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New Vision Of Eurovision: An Australian Perspective On The Shock Announcement Written by on February 11, 2015 | 15 Comments

Very early on 11th February 2015, a new dawn broke in the Eurovision fan land ‘Down Under’ with the revelation that Australia would be officially joining the 2015 contest. Overnight in Europe the announcement had already trended across social networks, ranging from downright hilarity over the news to utter disgust. Now our Australian-resident editor Sharleen Wright provides a voice from our the new entrant nation to give her take on the story.

Australian broadcaster SBS has been vocal for a number of years in wanting more access to the Eurovision Song Contest beyond commentating on the local broadcast. In 2014, following the inclusion of Jessica Mauboy as the second Semi Final interval act and an ‘almost live’ (delayed by only two hours) broadcast, the channel gained its best ratings for the show, breaking the one million viewers mark. It remains the 2nd most watched yearly event on SBS 1 next to the FA Cup Final, and thus represents a hallmark in its programming that many countries’ broadcasters in Europe would dream of.

The news today has certainly brought with it a lot of local excitement, and more casual fans have filled the twitter streams with joy at the news we will be part of the world’s biggest song contest. The front pages of our local newspapers feature photos of Conchita alongside our SBS commentators Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang announcing our debut at Eurovision, and the morning television is abuzz laughing over the prospect.

For now, its all fun and games in the land of Eurovision.Oz; betting is already feverish with who will represent our island nation, and every Australian news website offering up a chance to suggest an entry (which so far ranges from the big name stars to the crazy 80’s footballer-turned-one-hit-wonder Warwick Capper). But as every Australian – including our last three Prime Ministers – knows too well, it won’t take long for the the glitter to settle, the party balloons to bust, and the analysis and backlash to begin.

Coverage from NineMSN news

Coverage from NineMSN news

Budgetary concerns should and will be foremost in the minds of Australian media staff, particularly those within the two national broadcasters ABC and SBS who had funding slashed recently resulting in a cull of approximately 10% of its workforce. Under those circumstances, even with such a priority for coverage based on previous high ratings, how can one justify the expense of participating at the Contest (assuming that we are paying our fair share alongside the Big 5 nations for the automatic qualifier status)?

As a representative of Eurovision media and previously part of the SBS coverage team, my own feelings tend towards the negative on the inclusion of Australia at the Contest.  When asked by reporters at the 2012 Contest in Baku about Australia being part of the event, I disagreed that we should be part of the line-up. Whilst Australia will be forever linked to Europe thanks to the large diasporas of British, Irish, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Serbian, etc populations here in our nation, and our love of the event is certainly beyond what many participating nations even have, it is an unnecessary and unjustifiable position to expect Australia to play an active role at Eurovision. Forget unnecessary quoting of the rule book, the clue here is in the title – EUROvision.

Needless to say, my views never made it to air.

However, I am not alone with my thoughts on the matter.

It wasn’t the first time that Australia has been rumoured to join the contest, but a heavy buzz first emerged last December. As per previous incarnations, this was treated with a grain of salt by most, and a novelty by others, with some interesting reactions from Australian fans on Facebook pages. Overwhelmingly though amongst the hardcore fans, even before this actual announcement, the possibility of being the 40th competitor in Austria was not one that SBS would have expected from the Eurovision-loving country in southern hemisphere. Here is just a small selection of reactions from last December from the Australian Eurovision Fanclub facebook page :

“ Bad bad bad idea.”

I’d prefer us not to be involved, we have had our 15 minutes”

Anytime Australia participates in any kind of contest out comes a bunch of flag-as-a-cape wearing nationalist bogans who think we are the best at everything, and you can bet they’ll be saying “we’ve been fans of that poofter-fest for years, now let’s show ’em how it’s done”. I don’t need people like that associated with Eurovision, no thank you.”

