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The Eurovision Budget Contest: How SVT Stopped Spending Money Written by on May 28, 2016 | 5 Comments

The budget for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest was unimaginably tight. Despite being held in one of Europe’s most expensive capital cities, 2016’s Song Contest was one of the smallest this century. ESC Insight’s Ben Robertson shows how this was achieved.

From the outset of Måns Zelmerlöw’s victory in Vienna, Swedish broadcaster SVT was determined to host a fantastic, yet cost-effective, Eurovision Song Contest. The concluding budget that SVT landed on was 125 Swedish Kronor (13.5 million Euros), the same budget as Malmö’s hosting in 2013 and less than the 15 million Euros for production costs that ORF had in Vienna.

Even these competitions have far lower in cost than some other recent shows. In 2012 Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea oil hub, utilised Eurovision hosting to bring forward tons of infrastructure spending, making a Eurovision budget of incomprehensible cost compared to Malmö. In 2014, Copenhagen’s conversion of a shipyard into Eurovision Island resulted in spiralling costs and was one factor in the firing of Wonderful Copenhagen’s CEO.

You don’t have to build huge new structures to bring a competition like the Eurovision Song Contest to your city. Vienna used its pre-existing Wiener Stadthalle which scrubbed up well for a building built in the 1950s, and Malmö’s hosting was achieved within existing structures. Those budgets did not break any banks or put any careers at risk. In short if you have the suitable infrastructure to host Eurovision a broadcaster should not have any major headaches. Baku and Copenhagen didn’t.

Stockholm Squeezes The Budget

What in particular impresses me was the difference between Stockholm and Malmö. Malmö’s stage did not offer the now essential LED floor and backdrop, choosing instead for a back projection effect which didn’t quite offer the same strength of colour. The Stockholm stage produced gorgeous effects and the level of detail this year was impressive, regardless of budget. During production, the team even scaled the top of Globen to install cables for the drop-down cameras you see start each song off, and walls were cut into to install extra lights. The end result was a far brighter and far more technically advanced than SVT’s previous engagements in the Globen, despite no increase in budget.

Where did SVT find those efficiency savings? At the EBU/SVT Meet and Greet, I asked this question to the Executive Producer for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Martin Österdahl, reprising his role from 2013.

Actually we have a slightly smaller budget than we had in Malmö. This is not easy to compare each Eurovision, but we believe it is the lowest budget since the early 2000’s.

We are very fortunate here in Sweden with the setup we already have. We have ice hockey sided arenas which are ideal for this type of TV production, so we have a large variety of arenas we can choose from which puts us in a good position. We have of course the National Selection of Melodifestivalen, and six shows in different arenas all winter. We are a very tight team, and have worked on this for a long time.

Lurking in the answer are the elements that allowed SVT able to shave off a couple of extra million Euros from the production budget.

Healthy Competition To Host

Remember that Sweden is a land where Eurovision is a big deal. In terms of National Finals nothing beats Melodifestivalen, with the capacity at Friends Arena three times higher than any other venue used in Europe this season. That six week tour of heats around Sweden creates a buzz that spreads across the entire country, and cities use that chance to show off to host a big party. When Måns won the Song Contest there were already a group of prospective host cities ready with impressive bids, knowing that the Eurovision brand would be positive to them.

What this meant was that deciding on the Eurovision host city created a big competition between different cities. It wasn’t like Denmark, where all of the Eurovision hosting options had problems attached like lack of hotel rooms, suitable arenas, or transport links. In terms of arenas, even the smaller cities had already worked out their logistics to make it happen.

The fact is in Sweden that with many cities hosting a hockey arena of around 10,000 people, there were plenty of options for SVT. With plenty of options comes competition and with lots of competition prices can tumble. Stockholm City has spent a considerable chunk of its annual spend on infrastructure and improvements to Globen itself in order to win the bid. Couple to that the beauty of Globen as one big complex of four different venues easy to convert into Eurovision Press Centres, artist areas and big screen Grand Final celebrations, the process shows how easy it can be to make it cost-effective without the need for extra resources.

Being A Tight Team

SVT’s Melodifestivalen isn’t just a National Final, it’s the biggest show that broadcasts in Sweden almost every year. It is a production that employs people for every months of the year and has a body of staff dedicated to the Song Contest.

