While it has never managed to escape the shadow of its older sibling, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest reached double digits with its tenth show last weekend. Throughout the decade, the Junior Contest has always had to put up with a certain amount of flak, even more than its older relation.
Can it look forward to another ten editions, or will the teenage years see Junior implode? Ewan Spence looks at the road ahead for Junior Eurovision.
Take Ownership and Make a Decision
Let’s start right at the top. With a clean bit of paper, no preconceptions, and no questioning certain elements, the EBU need to ask themselves a simple question that can only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. “Do you want to hold a Junior Eurovision Song Contest.”
Collectively there needs to be a strong ‘yes’ to the only question that matters. Everyone buys into it, one hundred percent, or not at all.
For the rest of the article, let’s assume the EBU have said yes!
What Are The Goals Of The Junior Eurovision Song Contest?
If there was one thing that I would thank Marcel Bezençon for, it would be defining the goals of that first Eurovision Song Contest; to test the limits of communications technology, to create a sense of community in post-war Europe, and to allow the people of Europe to share their individual cultures with one another.
Over fifty years later, those goals are still clear in the Adult Contest. From beyond the grave Bezençon continues to tell us what the Eurovision Song Contest strives for, even in today’s fast-moving internet-enabled world.
Junior Eurovision needs a strong set of goals as well. There would likely be a lot of crossover with those of the Adult Contest, but the simple act of defining the goals, making everyone aware of them (in the EBU, with the broadcasters, and on the ‘About’ page of JuniorEurovision.tv for everyone to see), would give the Junior Contest direction that it occasionally seems to be lacking.
Redefining The Fabric Of The Junior Contest
It’s unlikely that the basic fabric of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest would be altered, so let’s look at three main areas of Junior Eurovision, the host city, the entries, and the voting. They all have an impact on the Contest’s perception.
Join Us Next Year In…
As one Junior Eurovision ends, why are many left asking what happens next? Because we don’t know next year’s host.
The problem here is the bidding process to host Junior Eurovision is not tied into the date of the Junior Contest. One of the nicer moments at Junior Eurovision 2011 was the ability for the hosts to say, on air, that the Contest would be in the Netherlands the following year. That gave the Contest the stability and the audience the expectation that there would be a Contest next year.
The Adult Contest has that continuity because everyone watching knows that the winners host the Contest the following year. Junior Eurovision does not place that pressure on the performers.
If the EBU have committed to Junior Eurovision (the first challenge that I’ve already mentioned), then I would work on speeding up the bidding process one year, and having the host broadcaster announced 18 months before they host the Contest, and have the reveal of the host city during the Junior Contest in the year before.
What Return Is Offered To The Broadcasters?
As Luke Fisher pointed out on our podcast, the roll call of winning Junior Eurovision songs features many countries that no longer enter the Contest. While twelve entrants is the absolute minimum with the current scoring system (allowing just a bit of tension, wondering if the twelve points would go to Ukraine or Albania), the numbers need to be increased.
But attending Junior Eurovision is a noticeable line on a broadcasters balance sheet. It’s just over a week’s accommodation in a host city, and while delegations are smaller and the timetable of rehearsals is shorter than Adult Eurovision, the Contest in May provides seven hours of television and a prime-time Saturday night show that is a ratings winner for many.
Junior Eurovision provides just over two hours of television, and many broadcasters will place it on a children’s channel and hope that parents watching in Eastern Europe will let their kids watch a Contest that could be starting as late as 11pm, and finishing well past their bedtime.
It’s not just a matter of saving costs for the Broadcasters who enter the Junior Contest by lowering participation fees, hotel costs, or travel arrangements. There needs to a decent return on the other side of the equation. What do broadcasters want from Junior Eurovision? At the very least they want a well produced program that delivers an audience that are attractive to their advertisers, to allow them the potential to make a profit (or at least break even).
There are many things that could be considered. Do we really need to keep Junior Eurovision at the traditional start time of the Adult’s Contest? Does there need to be more promotional work done by the EBU? Does there need to be another two hours of television provided to the broadcaster to create a better package (perhaps a live show on Thursday night with the kids doing a second song or some duets, à la San Remo?).
Build a better package, and the hope is that more broadcasters will sign up for the 2013 Contest.
And Then We All Have To Vote…
For the keen Eurovision Song Contest fan, the voting patterns in Junior Eurovision show all the signs of heavy diaspora voting (and a perfect illustration of the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia). This is magnified by the language rule, making the Belgian and Dutch songs understandable to each other, the former Soviet countries all picking up what’s going on, and Sweden hoping that the harmonies sound nice.
To the casual viewer the scores are ‘all political’.
That sort of view can easily damage the Contest, and here’s a clear case of something needing to be done. Douze points is a cornerstone of recognition, but the decisions behind these scores needs to be examined closely, and there needs to be a lack of sacred cows when deciding on a new voting system that takes accounts of the children watching, the differing views of an adult back-up jury, and maintains a sense of fair play.
That’s a tough ask, but it needs to be addressed.
What About The West?
Conspicuous by their absence are the “Big Five” from the Adult Contest. The United Kingdom, France, and Spain have all entered the Junior Contest, but the last of them had left by 2007. Germany and Italy have never graced the Junior stage. Without them there is a sense that the Junior Contest is not ‘complete’, but because of the nature of the Contest (specifically that it is for singers aged 10 to 15) it does not fit well with public sentimentality in the Big Five.
Bringing in at least one of the Five should be a priority, but it is important that the Contest not only delivers a package that is valuable to a broadcaster as a show, but also one that addresses the ethical concerns of broadcasters not currently in the contest.
The age limit of Junior Eurovision has already been lifted (from 8 years old to 10 years old), I wonder if lifting the age range to 11-15 would address some of the concerns of both broadcasters and people who actively choose not to watch the Contest?
What Happens Next?
The Junior Eurovision Song Contest has many challenges ahead of it, but just like the Adult Contest, it is constantly in flux. Changes can always be made, and if the EBU’s decision is to move forward with Junior Eurovision, then we here at ESC Insight look forward to see a Contest fit for another ten years.