I don’t like it, and I can see many countries not taking the news well…  How will it look if they gave a country on the other side of the world a wildcard entry which does not meet the requirements for entry? It will make a joke of the contest, and I could see countries pulling out in disgust. And while it will never happen, imagine the outcry if we were to win under those circumstances? Many countries would refuse to return in 2016.”

“Terrible idea. The reason we are tolerated in such a good natured way is because we aren’t competing. Even if we’re invited in, we will seem like the boorish spectators who reckon they can do better.”

“ I loved that we were an interval act last year but that should not lead us into being part of the song contest. I also feel that Eurovision is a European contest and should stay that way”

Based on experience, and the lack of active involvement that our broadcaster has with the hard-core fans that travel from Australia to the event every year, it is doubtful that this opinion will be reflected in the lead up or on the ground during this years broadcast. SBS will have the casual fan back home believe that this inclusion, however celebratory and one-off in nature it is, is a great thing and that the revelation has been welcomed with open arms by all here and in Europe. That is because it fits within the framework of how it wishes the contest to be perceived by viewer.

So, what can you expect from Australia?

Despite the negative feedback across the fan spectrum, if betting sites are anything to go by, Australia is onto a winner already. With no announcement yet as to our competing song or artist, we can only judge from what has come before from our broadcaster.

SBS tend to take a leaf out of BBC’s book with a tongue-in-cheek approach to the contest. This is thanks to the many years enduring Wogan commentary direct from the BBC feed, followed by the now-permanent establishment of comedienne Julia Zemiro and (more-often) radio and sport commentator Sam Pang as our local guides to the event.

Whilst there have been some shining moments in their coverage, including a 2-part documentary on the history of the contest, a travelogue series journeying from Dusseldorf to Azerbaijan meeting Eurovision stars along the way, nabbing a rare interview with Englebert Humperdinck, and an excellent feature with Conchita last year, the tendency towards ridicule and celebration of kitsch remains heavy on the agenda. Interjections over songs being performed, lyric and artist slurs by both the ESC and JESC commentary teams, and most telling of all, the programming of the interval act last year where a slew of stereotypes and glittery Contest misconceptions took to the stage left many fans embarrassed, shocked and annoyed at the broadcast.

Whilst genuinely talented and top-local-charting artist Jessica Mauboy was an excellent decision on the part of SBS to send to Copenhagen, she certainly didn’t set the world alight with her song beyond a local one-day download fest via iTunes. One feels that the standard of her song was shaped by the SBS perception of what is a ‘Eurovision song’ than one that Jess herself would be truly proud of and her record company would want released as a single.

For now, Australia is pushing well above its weight worldwide in the music stakes right now; acts like Iggy Azalea, Sia, 5 Seconds of Summer, and Goyte, are topping charts in Europe, USA and beyond. Needless to say, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see these reflected on the Eurovision stage. And even whilst on the downturn career-wise, names like Kylie Minogue and Tina Arena who have the profiles are also unlikely to pop up with an Australian flag in Austria.

Instead, I believe we can expect to see a name hailing from one of our many talent shows, just like Jessica Mauboy. Whilst the talent from these shows is not in any way a bad thing (take for instance, Melodifestivalen 2015 performers JTR, who originally hail from Brisbane and were competitors in our 2013 local series of X Factor), they are also far more pliable for SBS to mould into what it expects of a debut Eurovision entry.  This method also serves as an opportunity for the record company to try and launch a career internationally.   We have previously sent such acts as Dami Im and Justice Crew who fall directly into this category to the Asian Broadcasting Union Song Festival for similar reasons, and I believe this is our best indication of what we can expect to see in Vienna.

Concerns to address

Most of the issues and concerns that local fans had previously surrounding Australia’s participation fortunately have been dealt with by the EBU directly on the announcement.  This is a once-off inclusion to fit the theme of ‘Building Bridges’, we will be given a “wildcard” status direct to the final to avoid ‘robbing’ any other European nation of qualifying potential, and no, even if the odds are right and Australia wins the contest, we cannot host the 2015 Contest.

