ESC Insight Asks: What Next For The Ever Changing Song Contest?Written by Sharleen Wright on February 17, 2016 | 5 Comments

For many, the Eurovision Song Contest is a fixed point in the calendar, a reliable friend, and something to look forward to. The truth is, it has been an ever-changing beast, reflecting the changes in society, entertainment, and politics, since it was launched in 1956. Change is the only constant at the Song Contest, so what’s coming over the next decade? ESC Insight looks to answer that question….

The Song Contest’s 60th anniversary in 2015 provided Eurovision the opportunity to reflect on the past, and also its growth. Changes to the Contest have littered its history – from language rules and a move from live orchestra to pre-recorded music, to the inclusion of participant nations beyond European borders on the other side of the world, and the ever-changing voting procedures from jury, to televote, to jury and televote combined…

As we move forwards into 2016 and beyond, lets examine what the Eurovision of the future may look like. Our ESC Insight regulars and guests propose a few ideas of what we could potentially expect over the next decade.

Vienna 2015 Stage (image: EBU/Thomas Hanses)

We’ve come a long way in sixty years (image: EBU/Thomas Hanses)

Sharleen Wright

2015 afforded us the chance to finally see my home country, Australia, participate on the big stage after being hard-core Eurovision viewers for 30 years and intense lobbying for well over a decade by our broadcaster SBS. Despite holding personal reservations on this change, the experiment went well enough to have the EBU invite us back once again in 2016.

What it did bring to the forefront for me though is the idea of what will really happen as a consequence of Australia winning? We already know what it says in the rules, we can’t host and instead a European country bid process would need to occur. But it made me think long and hard about whether this is something that should be considered more long-term and widespread.

The process of winner first refusal and countries bidding to host has already been successfully employed with the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. When Italy won the event in 2014, it passed on the opportunity and Bulgaria, a nation which had proudly placed 2nd in the same contest, stepped forward with an inviting proposal. This opportunity afforded the event to not only visit a new country, but rejuvenated the nation’s interest in the Eurovision range of events and gave them a rare chance to bring focus to what it has to offer on a world stage.

Junior Eurovision lights up the world (image: EBU)

Junior Eurovision lights up the world from Bulgaria (image: EBU)

As Eurovision finds itself returning to the same Nordic region for the fourth time in seven years, and Sweden in particular, twice in four years, many delegations and fans would appreciate a change in scenery. Variety is the spice of life, but also possibly a rejuvenator for the contest.

Allowing for such a change would alleviate pressures on countries feeling it must host upon winning; something no doubt Ireland would have enjoyed in the 90s. Top of mind are economic reasons, but in this current climate, for political reasons as well. Giving EBU a final say may allow us to explore places we haven’t been yet, avoid places that aren’t ready for the responsibility, but also hopefully encourage countries to concentrate on the actual winning for prestige rather than shying away in fear for what may lie ahead if they do.

Ben Robertson

Expansion, but not as we know it.

Australia’s addition into Eurovision 2015 came after persistent pressure to be more involved host broadcaster in ORF searching for the landmark definitive ‘building bridges’ statement.

This year the Australia inclusion is still, a little frustratingly, a one-year-at-a-time thing, still needing SBS to play goodie-two-shoes to stay in the clique. However behind the announcement it seems there is a greater master plan. On SVT’s website, Contest Producer for this year’s Contest Christer Björkman spoke glowingly about the ‘development opportunities’ laid out by EBU Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand as Australia deal #2 was made.

We have no idea what the grand plan is, but snippets of movement can be seen. The flopped Asia-Pacific Song Contest is back on the radar in new form for 2017, with China’s behemoth private broadcaster Hunan TV taking charge. Hunan were invited to Vienna and have now the broadcasting rights for the Eurovision Song Contest until 2018 as well. They are in it for the long haul.

The rumours and betting odds about China entering in 2017 are missing the point. China’s not coming to take over, China’s making their own version in symbiosis with what we know and love. Australia may find their long term home there, but so will many other new countries. The format then may leapfrog more easily to Africa, or to America, and then we have it.

Worldvision.

(Yes I know the name is taken, but the branding issue is somebody else’s job)

It may not be one huge Contest where the top three from each continent join up for one epic battle, that I can see being a long, long way off. But what would not surprise me to kick-start things is the winner of the newly named ‘ABU Cup Song Contest’ appearing as the 2017 interval act in wherever we end up next year. A bilateral arrangement would rack up the exposure for winners of both competitions, adding another carrot on the Eurovision stick.

You heard it here first.

Samantha Ross

Ben, you’re echoing a sentiment that I’ve been wishing for years…either developing or expanding on existing competitions to create a more globalised event. Or maybe it’s just the Latin American Studies major in me that just wants to see the Viña del Mar Festival in Chile truly go global. But as we potentially take the Contest and focus it outward, I’d like to personally see countries take the time and look inward, as well.

