An Open Letter to America about Eurovision Written by on April 19, 2012 | 25 Comments

Okay America, listen up.  On the other side of the Pond, there’s a massive party going on, and we just don’t know about it.

Remember that cool French exchange student you knew back in High School?  Yeah, she follows it.  That Turkish guy in your office?  He’s tuning in.  That Swedish friend of yours?  She may have called her family back in Stockholm to send in a few votes for “Mirakel” on her behalf.  (She’s always been a bit odd, hasn’t she?)  The Aussies practically put themselves on a national Twitter moratorium to avoid spoilers during those precious hours between the live broadcast of the Final and the recorded broadcast that they show the next day at prime-time on SBS.

Last year, over one hundred and ten million viewers worldwide watched the broadcasts of the Eurovision Song Contest from Düsseldorf, even surpassing the viewing numbers of the Super Bowl, which is seen as the ultimate American ratings juggernaut.  With the potential to hear some great music (or at the very least, to witness some great entertainment), maybe it’s time for the American audience to join the party?

There’s Something For Everyone!

Too often, people who are vaguely familiar with Eurovision here in America share the same mental image of the event as some of the more curmudgeonly British fans; namely sequins, awful pop music, bad accents, and pyrotechnics.  Let’s be honest here: yes, some of the songs presented over the years fit into that mold – but then so do some of the big Vegas shows or closing number on American Idol.

However the past few years has seen over forty nations submitting entries to Eurovision, with songs running the gamut from pop to ballads to rock to performance art.  By focusing on the stereotypical, audiences are letting the truly fantastic pass them by.  There is something for everyone at Eurovision, and the potential to find a new favorite artist to add to your mp3 collection is very high.

Raphael Gualazzi

Raphael Gualazzi

Do you listen to Michael Bublé or Harry Connick, Jr. at home?  Check out Raphael Gualazzi.  Do you prefer a bit of a New Wave throwback?  Search out Malcolm Lincoln.  Do you wonder what Pink would be like if she wasn’t singing in English?  Just listen to Poli Genova.  Moldova’s Zdob şi Zdub has opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it’s not just because lead singer Roman Iagupov looks a bit like Anthony Kiedis.  Eurovision isn’t just glitz and awkwardly translated lyrics; these performers are some of their nations’ biggest stars, and often for good reason.

There’s More Than The Music Going On!

If you’re a dedicated reader of ESC Insight, you’ll know this to be true.  While, at its heart, we’ll be gathering in Baku this May for the Eurovision Song Contest, there is so much going on behind the music.  Sociopolitical intrigue, linguistics, commentary on race, sexuality, ageism, internationalism…even our own Dr. Paul Jordan earned his PhD by submitting a thesis linking national identity in Eastern Europe with our beloved Contest.  Yes, the music and general entertainment is what often draws us to Eurovision in the first place, but just below the surface, there is potential for some deep dialogue if you choose to indulge in it.

There’s an opportunity to celebrate!

We, as Americans, are a pretty unique lot.  We often wear our patriotism on our sleeves, but we’re also very tuned into the fact that most of us have roots in other parts of the world.  Even if some of us haven’t set foot outside of our borders, Americans recognize the melting pot that is our nation.  We particularly embrace this idea with aplomb when there’s a party to be had.  We’re Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, German during Oktoberfest, Mexican on Cinco de Mayo, and Cajun during Mardi Gras.  And admit it…how many of you got up early and watched the Royal Wedding last year?  Eurovision gives the world the chance to both wave their own flags as well as celebrate that which unites us across cultures.

Buranovskiye Babushki

Buranovskiye Babushki

There’s a paradigm already established!

The United States has three networks listed as “Associate Members” of the EBU (ABC, CBS, and NBC), yet the word “Eurovision” is still met with quizzical looks.  Even though networks here have the opportunity to show the Eurovision Song Contest  no channel has taken that leap yet.  Some might argue that because the US doesn’t have a proverbial horse in the race, it’s not worth spending the time, energy, and potential ad revenue showing Eurovision stateside.

In contrast, our Australian counterparts are absolutely wild about the contest, despite the fact that they aren’t competing, either.  Australian coverage of the event rivals that of most nations actually participating!  For many years, Terry Wogan’s legendary quips for the BBC were broadcast for the audience Down Under.  Nowadays, the SBS network provides commentary from their own on-site team as well as audio programming on SBS Eurovision Radio produced by ESC Insight’s own Ewan Spence and Sharleen Wright.  SBS holds preview programming, mock votes (they gave Jedward their douze points last year… and oddly enough, Azerbaijan came last…), and even gave out the honorary twelve to all the participants in Junior Eurovision this past December.

