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Now We Have The UK’s Eurovision Singer, What Should The BBC Do Next? Written by on March 3, 2014 | 13 Comments

So after almost a year of speculation (at least since about 10pm on the 18th May) we now know who will represent the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest for 2014. It’s the new talent of Molly Smitten-Downes, with the song ‘Children of the Universe‘.

Revealed through the BBC’s interactive ‘Red Button’ service this evening, Smitten-Downes has been discovered through the network of ‘BBC Introducing…’ radio shows which discover and air new talent across the BBC regional and local stations. Thanks to a blog post by Guy Freeman (the new UK Head of Delegation), we know a little bit more about the selection process, notably “We discovered that simply by and large they’ve been very good songs that have deserved to win” and “there’s a disconnect between what kind of songs and artists are now winning Eurovision, versus the stereotype that many people – including much of the music industry – still hold in their minds“.

Molly Smitten-Downe (UK 2014)

Molly Smitten-Downe (UK 2014)

Before you can address a problem such as the UK’s performance at the Song Contest, you need to understand the problem.

This is something I talked about on ESC Insight after the 2012 Contest. I suspect that a lot of the negative coverage of the UK’s 2013 coverage was because the BBC were trying the same approach – an older ‘experienced’ singer had been drafted and was trading on their name for points and prestige – and expecting a different result.

To summarise, the points that I felt had to be addressed were ‘good songs win’, ‘political voting does not decide the winner’, and ‘people vote for the UK when the BBC sending something worth voting for’. While I didn’t go so far as to call for BBC Introducing to act as a behind closed door National Selection committee, I did suggest Vic Galloway, host of the BBC Introducing In Scotland

Vic Galloway, our Eurovision leader?

We Said Vic (above) and we got Guy… that’s a fair trade

It’s fair to say that I’m in agreement with Freeman and the BBC’s approach. So far. Because now the real work begins.

Keep The Focus On The Copenhagen Stage

Short term, the goal is relatively well. The UK Delegation need to support Smitten-Downes all the way through to her appearance in Copenhagen. The stage performance needs to be modern and fresh, look spectacular, and have no nerves at all. A solo singer with a backing band can look drab and boring on the Eurovision stage (Natalie Kelly did not ‘Shine‘ last year), or it can be inventive and infectious (Think ‘Tomorrow‘ by Gianluca for Malta last year).

I’d be interested to know when the single is going to be released in the United Kingdom. In previous years the Eurovision single has come out just before the Contest airs, in the hope of charting on the back of the Contest. That’s a valid strategy, but if we’re building up PR, using Eurovision as a platform, and looking for promotion in the run up to the Contest, a mid-April release would make more strategic sense.

Smitten-Downes’ workload should be high throughout April and May.. Lots of training and rehearsals, lots of PR, and all of it balanced against her own health. The Eurovision Song Contest is a chance for her to represent the United Kingdom on a worldwide stage, and it should be treated as such. If I could offer one suggestion to the delegation I would suggest bringing in a sports psychologist and personal trainer to create a holistic approach to get Smitten-Downes to peak singing fitness for May 9th. And make sure to explain to her well in advance that the second Dress Rehearsal is the Jury Final, and counts for 50% of the score.

The key to a good result is planning,  promotion, and performance. Even though the BBC have done this fifty-six times before, every year should be considered a brand new challenge

Molly Needs More Than A Return Ticket

What happens on May 11th? When the flight back from Copenhagen arrives in London, should the BBC’s responsibility end when Smitten-Downes reaches the Heathrow Coach Station and given her bus fare home? Strictly speaking the engagement for Eurovision is over, and the delegation would be perfectly within their right to do so.

Josh Dubovie at Oslo 2010

Josh Dubovie at Oslo 2010

But entering the Eurovision Song Contest is a big gamble for any artist, especially one in the United Kingdom where the press can be cruel and the music business can be unforgiving. If the BBC want to attract the best new song-writers and singers to the Contest for 2015 and beyond, they need to show a level of care above and beyond the call of duty.

That means ensuring Smitten-Downes is not abandoned to market forces, the whims of her record label, or ignored by the other departments of the BBC simply because she has #Eurovision around her neck. She should be supported through the summer and the BBC Delegation should work to have her featured on BBC properties after the Contest.

That might be a difficult sell after the first year, but If not on the main channels, then the BBC Eurovision team could follow Smitten-Downes via the red button service or even their own website at bbc.co.uk/eurovision in the months after the Contest. Funding should be put aside from the Eurovision budget now to ensure the online coverage can continue over the summer.

