The Junior Eurovision Song Contest a few years ago seemed in jeopardy. I left my first Contest I attended in 2012 unsure if there would even be a 2013 edition. That 2013 edition for the second year running scraped together twelve countries (the minimum to keep our iconic voting system) which competed in the shadow of the protests and riots that dominated Kyiv.
The Junior Eurovision of today has recovered and at first glance with a clean bill of health. Not only from the record number, but from a variety of countries and cultures spreading out eastwards, westwards and southwards from Minsk’s central point on the European landmass. From the abyss Junior Eurovision seems now cosy and warm, ready to shelter everybody from those impeding November winds travelling westwards across the Eurasian plains.
The question I am asking though is why is it cosy now? What has changed that led to make this edition of Junior Eurovision the most popular one ever? I couldn’t really put my finger on one reason, so here is a list of ten different ideas floating around my head.
The Junior Eurovision of 2014 was the start of the long revival for the competition. Malta was a willing and eager host country and the number of participants grew to 16. Executive Supervisor at the time, Vladislav Yakovlev, ensured fees to the European Broadcasting Union could be reduced for struggling broadcasters.
The impact was that it allowed countries to try out the competition that may never have taken the plunge otherwise. There were three debutants in 2014, including eventual winners Italy who have been ever present since. You may suggest that cost might not impact a nation as big as Italy, but remember for many larger nations Junior Eurovision is placed on dedicated children’s channels without big bucks to spend on cross-country Contests.
There’s another way that pure money may be a factor as well.
Broadcasters Bouncing Back Economically
One correlation that I find interesting at least is in this graph below. Here I have plotted a crazy graph with some crazy data points. The x values are GDP output for the Eurozone (as percentage growth) and the y values are the number of entrants in Junior Eurovision.
Now the Eurozone is definitely not the Eurovision zone but it the best data set easily available. I’m staggered that the correlation figure is +0.5843 which shows a moderate positive relationship. Further statistical tests means I can be 95% confident that there is a correlation between the economy of Europe and the number of countries in Junior Eurovision.
The slump in 2012 could be seen as being correlated to the deep cuts made by national broadcasters after the 2008 global financial crisis. And, right now, in a pre-Brexit calm before the storm, broadcasters are stable enough to be looking outwards for new projects rather than preserving what they already have.
There are plenty of countries that have been looking out for new ventures too.
Forcing Into Europe’s Human Geography
Junior Eurovision’s growth has been somewhat fuelled by nations beyond traditional continental borders. First came Australia which first showed up to the circus in 2015 and have been stalwarts since. I would assume as long as their participation in the ’adult’ Eurovision Song Contest is decided on a year-by-year basis there is no danger of Australia leaving out Junior any time soon.
Kazakhstan’s debut is fascinating geopolitically. As football fans or language nerds will know, Kazakhstan’s political leadership use plenty of opportunities to culturally tie the country further to Europe. The mineral wealth will not last for an eternity. Eurovision fans make a not daft connection that successful entry here could be considered a trial for Tel Aviv or another future Song Contest debut.
Wales, allowed to enter as a regional broadcaster without the United Kingdom taking part, has like Kazakhstan taking advantage of the chance to showcase itself on the big stage. The move might not have the huge political will of the Kazakh debut, but Wales loves any chance to promote itself as a proud singing nation.
There’s another reason why Wales and other regional broadcasters may look glowingly on Junior Eurovision.
Do You Understand Me?
A quirk to the Junior Eurovision rulebook is the requirement for the majority of the song to be performed in a native language to your country.
For Wales and broadcaster S4C, Welsh would undoubtedly be the only option, but in Junior Eurovision it feels like a more level playing field. It’s celebrated to sing in your native tounge, and everyone is doing it.
Ireland set the ship on course for the Celtic languages debuting in 2015. However I can also imagine it being advantageous to countries like Portugal and Albania – countries with far less English language in their Eurovision culture – to feel this is a welcoming show for them.
Portugal’s entry in 2017 came after ten years in the dark. I wonder what convinced them to return?
You Win It You Host It
Of course, Portugal’s appearence in Junior Eurovision 2017 came apparent after Salvador Sobral won the Song Contest in Kyiv a few months prior. I anticipate a scenario when after the EBU came to visit the team in Lisbon for the first time, the EBU approached the Portuguese team and recommended they entered Junior Eurovision as well.