Terry Wogan

Terry Wogan

If one of the major networks here in the US gave enough of a leg-up to Eurovision programming, there’s potential for an audience.  Yearly specials like the major awards shows (Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, Tonys, CMAs, etc) garner relatively large audiences, despite their often-specific niche audiences, and musical talent shows such as “American Idol”, “The Voice”, “X-Factor”, and “America’s Got Talent” are still popular here.  By hyping the event as a blend of the two, there could be a way to break into the American media consciousness.  And on those rare occasions where an American is actually participating (Kalomoira, Isis Gee, Oscar Loya, Katrina Leskanich, Loreen’s Euphoric dancer?), it could be a great boost for his or her careers back home.

So come on, America, the world’s favourite TV show is waiting for you to catch up!


At the time of this article’s publication, there are no plans for an American broadcaster to show Eurovision.  However, for those of you wanting to watch this year’s show from anywhere around the world, a live web stream will be provided at eurovision.tv, and it will be available on-demand after the Contest.  And might I suggest downloading ESC Insight’s Unofficial Commentary of the Semifinals and Final, hosted by Ewan Spence, to be made available the day of each show?

 

About The Author: Samantha Ross

Vaguely aware of the Contest since childhood, a fanatic since 2008, and an ESC blogger since 2009, Samantha Ross made her first sojourn to Eurovision in 2011, and was quickly welcomed into the fold at ESC Insight. Over the years, she's been interviewed by BBC World News, SVT, LBC Radio, and many others. She is a semi-regular contributor to Oystermouth Radio's weekly dedicated Eurovision program, "Wales 12 Points". Furthermore, Samantha contributed to BBC Radio 2's coverage of the Copenhagen contest, and was a member of the official JuniorEurovision.tv web team in 2014 and 2015. When not at Eurovision, Samantha is a regular on the Twin Cities pub quiz circuit, and has volunteered as a moderator for the local high school quiz bowl for over ten years. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, but is wistfully looking for opportunities to get geographically closer to the heart of the Eurovision action. You can follow Samantha on Twitter (@escinsider).

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25 responses to “An Open Letter to America about Eurovision”

  1. Seán says:

    Could it though that this is not just what America is missing but Ireland/UK too. There’s a fairly heavy number of outsiders here in the British Isles who come in half way through, mainly to watch the voting, see Ireland/UK come last or there abouts and declare it all down to bloc voting. It just feels like they’re missing so much.

  2. Eric S. says:

    Best excuse for a Saturday afternoon (thanks to the time difference) party I can think of. Having my 4th annual Eurovision party this year.

  3. Dimitry Latvia USA says:

    American music, radio and television industries are very conservative. Showing, for example, Serbian singer singing song in foreign language in the evening on a major channel would be considered suicide. The only way to show European culture to the mass audience is to have a Borat-type performance where a foreign culture is shown as wild and stupid.
    Having said that, I wouldn’t say American people would respond negatively if they listen to a song from a foreign culture, I talked about Eurovision to many Americans and for most part, people didn’t have anything negative to say.
    But with a state of U.S. entertainment industry it is more likely that Russians will broadcast Super Bowl than Americans Eurovision…

  4. Eric Graf says:

    I’ve been pondering the lack of an American broadcaster for some time, and these are some problems I see:

    (1) Not enough commercial breaks for American television. Even edited, the way the Aussies do it, the timing just doesn’t work out for American-style commercial inventories.

    (2) Royalties. America’s bizarre performance royalty rules would make the ESC a nightmare for some music clearance person.

    (3) Iffy content. From the Trackshittaz to that Friend in London guy’s on-air proposition, the ESC is something of a hot potato, censorship-wise. Networks will put up with that for the Grammys or the Superbowl, but not for a totally unknown contest. And “tape-delay” is expensive and not always reliable.

    (4) Actually getting the signal to the US ain’t cheap. A live HD broadcast requires satellite time. Again, worth it for well-known events, but a problem for the ESC. (Obviously this problem goes away, somewhat, for a tape delay.)