If Australia were to win the Contest, it has been announced that SBS will then co-produce the event in conjunction with another European nation in 2016 (so if Montenegro want to get a ticket direct to Saturday night, here’s its chance). This is actually one positive element to the nation’s inclusion, opening up the opportunity for a bidding process to host and hopefully for a smaller and previously non-winning-nation to be successful in holding the event. Add to that the promise and benefit of additional funds and production expertise provided from Australia, its a potential win-win situation for one lucky country.

Taking a more negative view however, it could just as easily be seen by some as an excuse that the contest defaults to a Big 5 nation such as the United Kingdom or Spain, which ensures continued future funding from its biggest contributors and also appears a ‘safe choice’.

Waking up to SBS website front page - 11 February 2015

Waking up to SBS website front page – 11 February 2015

The voting process is still yet to be announced, but it appears that much to the delight of Australian fans who have campaigned for years, ‘Down Under’ will finally get a live broadcast of the event running at 5am local time in order to participate – even though you would expect voting details to be sorted out and agreed on before the announcement,

However, it may be expected that the voting could take place online over a period of time rather than by phone due to the minimal numbers that would be expected to watch and vote live in the middle of the week when the actual semi- finals take place. This practice of online voting based on preview clips in the fortnight prior to the Contest has already been running successfully for some time via the SBS website, although admittedly with no consequence to any results at the actual Contest. If a decision to do this is accepted, it would open a can of worms for accountability – with potential multiple voting, possible international rorting of the system etc. This seemingly leaves SBS with little choice but to run a small phone vote on a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday morning 5am timeslot or to resort to jury-only voting.

The opportunity for Australia to vote in both Semi Finals however is the most curious inclusion. If you look back at previous results from the SBS online-voting portal, it is clearly seen that points do heavily favour the biggest diasporas present here rather than the songs themselves – not that this is anything that isn’t already evident in the actual Eurovision results. A far more natural decision would be to have Australia vote in the first Semi Final, where there is already a smaller number of competing nations, or indeed, only in the Grand Final where we are participating.

Giving Australia, a country who is not even part of the regular participants, the power to shape results across the whole contest and continent, as many European fans have been vocalising on social media, seems an unfair decision on the part of the EBU – especially when not even the host nation has that ability.

Building bridges amongst the fans

For the years of attending the contest as a fan hailing from Australia, I have felt nothing but love and inclusion from others attending Eurovision.  However, having taken a break in attending last year in order to pursue to some professional interests, I believe the welcoming for Australians is starting to wear thin with some Europeans. Reports filtered through to me about aggressive behaviour towards Australians due to the feeling from some that our nation had overstayed our welcome and gained too much exposure at the expense of smaller countries and fan-groups.

Hearing about such sad experiences from friends who I had willed on to attend on the Copenhagen event last May certainly brought a downer to my viewing.  After all, wasn’t this Contest built on the basis of inclusion? About music having the power to bring people closer together?

Eurovision Australia Newspaper (image: Sharleen Wright)

Eurovision Australia Newspaper (image: Sharleen Wright)

Looking across the worldwide social media reaction today, of course I am not surprised about the anger many Europeans feel towards the decision to include Australia in this year’s Contest. Yes, its pushing the envelope perhaps a bit too far for the Contest and the result may be more ‘burning bridges’ than ‘building bridges’ in the long run. Yes, its hard to justify when smaller nations struggle to find the funds to participate. Giving Australia such liberties is like a slap in the face to the concerns of the likes of Turkey or the wishes of Russia who wish to gain ‘big’ country status. And I honestly believe that time and funds would be better dedicated to encouraging the likes of Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovakia back to the contest.  However it’s the personal vitriol that worries me most.