Over the past decade and a half or so, songs have increasingly become more and more universal, at the expense of a participating nation’s regional identity. Yes, Sweden’s seemingly cornered the market on global pop music, and appears poised to overtake Ireland’s crown as the winningest Eurovision nation sometime in the near future, but what makes for a better show: dozens of polished pop numbers devoid of regional identity, or a wide variety of genres, styles, and languages that embrace more local flair?

One of the reasons that Türkvizyon fascinates me is that while it highlights the links the Turkic communities have with each other, it’s more likely to delve into the flavors that each population can bring to the table. Whether it’s singing in one’s mother tongue, wearing traditional outfits, or serving up some jaw-dropping vocal technique (seriously, watch Tuva’s song from 2013 and tell me that Saylik Ommur’s vocal abilities aren’t incredible), participants are unafraid to say “this is my nation, and this is what makes us us”.

So my proposal? Clamp down on the outsourcing. While I understand the appeal (whether it’s from a financial or strategic point of view) to bring in a fleet of songwriters or singers from abroad to polish a Eurovision package, by incorporating some sort of minimum benchmark for domestic songwriting and onstage talent (whether by citizenship or residency), it not only adds to the diversity of the Contest’s playlist, but it also provides more opportunity for local performers and songwriters to get their names out there. If the goal of Eurovision is to provide an entertaining show that shines a light on the depth of talent around the continent (and now, around the world), why not take active steps to keep it from homogenising?

John Paul Lucas

Many fans may look back nostalgically on the days when Eurovision was a fully live music event, but the fact remains that by the time the orchestra was retired, its demise was long overdue. Eurovision must remain current in order to remain relevant, and by the late 90s – hell, the late 80s – pop music was primarily a studio construction.

With this in mind, I think there’s an increasingly strong argument for Eurovision to follow the example of Melodifestivalen and relax the rules on pre-recorded backing vocals. Don’t get me wrong – the thrill of the live lead vocal is one of the great selling points of the contest and should always be protected, but too many songs that sound rich and exciting in studio form are being rendered limp and lifeless by forcing a maximum of six onstage vocalists to attempt to reproduce them.

Will this change make it easier for less talented vocalists to mask their shortcomings? Absolutely, but the fact remains that if a singer wants to cheat, the old trick of the shadowy “backing singer” actually taking the lead is already available to them, and frequently being employed (go on, can you remember where Ivi Adamou hid her backing singers?).

Also, I’d argue that if singers choose to effectively mime, they’re only doing themselves a disservice. A great live vocal can go a long way towards creating that ‘magic moment’ that turns a contender into a potential winner. Hiding behind a recorded backing vocal can only rob a song of that kind of energy. But offering as many opportunities as possible to put a strong lead vocal in a more powerful and contemporary context? That seems like a no brainer to me.

Jasmin Bear

It all started during Eurovision 2013, with a projection on a dress. If you’re wondering about the connection between Moldova’s performance in Malmö, and a change I’d like to see in the contest for 2016 and for the future, that’s understandable. But this actually has nothing to do with Aliona Moon, and everything to do with Petra Mede.

Well, not everything. But as Petra stood on the stage towards the end of that year’s voting sequence, the Danish flag colouring her voluminous skirt red and white, and declared Emmelie de Forest unbeatable – something inside me snapped. Not in an ‘I’m going to kidnap Christer Björkman and hold him for ransom while making angry, incomprehensible Chewbacca noises’ kind of way. But it definitely bugged me.

The production team had chosen to explicitly announce the winner when a handful of countries were yet to present their points. The Green Room was set apart from the arena in 2013, so this early announcement did allow Emmelie more time to make her way back to the venue for her reprise. But those exceptional circumstances led to a trend that continued unnecessarily in Copenhagen, and in Vienna. In each case, it was clear at the point of announcement which country was heading home with the Kosta Boda Trophy, but that doesn’t make jumping the gun acceptable. An obvious winner on the scoreboard makes decreasing the significance of any remaining votes – by stating the obvious – a waste of time, not a time-saver. In addition, it’s downright disrespectful. For some countries, the final few scores they have received have led to better results, and that’s a big deal. When the weight of that is removed, and the spotlight is shining solely on the contest’s champion before all scores have even been finalised, that’s a raw deal. Why not just scrap the scoring sequence altogether, and whip the winner out of an envelope as soon as the voting window has slammed shut?

Don’t get any ideas, SVT.

Eurovision Scoreboard 1958 (image: EBU)

You can’t hurry the scoreboard (image: EBU)

In light of my above annoyance, a change I’d like to see in Stockholm and beyond is a change back to letting things take their course. Waiting until every individual point has been presented prior to announcing the winner does require patience (and a comfortable chair) but it’s the respectful way to acknowledge that little victories – from reaching a higher rung on the leaderboard ladder to just participating in the final – matter too.

Ewan Spence

Much as I love the competitive part of the Contest, it has to be entertaining. In the modern TV environment that means speed. A future Eurovision Song Contest needs to move faster. Vienna’s four hour marathon needs to be trimmed back to at least 3 hours 30 minutes, and I’d argue 3 hours 15 minutes is the target.