That’s unique for most broadcasters. In 2015 Austrian broadcaster ORF had just won the Contest with an internal selected song, and didn’t have a dedicated team. The people who would run Eurovision for Austria would be new to the system and would have to be lured from other projects. I can imagine within SVT there would a glut of such executives with experience of the big TV show, ready to step into battle.

It means as well that there are benefits to making the show work, with contacts already made with technical teams and the nitty-gritty of show production. The Swedes make huge Eurovision shows, make great music, and have some of the most experienced technical teams. Ola Melzig was running Production Management this year for the Contest, and has been in charge of the vast majority of Contests this century. He’s therefore a reliable man to have on board, and the Stockholm resident certainly knew how to make things done here as effectively as possible.

With a competition of this scale being in Sweden, most of the resource finding was far easier from a team who know what to do and who to speak to. It’s little surprise that the economies of scale from hosting a show like Melodifestivalen filter down to Eurovision.

Melodifestivalen As The Training Ground

Melodifestivalen may not be as bright and spectacular as Eurovision but it certainly is a good approximation. Some comprimises have to be made on the six week tour, where the flat-pack stage needs to be installed within days, not weeks. This though doesn’t make the drama of the show any less, with Melodifestivalen full of projection effects, incredible staging designs and the whole collection of pyro.

It means as well that some of the concepts from Melodifestivalen can be tried with a local audience before moving to the bigger Song Contest. For example the opening act for the Contest this year, as well as in 2013, was the returning Eurovision winner performing with a children’s choir. This is exactly the same move that was made in the final of Melodifestivalen.

If you are producing acts for what is already a big show, why not recycle them for the audience outside of Swedenand just add one or two extra moments of wow for the home audience? Melodifestivalen’s size and scale means that the acts made for that are already Eurovision-ready in ways no other country will produce.

Innovation Is The Key To The Budget

Without a doubt, SVT have been at the forefront of Eurovision adaptations in recent years, with the Stockholm edition highlighting arguably the biggest voting change in Eurovision history. Malmö brought in changes like standing zones and parades of artists. Even the style of production we saw in 2000, the last time Eurovision was in Globen, was one that pushed the boundaries for making the live arena atmosphere come alive on TV.

Other countries hosting Eurovision are generally just trying to survive the organisational headaches.  No other country grasps Eurovision with two hands and wants to transform it to Sweden’s extent.

Some of the changes Christer Björkman, Martin Österdahl and SVT have pushed for have not been approved by the central powers of the EBU, such as allowing more people on stage and moving the start time earlier. But the fact there this problem-solving approach is taken to Eurovision means it is little surprise they will make efficiency savings on the back end. I’m confident viewers will be shocked to hear this is a cheaper Contest than many before. That’s not a saving from just the lack of fresh fruit in the Press Centre either, which I don’t think is sorely missed.

Every kronor that could be spent on the stage has been, and the result was a technically slick and beautiful show. SVT impressed the general population of Europe with their entertainment spectacular. The value-for-money aspect will also impress our Ukrainian broadcaster NTU desperate to make ends meet, but also daunt them in the challenges to keep it to SVT’s small margins and still make it fabulous.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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5 responses to “The Eurovision Budget Contest: How SVT Stopped Spending Money”

  1. Robyn Gallagher says:

    This nicely crushes the “My Lovely Horse” notion that certain countries enter deliberately bad songs because they can’t afford to host it if they win! Yeah, not all cities would have it as easy as Stockholm, but unless you do a Baku and build a brand new arena, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be affordable in the long term.

  2. Ewan Spence says:

    …and that’s without going into the fact that broadcasters hosting ESC have an opportunity to upgrade Outside Broadcast equipment and other bits of tech to ‘host Eurovision’ and have those costs written off or absorbed in a ‘special events’ budget at the end of the financial year. RTE managed to buy a lot of shiny trucks and equipment in the nineties!

  3. Catgalliz says:

    Yes, RTE managed to buy quite a lot of equipment because of hosting duties; in fact, way back in 1971 the Irish broadcasting company was forced to upgrade to colour for ESC……their very first colour show was Eurovision from the small Gaiety theatre. This ‘innovation’ (common in other countries, but remember these are even pre-EU days for Ireland and it was a very isolated, quite insular country back then) more than paid for itself during the heady 70s.

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