The decision to allow Australia a role at Eurovision is one that was determined behind closed doors amongst the Eurovision Reference Group, a national broadcaster, and signed off by the EBU TV Committee. It is not the decision of the fans, our country as a whole, or the artist presented. Just as the Tolmachevy Sisters and Russian fans directly (and I argue, wrongly) experienced in last year’s participation, I am concerned that a lot of anger will be aimed towards this Australian involvement.

So I conclude and also appeal to Eurovision fans, whoever you are and wherever you are, to embrace this in the spirit it is offered – a special event and another song on the stage – and to appreciate that most of us here down under love the Contest the way it is: a celebration of music and European culture.  We don’t want to change Eurovision, but we do want to be part of it in some small way.

Like our European breathen, for most of us, being on the ground and amongst you all is quite enough to satisfy that craving.

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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15 responses to “New Vision Of Eurovision: An Australian Perspective On The Shock Announcement”

  1. Ali Nella Houd says:

    Hear, hear! – Thank you, Sharleen. As an Aussie, I really am bamboozled as to how such a decision got through. We’ll have to make the best of it, but perhaps Australian fans in Vienna may now choose to swap their Aussie flags for Canadian ones??

  2. Ben Cook says:

    I cannot understand why people are getting so worked up about it. If it was every year maybe I’d have a problem, but they’re saying it’s a one off. At the moment we just have to trust this to be the case.

    I don’t think it’s a slippery slope to inviting other nations. Australia is a special case because of how many people watch it there. I don’t believe any other countries outside the EBU get the sort of figures they do. Who cares that Australia is not in Europe? At least a high proportion of Australians have a European background.

    Don’t get the big deal about them being in the final, since them competing in a semi would just knock out another country.

    And it’s only for this year! People seriously need to get a grip. It’s just a song contest.

  3. Eric Graf says:

    Ben – Is it really a one-off?

    If they can suddenly pop in a non-eligible country on a whim in 2015, right in the middle of national selections, who’s to say they won’t do it again in 2016 … 2017 … 2018 …

    In fact, I’m predicting right here and now that Australia is now a permanent member of the Eurovision family, regardless of the EBU’s protestations to the contrary.

    For an American, who would like to see the Contest gain some sort of recognition in this country, this is quite a disaster. Thanks to a series of TV game show scandals in the 1950s, Americans expect their televised contests to be 100% by the book – and will abandon them if there’s even the slightest hint of rule tampering, in whatever form it takes.

    The EBU just monster-mashed all over the 2015 Contest’s Official Rule 1.1.1, seemingly on a whim, and well after several countries have already selected their entry. No American network will touch a “contest” that changes the rules as it goes.

    I’m not going to take out the sackcloth and ashes over this, and I’m perfectly happy to have one more badly Woganized country making fools of themselves at the Contest.

    It just seems like with every passing year, with each one of these “adjustments”, the EBU makes the Contest a harder and harder sell in the North American market. It’s dang frustrating.

  4. Ben Cook says:

    It’s stupid to complain about something that isn’t going to happen.

  5. Faye says:

    I spoke about this with some of my work colleagues today and I have to say it went down like a lead balloon. I think a lot of people were happy that Australia was recognised for it’s support of ESC last year with the interval act but competing (whether you believe its a 1 off or not) is going a step too far.

    I think 1 of the things that doesn’t settle too well with me is that this has happened in the 60th anniversary year and it feels as if this announcement will overshadow it/was rushed/is a bit of a gimmick. I think they should have done this (if at all) next year for ‘a new beginning’ as i feel anniversary’s are almost for ‘looking back’, I also think diehard ESC fans will understand to some degree the decision to allow them to compete but with the casual viewer (the majority) it may not look as good. Finally I think a few people are wary of what act Australia may put out there seeing as last years interval was less than inspiring. It would probably be best if they just put in a ‘nice’ song, something that will do alright but won’t threaten the win, if they did win after all the publicity I do wonder how the song/country that came 2nd/3rd to it would respond as well!

    The thing is we may look back on this year and not even remember that Aus competed BUT the decision to allow Aus in could have long standing implications for the contest in future years and i think that is what people are most concerned about.