    (5) Contest’s ACTUAL popularity is a bit hard to pin down. A lot of the actual stats on the ESC’s popularity are either fan-generated or questionably sourced, and American industry people know it (because they do the same thing). For instance, according to the only apples-to-apples rating I’ve seen for the ESC final of 2011, the final had around 75 million viewers. Impressive, but no contest for the Superbowl, Oscars, or half-a-dozen other high-profile annual shows. Higher figures, like the one you quoted, usually just add up the total viewership for all three programs, which (a) isn’t how you do it, and (b) counts an awful lot of viewers three times.

    … and the big one, which I think is probably more important than the first five combined …

    (6) The EBU just ain’t that into the American market. They JUST AREN’T TRYING. They don’t understand how it works, and I’m not sure they even care.

    There are plenty of broadcast outlets that would be interested (PBS stations and cable networks in particular – heck I bet KCET in Los Angeles would BEG them to let them air the final) but there is no industry promotion, no cultivation of an American fanbase, no nuttin’. Us American fans are out here in the wilderness, totally abandoned except for that stupid, un-narrated web stream. (Here’s a clue for the EBU from someone in the industry: ABC, CBS and NBC are NOT going to air your contest. No way in Hades. Find another outlet.)

    Obviously there aren’t many contest sponsors involved with a presence in the US, so that might have something to do with it. But I think they just don’t want the hassle of dealing with us.

    This year would’ve been a great time to make it happen, Trackshittaz notwithstanding. The Russian grannies have gotten a lot of internet attention, and just about everybody here knows who Engelbert Humperdinck is. Oh well ……….

  5. There could be an interesting idea for the BBC to take up if they want to benefit from some extra income from advertisitng. Why not show the contest on BBC America?

    All they have to do is show the semi finals the day after the actual event and they have a way to fill what can be a very dull evening on the channel. The final could also be broadcast on the Sunday afternoon. This enables a tape delay to be used. But im not sure how expensive it would be.

  6. Just brainstorming, here…I think a way to get around some of the (*completely* valid, by the way!) issues that you’ve brought up, Eric, is by:

    1) Showing the ESC on a later date, after editors here in the US have had the opportunity to edit/cut things down for content and commercial breaks. (The Trackshittaz this year are really throwing a wrench into gears, aren’t they? 😉 )

    2) Showing it on a cable network (my thought was on a channel like Bravo, which is owned by EBU-linked NBCUniversal, or BBC America…I’m not sure if the EBU would sanction the show being broadcast on non-affiliated networks like Viacom’s LOGO or VH1). Smaller audiences are generally anticipated on networks like these, so showing an event like the ESC might make a bit more sense. Or, by showing it on Public Television, you erase the “commercial” issue almost entirely. Also, by skipping the Semis and just focusing on the Final, you might cut down on the possible risk of having channels balk at finding nearly nine hours of programming space in their schedules.

    As for the Royalties, that goes completely beyond the scope of my knowledge, I hate to admit!

    I remember watching the BAFTAS earlier this year on BBC America, with appropriate cuts for commercials and content, and I thought…why not Eurovision? If there was enough public knowledge of the show through word-of-mouth, would networks take notice? Of course, I don’t work in the broadcasting field, so my knowledge of cost issues is limited, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

  7. Eric Graf says:

    One frustrating thing, at least to me, is that because of the time difference, it would be PERFECT to show live in the US. 3 PM Eastern time, Noon Pacific! You’d run into sports on the major networks, but what an awesome counter-programming move for a cable channel or (and I know I keep harping on this) for PBS.

    Anotehr scenario: Imagine the ESC final + a PBS pledge drive. Yes, the 3 1/2 hour marathon could stretch to 4 1/2 hours, but that hasn’t stopped them in the past. They could offer CDs and merchandise, interview former contestants who are now in the US (hi, Mika Newton!) and just have a grand old time. The ESC could be the next Victor Borge! (Or, for you younger folks, the next wheel-out-what’s-left-of-the-50s-doo-wop-groups-to-croak-out-their-hits-one-last-time variety show.)

    I cringe at the idea of the BBC coverage being our introduction to Eurovision. Too heavy on the snark, and you can see what that’s done to the contest’s image in the UK. Besides, their commentary is aimed at an audience that generally knows what the hell is going on (what’s a “douze points” and so on). Not really appropriate for a country that does not have the word “Eurovision” in its vocabulary.

    I hope if BBC America does take the plunge, they will give us our own announcers to talk us through it.

    I think the music royalties are a serious sticking point (albeit one easily solved on the front end when contracting with the participants, unless they’re the ones balking). But I still firmly believe that if the EBU would get behind a serious, well-informed effort to get the darn thing into America, it could be done in relatively short order.

