In what is becoming an expected fortnightly occurrence from the EBU and SVT production offices, another bombshell descended upon the Eurovision fan community last week, this time regarding the fan tickets for the Malmo events. Sharleen Wright examines the latest announcement of changes for the Contest, what the future may hold for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2013, and why the Contest has to keep changing to stay relevant.
Friday saw the official confirmation to OGAE (Organisation Generale des Amateurs de l’Eurovision – the Contest’s most popular fan club) that the entire floor of the Malmo arena will be specially reserved for fan attendance. Like previous years, members will be able to access special ticketing packages for all three televised shows as well as the three jury dress rehearsals, however holders of these fan tickets will be expected to stand en masse around the stage throughout the broadcasts. This marks the first time in the history of the contest that there will be visible elements of attendees standing for the length of the contest.
The changes had already been hinted at following the news (via Eurovision.tv) covering fan participation last week. Executive producer Martin Österdahl claimed that the “fans will own the floor”, promising that those in attendance would gain closer access to the stage and artists than ever before, and that the crowd will become an extension of the production in itself. Part of that is the additional energy and movement from a standing crowd.
The announcement to OGAE indicates that floor will be divided into 3 sections: two side standing areas and a main dance-floor area where the majority of the fans will be situated, and is aimed to hold approximately 2000 people.
Reading between the lines, this would also indicate further information on staging. With the standing audience, expect a higher stage than seen in previous years, but can once again be almost surrounded by attending fans. This will also likely be combined with the return of the catwalks and a highly visible green room for artists within the stadium area; a layout that is a perennial Melodifestivalen favorite, and was last seen at the 2012 Contest in Baku.
In this concert arena setting that mirrors the likes of the MTV Awards, we should also expect more on-stage camera work. This was already hinted at within official press 2 months ago, and will create a closer and more personalized TV viewing experience. It brings the artist primarily to the forefront and thus eliminates the need of large scale video screens and led elements, and ensures less of the clunky sweeping and impersonal wide shots we have seen in recent contests.
Change: Why do we have to change things?
The online reaction to the announcement has been just as vocal and polarized as that relating to made just over a week ago.
Whilst many fans are happy to accept this change, there are some who are disappointed in the removal of seating options for fan club members, particularly considering the length of the show which can run to up 4 hours during the final. Outside of this option to attend the contest, seating will still be available through the public sale, but this route does represents more risk than the OGAE ticket procedure.
Disappointingly, and despite given lengthy warning time and a choice, there appears to be a small group who feel that this will be ‘the worst Eurovision ever’. For over a decade, members of the OGAE have enjoyed the ability to work with producers in securing prime ticketing to the Eurovision shows, much of which is located at the front of the stage and at a discounted rate compared to the public sales. This is one of the notable benefits of being an active member of your local Eurovision fan club, in conjunction with the ability to meet other fans from the region and to join in expressing interest in the contest by way of special events, newsletters, emails and websites.
What seems to be forgotten at times like this is that it is not the primary reason for such a fan club to exist, and that any ticketing offered is in fact a privilege, not a right. Each year the production reserves the right to determine how, where and indeed if they will distribute tickets to such fans. A mention on the official Eurovision website outlines that “although the contest does not have an official fan club, the Organisation Generale des Amateurs de l’Eurovision is the most popular fan organization”. As such, organizers have no binding contract to guarantee such tickets be set aside.
Substantial discussion between the fan club and producers took place to reach such a decision. As reported by ESC Today, Maiken Mäemets, President for OGAE International stated that “after SVT first offered the standing room tickets for the fans, there were some negotiations to get seated areas reinstated, but eventually it was decided to try this sort of arrangement at least for one year”.
Sweden have repeatedly promised that they will work closely with fans in 2013 to ensure the best experience on the ground is provided, and with this new announcement, the demand for tickets should hopefully be met. Whilst the contest is held in the smallest city and venue for many years, making the decision to have a dance floor for fans to stand around the stage will ensure the record number of fans wishing to go to Malmo can be guaranteed the ability to attend the show. In turn, it will not be at the detriment of the hungry Swedish and European public also desperately wishing to secure tickets to attend Europe’s biggest TV show. So the big question to those detractors is, would fans rather less than 1000 seats and be left at the mercy of a ballot from over-subscription, or over 2000 standing tickets to be distributed?
