she said.
While Yahoo has not done a lot of royal-related news in the past, Ms. Lufkin expects the royal engagement to become one of the company's all-time highest clicking editorial projects.
Part of the renewed royal fascination stems from the positivity of the news, according to Jason Kaufman, editor of AOL entertainment site PopEater. "It was our top story of the week," he said, referring to the news of the couple making their engagement public. "It outperformed news of Eva Longoria and Tony Parker splitting up earlier in the week. The positive story won out."
In another sign of the way the media has changed, PopEater is not just planning ramped-up royals coverage but also posts on how the media is covering the approaching wedding. "We love to get a sense of how this story is being covered across the internet," Mr. Kaufman said.
How different was the situation in 1981, when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer? People magazine's deadlines that week came before the wedding itself, so it went to press -- and to newsstands -- without any actual photos from the wedding. "It still sold phenomenally well," Mr. Hackett said. "That can't happen now. We intend on doing well this time, too but the ubiquity of the images and the event is going to be incomparable."
Contributing: Andrew Hampp, Edmund Lee