    Either they’re not interested, or they’re not being realistic in their pricing for the US market, or they’re just clueless as to how to go about it.

    Or (worst of all) the rumors are true that they’re holding out for a brand new American contest using the Eurovision format, which any sane American television exec, from the CEO to the mailroom kid, will tell you is a terrible idea. We do like Europe, but we most definitely are NOT Europe!

    Just SEND US THE SHOW. Rant over. 🙂

  8. Im suprised that the EBU has never tried to sell an American version of the contest to one of the major broadcasters. How hard would it be to put states up against each other in a Eurovision esque contest. It works in Germany with Bundesvision and what would stop the states from doing it. It’s a chance to get a flavour of music from across the states, ignore the time zone problems and think about it.

    There are 50 states, split that into three semi finals, 1 on the Monday, 1 on the Wednesday and the last on the Friday. Then on the Sunday night you have the final 25 states up against each other in a 4 hour show, yeah commercial breaks can be added in but it could just work. Any thoughts?

  9. Seán says:

    I’ll fully support Anthony on that bringing Eurovision to the states. I never fully understood why no one has tried it before.

    Especially if it was say around September when the Eurovision dry periods in Europe are at their peak.

  10. BJ Murphy says:

    They did show it once on PBS back in the 1970s, but the experiment wasn’t repeated.

    At least we have Internet now, unlike the dark ages of the 80s when I had to write to a friend to see who won that year or get a helpful aunt to send me a cassette recording.

  11. Eric Graf says:

    “Im suprised that the EBU has never tried to sell an American version of the contest to one of the major broadcasters.”

    They did. In 2006, to NBC, and there were several puffy articles about it at the time:
    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117937807 Nothing ever came of it. (In fact, if this dude has the rights locked up for a period of years, then that might be the problem!)

    “How hard would it be to put states up against each other in a Eurovision esque contest.”

    Pretty much impossible.

    There aren’t any state TV channels or state networks. There’s nobody in the states to select their songs. New Jersey, for example, has very few TV stations of its own, even though it’s one of our more populous states. They all watch stations in adjoining markets, mostly New York City and Philadelphia.

    And even if there were, the way our television system is structured, the local affiliates will want nothing to do with this, since they won’t have the expertise or the resources to even consider such a project. Most of them aren’t owned by their parent network anyway.

    Secondly, there are also no “ethnic” musical styles exclusive to one state, except for Hawaii. (GROUPS of states, yes, perhaps, but that’s not the same thing.)

    Thirdly, Americans aren’t patriotic about their states in the same way that Europeans are about their countries. (Texas notwithstanding.) No one is going to get very excited if the act from Oregon stages a big upset win over the act from Kentucky. They’re just … states. The only national “events” that pit states against each other are the various beauty pageants, and they’ve been on a steep decline in popularity for years.

    Then there’s the problem of having a contest that’s over in four nights. Unless they can stretch it out to a full season, American networks won’t want to invest in the promotion and production budget. It’s just not worth it, when they can do something else.

    If they tried it, you’d just end up with a very messy and way-too-short version of American Idol, except with arbitrarily imposed geographical boundaries, and most of the serious contenders concentrated in the “music centers” – California, New York and Tennessee.

    Finally, remember … Eurovision means NOTHING in America. Calling something “American Eurovision” (or some such) is not one whit better than calling it “The CBS Interstate Musical Throwdown” or something. Any network that feels an urge to do a “Eurovision-style” contest can easily do so without needing to send any royalty money to the EBU.

    BJ – Do you have any more info about this PBS broadcast? When? Which stations? Which country’s announcers? Live or taped? And so on? Consider me VERY interested … like, enough to go digging through microfilms of TV Guide. Anything you can tell me would be most appreciated.

  12. Eric Graf says:

    All right, now they’re just messing with us. Look at the logo for the official Eurovision.TV Team Blog:

    http://www.eurovisionfamily.tv/user/eurovisionteam/blog/

  13. BJ Murphy says:

    I believe it was the 1971 contest, and it was only shown on East Coast cities’ affiliates = Boston, New York, Philly.

    Let’s not forget, Americans and American radio are notoriously insular. Rare is he or she who would seek out a Molitva or an Alle Mine Tankar. My students like music that reflects their own street culture – rap , R&B. Eurovision’s squeaky clean – sometimes sterile and hard-to-understand lyrics – doesn’t do it for them.

