Unsurprisingly, last week saw a lot of discussion in Sofia around The Junior Eurovision Song Contest and the future of the thirteen year-old Contest. It has had a turbulent life so far, passing through the care of three different Executive Supervisors, facing predictions of its own demise every twelve months, and struggling to find a unique identify that would allow it to stand alongside – not behind – the older Adult Contest.
From my viewpoint, as it enters its teenage years, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest has decided what it needs to do to be successful.
Tell Us What Happens Next
The key to the success of the event is predictability. While this might seem an anathema to a competitive event such as the various EBU Contests, it’s not about starting the show with knowledge of who is going to be singing as the end credits roll, it’s about knowing that the end product – the show – will meet certain expectations, certain quality levels, and will be ‘as advertised’.
Almost every EBU broadcaster loves a variety show, and musical acts are (mostly) universal. It’s one reason why Eurovision as a brand has embedded itself in the public conscious. Unlike the Contest in May, Junior Eurovision has an additional cultural barrier to overcome, and that’s the age of the performers. The age difference between Sweden’s Sanna Nielsen and Norways’ Carl Espen in Eurovision 2014 is broadly similar to the age gap between Armenia’s Mika and Australia’s Bella Paige at this year’s Junior Eurovision. The former is rarely a problem in terms of presentation, but the latter will see many EBU members pause for thought.
This is one area where Junior Eurovision is far less predictable. Over its thirteen years, broadcasters signing up to show the Contest have had to do so before all of the songs are selected, They have no idea which target audience Junior Eurovision will be addressing. They also have had to trust that the style of the full televised package will be suitable for their home audience. As with any Eurovision show, the style and presentation is very heavily influenced by the host broadcaster. Couple that with the cultural issues around young performers and you have an artistic gamble.
What Sort Of Show Are We Signing Up To?
Not any more. The last few years has seen the Contest find a stability in terms of presentation, and both the voting public and the juries have offered us three Western-based winners over the last three years. I’d happily point out that ‘Nebo‘ is heavily western influenced, even if Anastasiya Petryk was just ten years old when she won in the Netherlands, making it four from four in terms of ‘Western’ songs and presentations picking up the various trophies.
If you’ve ever wondered how much of a stamp an Executive Supervisor can have over the whole Contest, then you should take note. The changes to Junior Eurovision made by Vladislav Yakovlev have not only kept the Contest alive but given it a positive vision that will serve it well for many years.
In its formative years the Junior Eurovision Song Contest saw itself dominated by broadcasters in Eastern Europe. Culturally they were more comfortable with putting the focus on the younger performers with kiddie songs such as ‘Vesenniy Jazz‘ from The Tolmachevy Sisters (aged nine) and ‘Bzz…‘ from Bzikebi (all aged ten), songs and performances that Western broadcasters would feel uncomfortable airing in prime time.
That’s no longer the case, as Junior Eurovision is pulling Westwards in culture to be able to satisfy the needs of a wider selection of EBU members.
The Power Of The Vlad
There was little opportunity to change the fabric of Junior Eurovision for the 2013 Contest in Kiev. The real victory for the EBU was actually running the Contest in the first place, finding enough broadcasters willing to carry the show, and getting the mammoth production to the finish line.
Rather appropriately, the winning song in 2013 was ‘The Start‘, and the subsequent Maltese production in 2014 saw a refreshed style and grandeur brought to the Junior Eurovision stage in terms of television production. Bulgaria followed that style this year, and (assuming Malta is as hungry as they appeared to be in Sofia) we’ll be back in Valetta in November 2016 for the third production in this style in as many years. It’s at that point that ‘this is how we do things’ becomes embedded in an institution such as Junior Eurovision. A Maltese presentation in 2016 should seal the deal on Junior Eurovision’s house style for the rest of the decade and beyond.
The last few years have also seen Yakovlev able to push forward the idea that Junior Eurovision should be targeting a teenage audience in the 13-15 year old market. The thinking being that younger children will be happy to ‘look up’ to a slightly more mature program, while teenagers would be less inclined to follow a show targeted at the 10-12 year old market which (with hindsight) was Ukraine’s target with Junior Eurovision 2013. That teen audience targeting is one that Western broadcasters will be broadly more comfortable with, while Eastern broadcasters have shown they can happily adapt to that requirement (as witnessed by songs such as ‘Volshebstvo‘, ‘Prva Ljubezen‘, and ‘Dambaje‘).
2016 will be a critical time for The Junior Eurovision Song Contest. It has to build on the success of the last few years in terms of production quality, it has to continue to grow its fan base and arguably reach out to more fans from the adult Contest, it has to retain the broadcasters who enter the Contest, and bring in new broadcasters to both air the show Contest and ultimately have them enter Junior Eurovision.
Sofia 2015 has a good balance in songs between the younger and older performers, and even though ‘Love‘ by Armenia’s Mika was a ‘younger’ song it’s not ‘kiddie’ in the way of a ‘Candy Music‘ or ‘Double Trouble‘. The Contest has moved out of the small studio setting and into the visual spectacle of the musical arena to create a sumptuous looking show. And it has a clear vision on who it is aiming the show at.
Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating…
All of these make the Executive Supervisor’s role in growing the Contest just that little bit easier. And Destiny’s victory may yet hand him the biggest leverage yet. Assuming that Malta does pick up the hosting duties of the fourteenth Contest next year, there should be no question from any EBU broadcaster about how the show will be organised, what format it will take, or how it will look on screen to the audiences back home. Uncle Vlad just hands them the 2014 video and says “it will be just like this”.
The 2016 Eurovision Song Contest will be many things. It will have some great songs, it will have exciting voting, it will have an impressive production, and it will deliver a show that everyone can be proud of. Television Executives like their live events to be predictable. Junior Eurovision has grown up, and it has matured to the point where it can demonstrably meet all of those goals.