Whilst understanding that not everyone wishes to stand for a great length of time, and the possibility that a good view whilst standing on a dance floor may not be achievable for those who are shorter, this move by the organizers should be seen as a positive one. Is this standing arrangement any different to a modern stadium tour from a big name artist?
Change: Moving closer to each other and to the core values
For this year, where the focus is on returning to core values, this new decision to have fans “own the floor” primarily mirrors one of the founding reasons for Eurovisions’ existence – to bring Europe closer together through the medium of song. By having an open area for fans, individuals will now be able to choose where to stand and with who, and can freely mingle and form close-knit relationships amongst groups from other nations. Thus creating not only a sea of flags, but demonstrations of unity.
This, at a time when so much of the world is seemingly descending back into hardship and even war, is a good thing.
From a production point of view, the elimination of seating surrounding the stage should demonstrate not only a closeness to the action, but hopefully a more lively and active participation in the proceedings. This staging will encourage fans to dance, jump and cheer openly without the worry of blocking important shots or security needing to get heavy-handed in telling people to stay put as previously and personally experienced.
In regards to the complaints of being not able to see when in this new ‘standing room only’ situation, clearly some fans have short-term memories when it comes to the contest experience. As recently as Baku, OGAE fan members were placed behind the stage without any views of the proceedings, and during the 2010 contest in Oslo many found themselves seated behind a wall of cameras. With an open dance floor, fans will at least now have the opportunity to move about and locate an appropriate viewing spot rather than a pre-determined seat. The issue of pre-determined seating of fan clubs without personal control of where they are physically located each show also being a previous qualm for some.
Change: Finding a compromise between the experience of live and televisual event
The organizers are openly looking to fans for suggestions on improving the experience, but fans need to realize that the Contest cannot be locked into a time capsule of their perfect Eurovision experience. Times change, production techniques evolve, and the Eurovision Song Contest will change with it. Yes, the changes might feel overpowering to some, but right now the overall package seen by millions of viewers across the continent (who we must remember are the primary audience) has been improved.
If the production team is focusing on ‘good television’ then we here at ESC Insight are in no doubt that more changes have been agreed and announcements are on the way. We’re expecting a change in how voting is announced with a view to bringing in more ‘excitement’ to the presentation. How this will be achieved remains to be seen, but we’re betting that there’ll be a few ‘this is going to destroy Eurovision’ comments posted following that news.
We need to remember that change (when not for change’s sake) is a good thing. In order for Eurovision to stay relevant it needs to look carefully at itself and have the occasional reinvention. If it wasn’t for change we would still have a live orchestra. How would ‘Euphoria’ have turned out with a brass section and dramatic violins? We’d still have to wait for invites to attend the Contest, and only gain admittance when we are appropriately decked out in dinner jackets and cocktail dresses. Rather than having the ability to even enjoy the event as fans, we would all be sitting at home watching privileged people sit quietly in front of the cameras waiting patiently till the end of each song to politely clap.
The Eurovision Song Contest has survived 57 years, and outside of sport there are very few entertainment shows that can say that. One other key example is Doctor Who, and perhaps fans should look at the changes that program goes through every few years. With each natural cycle we see a change in lead actor, new production teams, changing styles of televisual drama to accommodate, starting intense debates online about the direction of the program – but at the heart of it all it still remains the story of ‘a mad man in a blue box’.
The Eurovision Song Contest is still the same: it’s still as many countries as possible, getting together to sing a three minute song, entertaining the continent, and learning about each other. It is a Song Contest. It unites Europe once a year. And so Eurovision continues to remains true to its existing purpose. How that is achieved will change every year. The important thing is not to focus on the change, but on the Eurovision spirit, on what is delivered, on what is achieved.
More than any other initiative, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the few moments where Europe is united. The producers for 2013 are merely striving to improve that vision, and if anything the changes announced regarding the ticketing and staging demonstrate that the experience of ‘bringing Europe together through the medium of song’ remains the core value of Eurovision.