  14. Eric Graf says:

    Oh I’m not predicting that it would take the country by storm or anything. But I think it would find enough of an audience to be a financial success IF they can avoid promoting it as exclusively a stupid cheese-fest. And there’s more to today’s American popular music than rap and R&B. Heck, a good third of it is produced in Sweden, just like Eurovision music is. Just ask Britney, Miley, Selena and Gaga.

    Besides, as far as both the contest and popular music are concerned, 1971 was a million years ago. Eurovision is a heckuva lot closer to the musical zeitgeist now than it was then.

  15. kandace says:

    Hey, I watch Eurovision! I wish BBC America would show the Brit version. I don’t like the commentary-less streaming version, so I usually have to download it to watch it. I don’t *want* to, but the commentary is the best part. 🙂

  16. RW says:

    I’m on the opposite side–I definitely prefer to watch without commentary, and if I’m stuck watching an old contest with it, I do whatever I can avoid the snark and “Let’s laugh at Johnny Foreigner” attitude of Wogan/the BBC.

  17. Ewan Spence says:

    Hopefully the EBU’s ‘Eurovision Archive’ project (for the 60th Anniversary) will have as many of the shows ‘in the clear’ as possible.

  18. lego5ker says:

    Although I’d love to see eurovison play in the us, I saddly don’t ever see it happening as it been pointed out it would be kinda a nightmare to make it happen and likely little rewards for whatever network put their neck on the line.

    But what I find would be cool is if we could some how make an Amerivison if you were. Comprising all the americas North, Central, South, and Caribbean. It would crazy get it off the ground, but could be totally awesome.

  19. Linda Blight says:

    I couldn’t place the numbers, but there are probably a few or more of us over the other side of the pond watching.

    All three shows were on Channel 1 Russia. The final only on RTVE. Of course I’m subscribing separately for these added channels, but they are worth the price. People who have FiOS here may want to check these out. The other near monopoly carrier, I have no idea what they have to offer and don’t care to find out. So there are ways other than internet to watch the shows.

    As to the folks at EBU, don’t bother for the US audience. It may not be worth the trouble. But that’s one opinion and I’ve often been wrong!

    I was a frequent listener to Radio Sweden on shortwave in the late 1980’s. Of course you heard ABBAABBAABBA a lot during those broadcasts. But you could understand what the a big deal it was just by listening. Now 25 plus years later, I can see what the big deal was!

    Just pump the broadcast over here somehow. That’s all that matters in my mind. I’ll be watching RTVE at the beginning of May and you know why!

  20. Ulrika says:

    Why dont send this live in australia. Even is it is in the mornign there

  21. Jwb52z says:

    I think part of the problem that some people don’t realize and haven’t mentioned is that there are quite a number of Americans who don’t know the ESC exists in the first place.

  22. Dave says:

    @Ulrika – if we don’t get to vote we may as well have it delayed until the evening. Drinking games just wouldn’t work early in the day.

    Wind machine = drink!
    Peace or harmony = drink!
    Fireworks = drink!
    Satellite issue during the voting = drink!
    Obvious bloc voting = drink!
    Bearded lady = skull!

  23. Peter says:

    Eurovision does seem to get mentioned in US media every now and again. I know Time magazine, People, and the New Yorker had articles about Conchita winning.
    http://www.people.com/article/eurovision-conchita-wurst-austrian-drag-queen

    And even got a good mention on John Oliver’s HBO show:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We1IvUe6KLo

    True, it’s not mainstream yet, but Eurovision’s tendrils do occasionally stretch across the Atlantic!

  24. Richard Stegman Jr. says:

    One problem with airing on one of the major networks in the US is scheduling. Particularly the semifinals. All three run soaps during the afternoon. So preempting them in the Pacific and Mountain time zones for the semis would be a nightmare,even if it only for two days. The final would go up against sports. If FOX,a current non EBU associate member,were to air it,there would be no problem scheduling since the individual affiliate schedules are usually junk anyway. Semifinal problem solved. The final could run Saturday afternoon and the baseball game,they show the game on Saturdays, could be a night game. Grand final problem solved.

  25. Richard Stegman Jr. says:

    If a US network were to take part in and broadcast Eurovision,NBC would be the logical choice. The fall edition of The Voice would be dedicated to finding a contestant(suspending the recording deal prize until after ESC to keep it fair)to participate.

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