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How TV networks around the world have covered the death of Queen Elizabeth II

Networks in the UK and US approach coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing with on-location commentators, distinctive streaming options and somber gravitas, writes Susan Ashworth

Even as she celebrated her 96th birthday in relative good health, the passing of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch had long been anticipated, with well-documented and precise steps in place for everything from the plans for a nationwide memorial to the pealing of church bells. 

Somehow, however, live coverage of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II is being governed by the peculiar sense that her passing is a shock, despite that it has been a long-expected event.

Coverage on major networks in both the UK and United States is being governed by that incongruous logic, particularly in the first 48 hours of coverage. Just as many of its citizens are united in grief, major networks across the UK and US are in-sync in their coverage of the queen’s passing. 

Image credit: BBC

Just after 6.30pm on September 8th, BBC One postponed its programming as Huw Edwards gravely announced the passing of Her Majesty, with 9.83 million viewers watching on.

After the announcement, networks in both countries began airing near-continuous, dedicated coverage with American networks from ABC News to PBS anchoring primetime specials and dispatching correspondents to London.

In the UK, sport, award ceremonies and television programmes have been postponed out of respect for the late queen.

Many news outlets have prepped streaming programming that worked as a companion to the television broadcast of pre-planned funerial events. Unlike the death of the previous British monarch — Elizabeth’s father George VI in 1952 — profuse amounts of streamed coverage includes dozens of well-researched compilation biographies populated with copious library footage from the queen’s many decades of service.

Newspaper outlets like the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post streamed programmes that drew in millions of viewers. The Queen’s Sense of Humour Remembered, for example, is a richly detailed streaming compilation by ABC News Australia that explained in intricate details of the Queen’s funeral plans, noting minutiae such as which public figure was the first to be told of the Queen’s death (the prime minister), what’s the meaning behind the phrase Spring Tide (referring to King Charles’ ascension to the throne) and how church bells should be rung (they must be muffled). 

Livestreams originating on the websites of news outlets like The Guardian and Channel 4 News also gave viewers the opportunity to watch the live streams of mourning crowds as they stood quietly outside the gates of Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

Image credit: The Royal Family

A few American TV networks took the time to directly address the influence that Queen Elizabeth and British society has had on programming, particularly the spate of popular drama anthology television series shown in the United States. One of PBS’s signature programmes, Masterpiece, has brought British programming to US audiences for more than five decades, sometimes in partnership with the BBC as well as UK channels ITV and Channel 4.  

“As we remember Queen Elizabeth’s achievements, we remain grateful for her long-standing support of our British colleagues and their exemplary work,” said Susanne Simpson, executive producer of Masterpiece. “As admirers of British culture, this is a watershed moment for all of us.”  

From reporting on King Charles III’s new coat of arms to the changing of the lyrics of the national anthem, “this is likely the largest funeral arrangement undertaken in our lifetime,” said the voiceover of the ABC Australia’s video stream Operation London Bridge, which explained the progression of the Queen’s funeral and garnered 2.3 million views in the first 48 hours of its posting. 

Coverage of the 10 days of mourning will cap on 19th September when HM Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral takes place at Westminster Abbey and the cortege heads to her final resting place in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.