When Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles got married in 2005, Facebook had just extended its membership eligibility to high school students, YouTube was in its nascency, Twitter didn’t exist, and no one really knew how to live-stream video. Fast-forward six years, to a brave new world. Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding set online viewership records, dominated social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and created instant Internet stars.
The big winner? Live-streaming video providers. Livestream, which provided online video for the Associated Press and CBS, said the royal wedding was its most popular stream ever, with 300,000 concurrent viewers. Yahoo also saw big gains: its royal video stream exceeded the record set by Michael Jackson’s funeral by 21 per cent. “Consuming video on the Internet is an increasingly complementary choice to broadcast TV, even when the event is available on TV,” according to Jennifer Donovan, spokesperson for Akamai, another Web streaming service. (The official royal channel provider, YouTube, expected an unprecedented 400 million viewers, though the numbers aren’t yet in.)
Major television networks, too, are finally leveraging social media to their advantage. Indeed, being on every platform—namely Facebook and Twitter—is becoming a necessity: “It’s about providing people with information they want in the format they want it,” says Wendy Rozeluk, a Google representative in Toronto. “One of the advantages is the ongoing commentary that people can make, as well as the participation people can have with an event.”
In the past, the crush of commentary has crashed sites. In 2009, for example, Michael Jackson’s death knocked both Google News and Twitter offline. Now, however, sites are better prepared. Throughout the wedding, Google News stayed live and the iconic Twitter “fail whale,” an image displayed when the site crashes, didn’t make an appearance. In fact, the only major site that wasn’t prepared was, ironically, the BBC’s, which crashed on Friday from the volume of traffic.
While the BBC floundered, Facebook and Twitter maintained astoundingly fast response times, 0.56 and 1.82 seconds respectively. By mid-ceremony, mentions of #Royalwedding (the hashtag used by tweeters) topped one billion. Tweet volume was heaviest in London, New York and Toronto, in that order. Liz Pullen, an analyst at Internet tracking site What the Trend, shared a list of wedding-related Twitter trends: “QILF,” an acronym playing on MILF, and “Pippa” were big. British journalist Caitlin Moran summed up the reason in a tweet: “This wedding has mainly been about Pippa Middleton’s amazing arse, hasn’t it?” Both Pippa’s behind and Princess Beatrice’s royal wedding hat also inspired their own Facebook pages; by the day after the wedding, the latter had been “liked” by more than 77,000 people.
Within hours, the royal wedding had created instant memes—popular online phenomena—celebrated with typical Internet idiosyncratic flair. The most popular? Bridesmaid Grace van Cutsem, Will’s three-year-old goddaughter, who was captured scowling, hands cupped over her ears, while Will and Kate kissed behind her on the Buckingham Palace balcony. Her face is already being photoshopped into hundreds of (probably inappropriate) photos for comedic effect.
It’s too early to know if she’ll end up in the Internet hall of fame à la keyboard cat, but it’s already a safe bet to tweet “Frowning flower girl #ftw.” Ftw means “for the win,” or success. But you already knew that.