May 14 2016, and Jamala wins the Eurovision Song Contest for Ukraine. National Broadcaster NTU knows that the Eurovision Song Contest circus will arrive on Sunday April 30th for rehearsals (and the stage crew need to start building up the venue around April 17th). That doesn’t leave a lot of time to plan for a major international event.
While circumstances mean that it has always been a race run successfully by other host countries, is there a better way?
Why Does It Take So Long?
We know that Sweden – the model of musical and organisational efficiency – sorted out its Eurovision Song Contest hosting in Malmö and Stockholm with ridiculous speed. Stepping away from a country that organises six of these events each year through Melodifestivalen and you’ll see that waiting until the fourth calendar quarter to confirm all of the details is not unusual. In 2014 Denmark took till September to confirm Copenhagen, Germany 2011 took till October to announce Dusseldorf as the selected location. And even though everyone knew that Baku would host in 2012, Azerbaijan held off until January before making it official (although the Crystal Arena construction had broken ground in late August).
It’s not as simple as going ‘City… Stadium… Announce…’ The logistics behind the Eurovision Song Contest makes it one of the most stressful experiences for an event organiser. Even though the Reference Group is on hand with the experience of overseeing previous Contests, each Eurovision edition is a unique proposition.
When the credits start rolling in May the clock starts ticking and the new host broadcaster is up against a ridiculous schedule.
Assessing the necessary details to meet the EBU documentation expectations, securing the required finances, allowing for the proper investigation and inspection of venues all takes time, particularly when many venues are not regularly utilised in the way that Eurovision requires. Every year is a hard and fast education process. And unless it’s a case of fait accompli for a Song Contest winner (and it never is), few countries will have this information easily to hand once the EBU come calling the day after winning.
As we’ve seen this year with Ukraine, the interlocking pieces of the hosting puzzle take time to sort out. The bids from all the potential hosting cities across Ukraine had their own differing weaknesses; from passenger capacity at airports to physical accommodation, availability of venues and issues relating to ensuring safety of attendees. Although the final selection of Kyiv seems ‘obvious’ to those outside of the process, this was not a rubber stamping selection process. Not one bid was perfect, but NTU has chosen the bid that it believes makes the most sense
I’ve no doubt that with time the issues contained in every bid could be addressed but time is a resource the eleven month turnaround to the next Contest does not offer.
Perhaps it should.
Tradition Must Be Seen To Be Maintained
But first, a vital detour.
The modern Eurovision Song Contest has a number of touchstones that many consider sacrosanct – the Winner’s duty to host the next Song Contest is one of them. But these signatures should never be left alone just because things have always been done that way.
Since its introduction in 1975, the awarding of douze points as the top score has been one of the most vocally identifiable moments of the Song Contest. To the casual viewer that tradition carried on in Stockholm 2016, but a closer examination shows that each country could award a top score of twenty-four points – twelve from the public vote and twelve from the jury. Because the public votes were amalgamated by the country receiving the points, only the douze from the juries were read out. Tradition was maintained, but a new scoring presentation system (and the effective doubling of the final score) was achieved.
The Eurovision Song Contest can honour tradition and move with the times, and it is with that attitude that the matter of hosting should be discussed.
What’s Another Year?
Other major televised events on the calendar such as the Olympics and World Cup take years to decide on host cities. There is a thorough bidding process, and the winners are given a number of years to actually put those proposals into actual place. Don’t have a roof on your stadium? You’ve got eight years to secure the funding and complete construction to required standards.
Eurovision is not afforded such a luxury. Unless you are a modern city with everything already in place in terms of infrastructure, of course this will be a struggle. With the requirement of a covered venue that has a minimum capacity of 10,000 people, access to modern media facilities for 1500 journalists, some 4,000 available beds for delegations and visiting fans, an international airport with the excess capacity to accommodate the circus… These requirements alone effectively rule out a large swathe of cities and countries, and that’s even before you start talking finances and broadcast quality expectations.
So what do you do? Do you only allow countries that can meet those specifications at the time of performance to enter? Goodbye most of Southern and Eastern Europe. Do you go to a pure bidding process? What would be the incentive to enter your country in such a Contest then?
As we’ve already established, the principle of having the winning country host the Contest should be retained. It offers a tangible target for every host broadcaster, it creates a sense of earned victory, and the benefits to a hosting country can outweigh any (reasonable) cost of putting up with Eurovision.
When you take an honest look at the Contest, those that will benefit most from the potential tourist numbers and exposure Eurovision offers are those smaller countries and cities – ones who will never be in a position to host the Olympics for instance, or gain the same level of positive media attention that a Eurovision win brings.
That’s why Kyiv and Odessa were continuing to push themselves as the ‘obvious’ choice to host the 2017 Song Contest. The city would be promoted around the world, the victor would become associated with music and competition and togetherness. As Malmö has shown, Eurovision can be used to reinvigorate a town and rebrand it as fresh and musically exciting, no matter the past history. The Contest brings a level of tourism-based PR that cannot be bought.
To be fair, Ukraine as a whole will benefit from the marketing push, but much like the potential for revitalising a city that hosts the Olympics, the opportunity to accelerate infrastructure projects, civic constructions, and better transport links can be pushed through if the Contest is going to be coming.
The issue is not the cost, or the hunger. The issue is time. As the Song Contest evolves into a marquee event, as it takes up more time in the host city than three hours on Saturday, as the live shows increase in complexity, something has to give.
It’s time for a winning country to be given an extra year before hosting the Eurovision Song Contest.
Then You Gotta Slow It Down
If this idea was in place for the 62nd Contest, whoever wins in 2017 would pick up the traditional hosting rights, but for 2019. That offers the organising team an extra twelve months to organise the Song Contest. That leaves more time for bids to be put together, for infrastructure to be put in place, for venues to be found, for arrangements to be made, for construction to begin, for stage designs to be considered. In fact all of the stuff that is done now would still be done, but under a sense of haste rather than a sense of panic.
The question of hosting in the first (and only) gap year is more a diplomatic problem – either a Contest needs to go out to tender, or the EBU comes to an arrangement with a suitable host broadcaster. I suspect that one solution to this already exists. Assuming that there were plans on the shelf in case of an Australian victory, these could be dusted off and given the nod to host the 2018 Contest… and given the nod now so it has more than year to get ready.
Yes there will be issues in the TV presentation, the winning song from two years ago would be the lead in, and it might look a touch awkward, but like the change in voting, the move to public votes, or even the removal of the orchestra, the Song Contest can adapt. But giving an extra year to sort out hosting maintains a Song Contest tradition, it acknowledges a multitude of practical concerns both for the host city and the delegations. Each Eurovision would be able to announce the next host city with one hundred percent certainty, there would be no tentative dates and scheduling around other major events would be easier. Whenever you have certainty over a longer period, budgets can be reduced for travel and accommodation, and the commercial team would have the ability to sell multi-year sponsor deals with far more confidence.
Would the mainstream audience at home notice the twelve month delay? Yes, the Eurovision community has an intimate knowledge of the location and venue, but when one of the most popular questions in April is “where is it this year anyway?”, I think that the viewing public are smart enough to realise the need for organising such a mammoth event.
Organising the hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest is not something that is on detailed view to the Eurovision community. NTU’s lengthy public discussions on hosting the 2017 Song Contest might have looked chaotic and never-ending, but tit shone a light on an issue rarely explored. There’s no doubt that one year is just enough time to organise a Contest, but could it be a better Contest if you had two years to get everything ready?