Welcome to March 2021. The two weeks leading up to the Heads of Delegation meeting, where all the songs for that year’s Eurovision Song Contest must be submitted, have traditionally seen a significant number of songs released. 2021 though has more songs to be released than previous years. As I write this, some 27 songs will need to be published by March 15th.
Why would you release a Eurovision songs late in the season? What are the competitive advantages and disadvantages of a release close to the submission deadline? And why are there more delegations taking this approach in 2021?
When Your National Final Is Late
While the dates of some National Finals can change from year to year, others are pretty much set in stone. The obvious example is Melodifestivalen, which has held a Grand Final just days before the submission deadline so often it feels like an eternal tradition.
The ‘One-Shot’ National Finals are a little more flexible in terms of fitting them into a broadcaster’s schedule, but that’s not the only concern around timing. Each broadcaster will be dealing with various blocks of programming for multiple reasons, including studio resources, staffing, budgets, and negotiating artist availability as far in advance as possible, all of which have a bearing.
While the National Finals are going to be part of March’s musical madness, I’m going to put them aside because there are structural reasons for these songs arriving when they do. I’m more interested where delegations alone have control over the release date. Why are the releases coming in later than normal?
Gaining A Competitive Edge
Let’s look at the release date as one of the biggest moves you can make in the competitive side of the Eurovision Song Contest. Let’s also assume that you’re looking to maximise the value of this move; an approach which essentially means you are trying to be noticed as a favourite. Getting pole position in the social media chatter, topping the betting odds, and racking up the views on YouTube, can all translate to a better result in the Song Contest.
I’ve gone into more detail on this previously, but the bottom line is this. The songs that are seen as the favourites are going to get better placings in the running order; there will be more attention in the Eurovision community; and they are going to get more notice from the mainstream media who are only looking for two or three songs to showcase as the Song Contest approaches.
One of the easiest ways to get the favourite status is the basic power play – think of the sudden appearance of a racing driver on the last corner and smashing the throttle to jump into the lead. Just as the community is looking over the field in the last week before the deadline and wondering ‘where is the winner?’, one song appears to answer that question and take a decisive lead in the polls.
With the Semi Final running order decisions taken mid- to late-March, the massive levels of momentum from the late release is incredibly powerful. Just ask Duncan Laurence the importance of a late reveal and the powerful anointment of ‘that’s it, that’s the one.’ Only 30 percent of responders to Ellie Chalkley’s ‘Have You Heard It’ Twitter polls think they have heard this year’s winning song. That compares to 35 percent at this point in 2020, and 47 percent in 2019.
Going for the late release has its dangers. Other delegations will be thinking of the same strategy. If the release is just a little bit off, you are going to be swamped by another song that gets more things lined up correctly. Both Katerine Duska’s ‘Better Love‘ and Tamata’s ‘Replay‘ were released the day before ‘Arcade‘, and were immediately replaced in the community not just but the eventual winner but also by the community powerhouse of Serhat and the hugely successful Luca Hani.
And late-running National Finals and Internal Selection releases all have to take account of something else. What if there’s a runaway favourite that appears earlier in the season?
While the conventional media strategy is to release close to the key event, going long with an early confirmation of the song can build up a head of steam. This is especially true of the January and early February National Finals. The classic example here would be ‘Only Teardrops’. Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was held on the 26th January that year, and once Emmelie de Forest took the victory with over fifty percent of the televote, it was installed as the early ‘favourite’.
With every song released, the answer to the question of ‘Is this better than ‘Only Teardrops’?’ was no. Come mid-May, the favourite that was called in January had the lead.
On balance, I would be looking to release later in the year. It’s far easy to play catch-up than it is to keep leading from the front. Both are possible, but if I can only play one card I want to see what everyone else has, and then drop the digital needle on the record.
It’s Probably Down To Production
With all that said, there’s another area that will be contributing to the March Musical Madness. Making broadcast content is hard, and there are far more spinning plates than most people realise.
Remember that Eurovision Delegations are just one of many productions that our public service broadcasters are undertaking. Every broadcaster has limited resources. Staff are rarely allocated to work one hundred percent on the Song Contest Delegation for the entire year. They will be working in other productions, and for many that means the big shiny-floor shows in the mould of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, ‘Pop Idol’, and whatever ‘Celebrities Take On The Craziest Challenges For Your Vote’ is in vogue this year.
The in-depth planning required for the Contest can’t start until the staff are there. If they are working on other variety shows up until Christmas followed by a short break; you’re looking at early to mid January for a delegation to get up to speed. The extra time offered by a later release is invaluable.
Now take into account the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Resources are stretched even more, every production has to work around the precautions demanded by the virus, and broadcasters are digging deep to keep new shows coming to air. With regards to the Song Contest, the first priority will be to cover the bases and make sure that everything is sorted for the entry. It’s only practical that release dates are going to be pushed back as long as possible.
The Raised Stakes Of 2021
The Eurovision Song Contest has a pretty good handle on the question ‘Can a good song win from anywhere in the running order?’; it can, but it’s a lot easier with a favourable running slot. The answer to the question ‘Can a good song win from anywhere in the calendar’ runs along the same lines. It’s going to be easier if you can arrive at the Heads of Delegation meeting as the odds-on song.
It’s going to be much harder for the late arrivals to cut through this year, but this understandable concentration of March releases does offer one more benefit. Whichever song does cut through will be cutting through a much larger pack of songs, will leave behind more songs, and potentially be a stronger favourite than previous years.
Alright March, let’s see what you’ve got!