There needs to be a certain amount of time to count the public’s votes (which the interval act is designed to cover), and three minute songs are always going to be three minutes. Which leads me to the scoring – or at least how it is presented. Jasmine has already noted the pressure to declare the winner as quickly as possible, but my key point is that modern TV presentation demands more from a voting sequence.

Eurovision is driven by tradition – the trip around the spokespeople is ingrained into Eurovision history, the use of the live link-up is a core competence for every EBU member, and everyone expects ‘douze points’ to be announced. It would be a brave decision to disrupt the traditions of ‘the last hour’ of the show, but something needs to change to improve the show.

Melodifestivalen 2013 Voting (image: SVT Direkt)

One vote to go, still in doubt, tension rises. That’s modern entertainment (image: SVT Direkt)

A number of National Finals have different ways of presenting the votes. Eurovision is never going to see an instant run-off Superfinal, but other ideas might be worth considering. A number of National Finals present the jury votes first and the public votes second. Many keep voting open during the jury declarations. You could follow SVT’s lead in Melodifestivalen and share the public points out by the volume of votes across the continent.

All of them are characterised by speedy proceedings and a sense of pace and excitement. Any changes in a future Eurovision are going to be in the drama of the last hour.

Over To You

The Eurovision Song Contest does not stand still. Sometimes changes are pro-active, others see the Contest pulled forward by society. But the Song Contest has to evolve so it can stay relevant to broadcasters, so it continues to entertain to the audience, and still be seen as one of the biggest musical stages on the planet. What would you change to ensure Eurovision has another sixty years?

About The Author: Sharleen Wright

Sharleen Wright is the co-founder of ESC Insight and a freelance journalist and researcher. She has previously worked for numerous community radio stations in Sydney Australia, and contributed to the wider world of comedy holding production and promotions roles at both the Edinburgh Fringe and Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Her written words have appeared online, as well as The List magazine, and numerous fanzines on the topics of television and specifically, Eurovision . She is currently based in Australia and undertaking research on food and event tourism. You can follow Sharleen on Twitter (@sharly77) and Facebook (facebook.com/sharleenwright).

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5 responses to “ESC Insight Asks: What Next For The Ever Changing Song Contest?”

  1. John A says:

    One of my worries is that Sweden is creating a VisionEuro contest rather than a Eurovision one. That’s all well and good for countries with the money and know how to create these extravaganzas – what about the smaller countries?

    This really gets to the heart of what the contest is about. Is it a SONG contest or a VISION contest? The one change i’d make is for jury guidance to be JUST about originality and vocal performance. The whole 100% of their votes should be about that.

    The other worry is what happens if Russia wins? Yes we all know it’s not meant to be `political` except of course it is as the hardcore fans for obvious reasons won’t travel there thus changing the mood of the contest. Ukraine would find it difficult due to the usual reasons although Crimea has been mooted? The mind boggles at the security for that. So Sharleen’s suggestion of the winning country not having to host it is excellent – Portugal, Malta have put in a great effort over the years – why not let them host? Warmer climes please!

  2. Ben Cook says:

    Jasmin – it felt odd the first time they did it in 2013, but I quite like it now. Those wonderful reaction shots we got from Conchita and MZW totally made it worth announcing early.

  3. Nathan South says:

    One idea I have had in my head for a long time so that it still can be seen as a SONGG contest rather than a PERFORMANCE contest is to have the jury votes on the studio version of the song, The televote can then be based on the live performance.

    I know this eliminates the jury show but just called it a final dress rehearsal if its about ticket sales.

    Year after year there are songs I love before the performance that don’t quite live up to promise on the night. This could help and still reward those excellent songs.

    I have 10,000 other ideas, but this will do for now :)

  4. Seeing the EBU chose to implement none of my suggestions in July lol (http://eurovisionthroughtheages.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/lmbto-if-i-were-ebu-what-would-i-change.html), I would carry some of them over to the future!

    Bringing the randomness back to running orders or at least the voting process would be a start – I would adjust my suggestion for the show itself with an excellent tweak that someone suggested to me on FB, have the producers decide a running order for all the songs (no first half/second half) but then get the hosts or a random dignitary from the host nation draw the name of who will start the SF or Final. The producer-led order will then start from that country – this will eliminate any perceived bias for strong candidates in my opinion but keep a decent flow of ballads/uptempo songs to give a good show.

    My other points in my article still stand…it’s obvious that Australia are now no longer wildcards but will now become a regular part of Eurovision.

  5. Shai says:

    Ewan’s idea of cutting down the running of the contest – a big thumb up.4 Hours in Vienna was toooo long.

    John’s idea for allowing pre-recording recording of backing vocals – A big thumb down. There are enough songs which sound like bad karaoke evening and letting the pre recording vocals will make it even worse.
    Live vocals demand that all singers listen to one another and sing in harmony(yes, even the backing singers). It’s an art that demand rehearsals, discipline and efforts. You fail there than your song will fail.

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