If the Song Contest is seen by the industry and the public as something that builds careers and leads to long-term exposure, that can only be a good thing. The hardcore fans know that Eurovision is not just for one night (heck, even the BBC asked me to write about that topic), it’s high time the rest of the UK understood that.

Simply put, Smitten-Downes must not be a one-night wonder, and it’s the Delegation’s responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.

This Could Hurt In June, But It Will Get Better

Guy Freeman should be ready for a backlash after the Contest. Either because “he’s only gone and won the thing and now the BBC has to pay for it” or “we sent an unknown singer and look what happened.”

One of the few advantages of sending known names such as Bonnie Tyler and Blue to the Song Contest is their appeal to the general public. With a big name the media in the country will be more inclined to write about the Contest, promoting the broadcasts, and helping boost the audience. There’s also been a tendency in the past to focus the PR efforts in the United Kingdom to promote the Song Contest on BBC 1, rather than go out to Europe and promote the artist and help her get a better result.

Actually, I think Freeman will both be ready for that, and will work to minimise the impact of the lower ratings – witness the subtle efforts to steer the thinking of the media to a ‘new’ artist in the days leading up to the reveal. The choice to focus PR on the UK or on Europe delivers a different type of result. Do the BBC want a strong result in the ratings, or the scoreboard? I suspect they want the latter, in which case the former will likely suffer. I expect the viewing figures for the 2014 Contest to be lower than in previous years.

This Is What We Are Going To Do For The Next Decade

Historically the BBC’s involvement in the Eurovision Song Contest is decided annually, along with the contracts and staffing. It’s very very unlikely to withdraw from the Contest for a multitude of reasons (the low cost-per-hour, the number of Charter requirements it meets, and it is a huge ratings draw). The strategy put in place by Guy Freeman to discover the 2014 performer is a sound one and there is no reason why BBC Introducing… should not be employed in future years.

Jessica Garlick ran second, and finished third

Fingers crossed that Jessica Garlick will not be our best 21st Century Eurovision result

For that to happen though, a few things need to happen. There needs to be support for the artist before, during, and after, to make it an experience that other artists want to be involved with. There needs to be a good result, and that means the UK delegation need to work to make that result happen because it will not be presented to the BBC on a silver platter. And both the mainstream media and the music industry need to be brought into the fold to firstly stop hating on the Contest, and start to appreciate the opportunity that it can offer a new artist.

Today’s announcement and the thinking behind it could mark the first step in a process that brings together the United Kingdom in the same way that the Olympics, the Royal Jubilee, and events like the World Cup manage. The blocks are all there, and if Guy Freeman is ready to build a bridge, I think he can bring together the media, the music industry, the fans, the viewers, and the country with him.

Maybe not this year. Maybe not next year. But Soon. Because for the first time in the twenty-first century, I can see a long-term and sustainable plan for the Eurovision Song Contest from the United Kingdom.

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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13 responses to “Now We Have The UK’s Eurovision Singer, What Should The BBC Do Next?”

  1. Stephen Colville says:

    Just one thing Ewan…since when does the World Cup bring the UK together? If anything it turns into England vs everyone else.

  2. Eric Graf says:

    Yep. To everything.

    I’m not as impressed by the song as a lot of folks seem to be … the backing vocal arrangement for the first 30 seconds or so is weird and awkward, the staging kind of sucks, and the song itself lacks the build you like to hear in such things.

    In other words, I don’t think it’s a potential winner. There are several better songs that have already been announced, and her placing will rely a lot on her performance(s) and the staging.

    And that’s what concerns me. She needed a home run and delivered a base hit. Good for her – a base hit is rare when you’re talking UK in Eurovision, but what happens when she comes in 17th, and all these fans who are gushing today about London 2015 get brought back to cold, hard reality? Onto the Wall of Shame she goes, and the BBC springs for the reunited Dave Clark Five in 2015 singing a half-power-ballad half-dubstep album cut called “Even If We Sent New Direction”.

    If there’s one thing I’d add to the article’s suggestions, it’s a careful exercise in expectations management. And I don’t see the BBC going for that. They certainly didn’t today.

  3. Zolan says:

    How can I add anything when Ewan’s already up to finding the best personal trainer? 😀 I kept going “Oh, and…” and the next paragraph covers it.

    Perhaps we can also hope that by next year the song, rather than the BBC, will be the main story.

    About the song —
    I expected them to be more conservative on their initial foray into the new approach: Something simple with all the wrinkles ironed out.

    As it is, I think they’ve pitched it about right. It’s ambitious enough to provoke some worthwhile discussions, and while it’s (hopefully) not the final version, the debut video stands up well beside other entries to foster early fan support.