  6. John Egan says:

    Well said Sharleen. Exceedingly well said.

  7. Nicole Sullivan says:

    I’m with Ben and felt compelled to comment so that people reading this don’t feel that Sharleen’s comments are representative of all Australians.

    RELAX! Its a bit of fun, there are bigger things in life to worry about.

    It feels to me that many people in this world are not happy unless they are unhappy!

  8. Sharleen says:

    Absolutely understood Nicole. But as you would have read above, its just my views and also the view of some other big and longtime Eurovision fans that needed to be aired alongside people like yourself.

    As I outlined above, SBS and associated medias have a tendency to overlook some very valid viewpoints and arguments because they don’t fit within the framework of how they want the contest perceived locally.

    Maybe we should take a chill pill, and heck, I certainly will be celebrating this special event when the time comes and enjoying a bevvie or two as our entry airs. However, I am also aware that our little participation could have some more serious repercussions, especially Europes event and future, all for what now seems to be the sake of a few egos and a laugh.

  9. Sharleen says:

    I’ll also agree with Ben – I do honestly believe this will be a once-off. The panic around that in Europe and online is rife. It’s been announced as such, and this is what the EBU reference group have agreed upon. I don’t see that decision being reversed any time soon.

    The only satisfactory reason for it not to be a once-off? If Australia wins. And the rules around that have also been clearly stated by the EBU at the time of the news being released.

    Will Australia win? Who knows! Just like the rest of Europe, we need a decent song and artist to announce first, and then we would actually have to be better than 26 other competing nations on the night to take 1st place. Pointless losing your head over something that is highly likely never to happen.

    But hey, until 36 hours ago I imagine for most people the idea of Australia competing at Eurovision would have been in that same basket of crazy.

  10. Angelito says:

    I love love the idea of Australia competing for the one year, if only to have the opportunity to vote in the world’s biggest song contest.

    I do share your concerns Sharleen about the reception our entrant and delegation will have in Vienna, both from fans and other entrants. Will we be welcomed with open arms? Or will we be shunned? It does seem like many Europeans detest the presence of Australia and if we ended up receiving a negative reception I would be devastated.

    However, a positive from the perspective of an Aussie fan will be how the voting pans out, both from Europe and from Australia. Even though diaspora blocs have tended to vote strongly (I recall one year where Croatia won the vote even though it wasn’t anywhere near the top of the table in ESC), last year’s Eurovision showed that we vote quite similarly to Europe (with Austria, Sweden and Netherlands receiving top marks). I remember the last Slovakian entry in Baku actually topped our leaderboard, even though they finished last! So perhaps we also like to give the underdog a fair go?

    I for one am going to embrace our participation … and greatly hope for a strong song. I’d love if one of our great contemporary bands (The Temper Trap/Tame Impala/Wolfmother) were to represent but I think those are high hopes.

  11. Eric Graf says:

    “And the rules around that have also been clearly stated by the EBU at the time of the news being released.”

    The rules were also “clearly stated” on Monday … and they threw those out the window.

    Therein lies the rub. This little shenanigan proves that the rules only apply until the EBU reference group decides they don’t. That’s a mighty strange sort of contest.

    Would you be happy if the EBU reference group suddenly decided to have three semifinals this year instead of two? To move the 2015 venue to, say, Tel Aviv? To limit this year’s songs to 2:45 instead of 3:00? None of these things are any sillier than what they just did.

    A contest with rules that can be unilaterally changed by a committee is a contest without rules. I can’t understand why people *aren’t* panicking. It seems the “don’t panic” argument comes down to “oh they would never dream of doing the exact same thing they just did.”

  12. Arrrooohhh says:

    Hi Eric.

    I am a big Eurovision fan from Australia I have very mixed feelings about the news this week.

    You have mentioned several times about changing the rules at random.

