THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Local take on royal nuptials

3 Boston TV affiliates to report from London; features to focus on Hub ties to wedding

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / April 23, 2011

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The royal marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton has become a battle royal for viewers among Boston TV stations.

Three of Boston’s four network affiliates are dispatching anchors and crews to cover Friday’s wedding at Westminster Abbey in London, as well as preparations leading up to it. With at least 2 billion people worldwide expected to watch the nuptials, WBZ-TV (Channel 4), WCVB-TV (Channel 5), and WHDH-TV (Channel 7) will compete for local audiences, hoping to boost their ratings by having a presence in London over the next week.

The timing for the local stations couldn’t be better. The critical sweeps rating period, which TV stations use to measure audiences and set advertising prices, begins Thursday, the day before the wedding.

“This is must-see TV and the local stations want to get in on it, too,’’ said Susan Walker, a broadcast professor at Boston University.

While a royal wedding more than 3,000 miles away seems hardly the event for which viewers would turn to local stations, research shows that hometown broadcasters have a stronger connection with audiences than network personalities.

A report released last month by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonprofit group in Washington, found that local TV stations are the primary news source for viewers rather than network news. The same report also found that local stations are holding on to their news audiences compared to their network evening counterparts.

Boston viewers would be more likely to tune in to the event if there were local anchors and reporters with whom they identify, Walker said. At the same time, it’s a chance for the stations to strengthen ties with local audiences, showcasing their abilities to cover major world events. Boston stations plan a series of features, focusing on local connections to the wedding, for the days leading up to the ceremony.

“It makes the station look like it’s big time,’’ said Robert Thompson, a TV professor at Syracuse University. “It’s not like you need any more coverage but there is a certain branding value to it.’’

But it’s not cheap. It can cost a Boston station anywhere from $50,000 to $65,000 to send a crew of three to London for a week, including the cost of satellite broadcasting and fees stations pay to use network studio space for live feeds and backdrops, according to local industry executives.

WFXT-TV (Channel 25) and NECN, the regional cable news channel, are not sending local crews.

But general managers who are investing in royal coverage say it’s worth it.

“This is an enormous news story and we wanted to give, like many news stories, our full coverage,’’ said Chris Wayland, general manager and vice president of WHDH. The outlet’s sister station in Miami is also sending its own crew for the wedding.

WHDH is dispatching one of its main evening anchors, Kim Khazei, and a producer and a videographer for the week. Khazei will track down New England royal watchers traveling to London for the event. She will also file reports for the station’s various day and evening newscasts.

“We are going to try to make it as relevant locally as . . . we can,’’ said Wayland.

WCVB morning anchor Bianca de la Garza has already set up interviews with former Bostonians who live in England for stories, which begin airing tomorrow. She will also report on the wedding for “Chronicle,’’ WCVB’s news magazine.

“We are going over there to give you something that you won’t see on the networks,’’ said de la Garza, who is traveling with a WCVB videographer. “There are people over there who have Boston connections, and we want to see what they’re doing.’’

WBZ officials are sending morning anchor Paula Ebben, a producer, and a photographer beginning tomorrow. Ebben will be presenting live reports beginning Monday morning on WBZ as well as on CBS owned and operated stations nationwide. Ebben will also report for CBS’s cluster of five Boston radio stations that includes WBZ-AM 1030 and WBMX-FM 104.1.

“You can compare it to a large political convention or the Super Bowl,’’ said Ebben. “There are people in Boston and New England that are interested in seeing good local coverage and good local angles of a story this size.’’

WBZ chose Ebben for the assignment because of her ties to London. During her junior year at Boston College, Ebben interned for a member of Parliament.

Ebben also remembered waking up at 3 a.m. with her mother and sisters in Shrewsbury to watch the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, which attracted 750 million viewers worldwide.

“This is a once in a generation event,’’ Ebben said. “I think a lot of the women who will remember getting up with their mother are getting up next Friday morning to watch this wedding with their daughter. It’s nostalgic.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.