    Interesting that they prioritised visuals in their choice of venue.

    At this stage it’s a grower, which serves it well with months ahead. By May, they’ll have refined it into something more instant.

  4. Ewan Spence says:

    Stephen, events *like* the World Cup 🙂 The four home countries do have separate entries into many events, so take it in the spirit, if not the exact nit-picking detail. I’ll say the Lions Rugby tour next time, but it does’t have as much energy as others.

  5. Ewan Spence says:

    Eric, did you read Guy freeman’s post on Friday about choosing a new artis and announcing on Monday? THere’s expectations right there. And frankly we’ve been swinging at balls and giving away strikes with the last few songs (to continue the metaphor) so I’d be more than happy with a base hit here, Because that means next year another base hit pushes us round the diamond more, and more. I’d be happy with a 10-15th here, solid support after the event, and the KEY figure is likely going to be record sales and follow on gigs, not the placing.

  6. Eric Graf says:

    I did read Guy Freeman’s thing, and was very happy with it.

    I think we’re on the same page, except that I fear the BBC *will* push the song as a sure-fire winner (they did the same with Engelbert, for crying out loud!) and I don’t think that’s a good idea.

    I’m seeing the reaction on Twitter, especially the over-the-top stuff that @bbceurovision is retweeting (“omg were actually gonna win this year!!! The biggest eurovision comeback in history!!”), and thinking “uh oh”. The BBC’s solid support won’t help Molly, or the contest, if the public and the rest of the media turn on her the way they did on, say, Andy Abraham. I can her it now. “We should’ve gone with Geri Halliwell!” Ugh.

    I don’t have an answer. Obviously they have to get people excited about watching the contest too. It’s a delicate balance, and I’m glad I’m not the one who has to manage it.

  7. Seán says:

    Expectations management is vital in the UK. I think there is a tendency to pray for a win rather than to actually just say “Look we’ve a strong song that should manage a top 10, but we’re up against some intense competition and let’s just be proud to have a decent song that we like”.

    While I know this would push the boat out too far for the BBC, I think that actually introducing the public to the stiff competition they are up against before the contest in a meaningful way could help expectations management issue

  8. Peter says:

    I’m very happy with our choice this year. Even if we don’t win – and how can we tell when we haven’t heard half the songs yet or don’t know how they’re going to fix the running order – it’s great to see that we’re taking it seriously.

    At the end of the day, we have a great new singer with a song that she wrote and suits her instead of dusting off a random 20 year old b-side, and a team at the BBC that finally seems to care in the contest. That’s all I need to be happy, and we can leave the rest to the fates.

  9. Zolan says:

    The emotionally and existentially volatile adolescent voices of the internet might not reflect the expectations of the wider public, even though they might make a bigger impression.
    But there’s some tangled cultural feedback involved that makes deliberate management quite complex and not entirely reliable. Could be expensive and ineffective.

    Perhaps one can only hope that society adapts quickly enough to the informational environment to acheive some balance by trial and error.

    I like the idea of introducing the public to the competition, providing some meaningful reference points instead of leaving people clutching at opinions in a vacuum.

  10. Daniel says:

    On a slightly different but related note, let’s hope the BBC jury selected is more in touch with contemporary pop than last year’s shower who placed Russia 1st and Norway 21st!

  11. ESC Fan says:

    One of the key points here follows on from your comment “I’d be interested to know when the single is going to be released in the United Kingdom…”

    This is an unsigned artist, and as far as I know, there’s not been a deal to release the single? And if so, then with who? I can’t find any confirmation online that BBC Enterprises still has their own label (I have the theme tune from Dr. Who on 7″ still 😉 ) and albums like Dermot O’Leary’s Saturday Sessions, which is lifted straight from his Radio 2 show, are distributed by Sony – I can’t see them clamouring to produce and distribute such an unknown entity until she proves it would be worth their while. Or is this something that the BBC will bankroll? Or is it, as with Blue) that Molly is having to organise that pat herself – hopefully she will be guided by those in the know

    Anyone know anything?

  12. Ewan Spence says:

    Agreed Daniel. The BBC jury will give us a good indication if the EBU can push back on a ‘not really representative’ jury. If we have Blackburn, Hatch, et al front he UK, then we can infer the rest of the countries have who they want.

  13. Ewan Spence says:

    Anne, I’m watching carefully on the signing. I’ve seen some rumours on ‘a deal’ with ‘a label’ but not with enough confidence to say anything. Again, it will be a good indication on what has been achieved, and what is still to be done. (PS I have the Blakes 7 theme on BBC 7″).

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