Hosting Eurovision is serious business. Why not get some first hand experience of a slightly smaller gig and see how it all works from a different perspective? Heads of Delegation are unlikely to think about the show logistics as in-depth until they realise all the skills on show will need to be delivered by their team in the very near future.
The same story is true for Israel, a late entrant to Minsk’s party after winning Eurovision with ’Toy’ in Lisbon. Watch out for any Israeli delegation members going cross-eyed looking both in-front and behind the stage.
The extra part to this story is…who invited them?
He’s The Head of Live What?
For years the head honcho of all things Eurovision was the Executive Supervisor. Since January 1st 2011 the main Eurovision Song Contest has had Jon Ola Sand from Norway in this role.
However his title today goes by the more intriguing and overarching Head of Live Events, meaning he oversees all five EBU events within the Eurovision Family (the others are Young Dancers, Young Musicians and Choir of the Year if you were scratching your head).
One can’t underestimate the influence of a central co-ordinator more easily convincing other members to join his other parties throughout the year. Previously while I have attended press conferences at the Eurovision Song Contest by the Junior Eurovision team where all the staff presenting were completely separate from the other show. Making it part of the same family moves your feelings to “why am I not doing this as well?” instead of “what is this other, extra thing?”.
Especially true when the hosting is in stable hands.
Welcome To My Belarus
The idea of describing Belarus as stable may surprise many, but in Junior Eurovision terms it is a very rational phrase. The two times winners have also hosted once successfully in 2010 in the very same Minsk Arena.
Belarus is also very experienced in terms of the personnel managing this year’s Junior competition. Olga Salamakha has been responsible for the Belarussian delegation for many years and has been a core part of Junior Eurovision’s Steering Group during that period as well.
Plus with Belarus, there’s a reputation desire politically to showcase great event management in the country. Next year the country hosts the 2nd ever European Games in many brand new stadia across the city. A good Junior Eurovision hosting will be a springboard to the potential PR gains the national government will see in hosting such major events.
Changing The Time
One of Jon Ola Sand’s first changes to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest was to move the start time from primetime Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. This was a change requested by the broadcasters, we understood, and meant Junior Eurovision was no longer competing for primetime slots against programming often programmed for many weeks or months at a time.
However another benefit was that Junior Eurovision is now in a timeslot far more applicable to Eastern Europe and beyond, which usually would need to tune in post-midnight local time for a show where all the stars’ friends should be sound asleep. It is a 16:00 start time CET, which will be 18:00 in Minsk itself. It even is a late but doable 21:00 in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
Maximising the number of countries that can have the target audience tune in live is another key factor to getting countries taking part. Kazakhstan might have said yes even starting at four in the morning, but I’m sure the time slot is one factor that suits Azerbaijan’s return as well.
These are factors that help to make Junior Eurovision more child friendly.
A Cultural Shift in Working With Children
One other consideration is that Junior Eurovision means working with children and making them perform on a big stage infront of an audience of thousand in the arena and millions at home. Scary stuff. I have felt the cultures about this have shifted slightly over the last decade and cultures, especially western ones, are are increasingly more comfortable with kids performing on television.
Taking the UK as an example, where the commercial successes of brands like The Voice Kids, Britain’s Got Talent and even the X Factor (14 year olds have been allowed to take part in previous series) have put children stage centre. Those children are seen to excel not just for their age level but for just having bucketloads of talent.
The normalising of kids on TV, and even more specifically kids singing on TV, has changed conceptions about Junior Eurovision. Some broadcasters have concerns still, most notably Denmark and Norway despite running large national contests. However overall the trend is now far more positive.
It It Also The Community
I will be in Minsk covering Junior Eurovision this year.
However it is not the only reason. Junior Eurovision will be full of people I know and love – friends in the press room and delegations and new friends I’ll meet along the way. Part of my fun will be working in the Press Centre and part of it will be in the hotel bar afterwards catching up with long lost friends.
Why wouldn’t that be the same for the delegations themselves? Maybe they just all want a little bit more Eurovision in their life. Junior Eurovision is one awesome antidote to the November blues as you enter this little lovely community. It can’t just be us press people that feel that, can it?
Well there you go, my ten reasons why I think Junior Eurovision has got a record number of entrants this year. What do you think? Just why is Junior Eurovision so strong that this year is the biggest edition ever?