Did several billion people watch the Queen’s funeral?

20 September 2022
What was claimed

4.1 billion people were expected to watch the Queen’s funeral worldwide.

Our verdict

The figure appears to be based on one estimate, from a TV analyst from the WatchTVAbroad.com website, and it’s unclear how it was calculated. We couldn’t find any data to support this claim.

What was claimed

The BBC reported that 5.1 billion people watched the funeral.

Our verdict

This figure hasn’t been reported by major BBC news outlets and the BBC says it’s not a figure it’s issued. Since we first published this check, a reader’s alerted us to the figure having been used by a presenter on BBC Radio Stoke—but this was after the claim started circulating online.

In the past few days various different claims have been made about how many people watched—or were expected to watch—the Queen’s funeral on television.

A number of media outlets, including LBC, MailOnline and Metro, reported that an estimated 4.1 billion people were expected to tune in to the Queen’s funeral worldwide—more than half the global population.

The 4.1 billion figure appears to be based on comments reportedly made by Carolina Beltramo, a TV analyst for WatchTVAbroad—a website which provides information on how to watch various popular TV programmes in different countries.

Ms Beltramo is reported to have said: “Generations of people across the globe won't have been alive the last time pomp and pageantry were seen on this scale. 

“While it's a sad occasion, they can be forgiven for being enthralled by a spectacle that echoes throughout history. For that reason alone they'll be drawn to witness the dawn of this new age in their billions.

“No fewer than 4.1billion people are expected to tune in on Monday to witness this historic moment as half the people on planet Earth pause to pay their respects.”

Ms Beltramo did not explain how the 4.1 billion figure was worked out, and Full Fact has not been able to find any further details on how it had been calculated. For example, it’s unclear whether this figure refers to the number of people who tuned in to the funeral at any point or the peak audience, and whether it refers to television viewers or viewers on all platforms (including social media and streaming sites). We’ve not been able to find another source for the claim.

We contacted WatchTVAbroad to ask how it arrived at this estimate, but had not heard back ahead of publication. We will update this fact check if they respond. 

Despite this, many new outlets appear to have reported the 4.1 billion figure at face value. We have contacted LBC, MailOnline and Metro for comment. 

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What about claims the BBC reported an audience of 5.1 billion?

Claims that 5.1 billion people worldwide watched the Queen’s funeral have also gone viral.

One Facebook post, which was shared more than 23,000 times before later being deleted, said: “The BBC is reporting that 5.1 billion people watched the funeral, that’s roughly 63.2% of the [world’s] population and the largest single event watched or streamed in history…”

The exact origins of this claim are unclear, with several identically worded posts making the claim still circulating on social media. Many of these posts were shared while coverage of the funeral was still ongoing.

A spokesperson for the BBC told Full Fact that it had not issued the 5.1 billion figure, and we couldn’t find any evidence it had been reported by the BBC News website or other major BBC news outlets.

However, since we first published this fact check, a Full Fact reader has alerted us to the 5.1 billion figure having been used on BBC Radio Stoke. We’ve found at least one instance of this, when just after 7am on 20 September [clip at 1:08:12] the station said: “The events of yesterday were watched by 5.1 billion people around the world, which is 63% of the planet’s population.”

We’ve contacted the BBC’s press office and BBC Radio Stoke to ask why it used this figure, and whether they’re aware of any other instances when the figure may have been used by local BBC broadcasters. However it’s worth noting that this mention occurred after the claim we’ve mentioned above began circulating on Facebook.  

What do we know about viewing figures?

There is no single source for global television viewing figures, with estimates instead based on viewing figures provided by individual countries.

Final consolidated viewing figures in the UK have not yet been published.

Shortly before Full Fact published this fact check, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB)— which provides data on the most viewed television programmes in the UK— tweeted: “The average audience for the Queen's funeral service at Westminster Abbey (11:00 – 12:06) was 26.2m across all channels. Reach was 29.2m, a share of 95%.”

While we’ve yet to see full data from BARB, these figures would appear to represent a viewership of less than half the UK population.

The BBC has since issued figures stating that 32.5 million people in the UK—52% of the UK population aged 4+— watched at least three consecutive minutes of BBC television, iPlayer or Red Button coverage of the funeral. 

These figures appear to use a different metric to BARB’s figures, and would suggest that at least half the UK watched at least some of the day’s proceedings.

These figures do not include people who watched on a mobile device or did not watch events live, with the BBC saying it expects the final figures to be “significantly” higher.

In Australia— where the Queen was head of state and the funeral aired live in the evening— the Sydney Morning Herald has estimated that, based on viewing figures published overnight, a peak audience of 5.17 million viewers tuned into the funeral— approximately one-fifth of the country. 

However these figures only include viewers who watched the funeral via television, not other devices such as laptops or smartphones.

Image courtesy of Peter Trimming

Correction 20 September 2022

We’ve updated this fact check to reflect the fact that the 5.1 billion estimate was used on BBC Radio Stoke on 20 September, after the figure began circulating online. Many thanks to the Full Fact reader who alerted us to this.

Update 21 September 2022

We’ve updated this fact check to include viewing figures published by the BBC and to reflect that final totals have not yet been confirmed.

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After we published this fact check, we contacted the BBC to request a correction regarding the claim made on BBC Radio Stoke.

The BBC is yet to respond.

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