    I am sure this weeks announcement was not just suddenly cooked up in the last few days – discussions about this must of been in place for months. It’s announcement has obviously been timed to draw attention to the fact this is the 60th contest. It’s only us hardcore fans who take notice of annoucements regarding which countries will participate and if it was annouced Australia was participating over the new year period then the maximum impact would of been lost. Now it is national final season and many countries broadcasting selection shows.

    You mention about how American television networks would not touch the show because of changing rules. However Eurovision is not a game show so changing rules is not going to apply in the same way. In a game show a member of the general public hopes to win a prize. Eurovision is more like a reality show and we all know that these formats are changed over the years.

    Also why would American television be worried about the rules of a contest they are not taking part in? As an outside observer watching the outcome one is not going to be personally affected by another continents contest. In Australia we watch American Idol and don’t buy into any “controversies” that might arise.

    I have always thought (and I am sure my thoughts are shared by others) that Americans are not interested in watching a European competition that they are not taking part in. Australia is quite well aware of the rest of the world, and Europe is a source of fascination to Australia, we have large populations of Greek, Italian, Maltese, Irish, British etc, that have only been in Australia for decades, hence Eurovision has an audience here.

    I would love to know where you are coming from because I am sure there is something you can tell us we have never thought of before.

  13. Eric Graf says:

    “However Eurovision is not a game show so changing rules is not going to apply in the same way.”

    America doesn’t make a distinction between contests and game shows. And absolutely no one would buy the argument that Eurovision is in any way a reality show. The obvious equivalent would be a show like American Idol – which, by the way, scrupulously follows the American rules, and STILL gets embroiled in voting scandals. I think one difference between here and Europe is that, under the Communications Act of 1934 (1960 amendments), the *broadcaster* can get in trouble for airing an unfair competition. Remember, we don’t have a state-run network of any kind. Any broadcast of the Contest would be on a private station that has to abide by the Act.

    The Australia thing wouldn’t violate the Communications Act, but it does indicate that the EBU is willing to bend the rules in the name of ratings. That in itself is the problem. In the industry we call it the “chilling effect” – where broadcasters will avoid airing something just to avoid any *possibility* of violating a law.

    “I have always thought (and I am sure my thoughts are shared by others) that Americans are not interested in watching a European competition that they are not taking part in.”

    Well, that’s been the attitude of the American media as well, and I doubt the Contest would ever go truly mainstream here, but that’s just one factor keeping it out of the public eye. A second is that what little coverage we do get of the Contest tends to be “Woganized” just as badly as the BBC’s coverage (such as snarky reporting of Conchita Wurst’s win, showing photos of the funny lady with the beard without actually showing any of the performance). A third would be music clearances, which can get crazy under American copyright laws. This Australia thing just adds a fourth wrinkle.

    Most of the Americans I know of who have actually seen a Contest have loved it to pieces. The Contest is building an American following via the internet (and we have plenty of Europeans here too, thank you very much, including several former ESC contestants), and at some point it will hopefully reach a critical mass so that some network somewhere will pick it up for broadcast. Just one or two Eurovision songs crossing over to the American charts would probably do it, and that’s bound to happen eventually. But this Australia thing – big issue. It makes the Contest seem “unreliable”, and would have to factor into how it is presented to an American audience.

    TL;DR: To the average American, changing the rules of any Contest midstream is not OK, even if the organizers all agreed to it. And there are also legal issues involved. In this case it may not be a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely a deal-complication, with a Contest that’s complicated enough already.

    Here’s the background info, if you’re interested:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiz_show_scandals

  14. […] But there’s been a fair bit of debate in a slow news week (since Tony Abbott survived his leadership challenge). Coming so soon after the budget cuts to SBS and ABC, how much is it going to cost for Australia to take part? What if Australia actually wins and has to pay for the following year’s competition? (which would have to be held in Europe in any case). Is it making a mockery of the European identity of the show?  Here’s one writer who’s not in favour… […]

  15. […] 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 […]

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