It’s only taken sixty-five years, and a number of false starts, but it’s beginning to feel like Americans are just beginning to embrace the Eurovision Song Contest. Through a perfect storm of circumstances, audiences here are just beginning to catch wind of the program that their counterparts across the Atlantic (and, to be honest, the Pacific as well) have been enthralled with for decades.
It hasn’t always been easy. After years of sparse and sporadic coverage, cable channel LOGO took charge of broadcasting the Finals in 2016 through 2018, unfortunately at the expense of American viewers’ access to the Song Contest on YouTube. A series of commentators with an evident lack of knowledge of the Contest, a lack of promotion for the live Grand Final at an awkward time slot, as well as the fact that LOGO was not readily available in all markets resulted in low viewing figures and eventual shelving of the partnership. Unfortunately, the YouTube geoblock has remained in place, which forced American fans (as well as those from other affected nations) to watch the Contest through VPNs or by finding open streams like those provided by Iceland’s RÚV, Sweden’s SVT, or German site Eurovision.de.
We had to do better.
Step 1: Name Recognition
Back in 2018, whispers that actor Will Ferrell had been snooping around Lisbon reached a fever pitch, and it soon came to light that he was doing research and making connections for the film that would eventually become Netflix’s ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’. Reactions to the project ran the gamut from excitement to eye-rolling to abject terror, especially with many fans still sore over LOGO’s failed foray into Eurovision coverage. Would Ferrell and his team treat our Song Contest with the same respect and reverence that so many of us do, or would he turn this thing that we love so dearly into a punchline and punching bag?
As we all know, the eventual resulting movie, while certainly imperfect (Scoreboards during a semifinal? Really?), was much more of a love letter than a roast. I may have involuntarily shrieked with joy as Salvador Sobral appeared as a street busker in Edinburgh, and the “Song-Along” scene nearly made my head explode. We all got a bit emotional when Molly Sandén performed ‘Húsavík’ at the Oscars, and the refrain “play ‘Ja Ja Ding Dong’!” is still ringing in so many of our ears. For the average American Netflix viewer, who was probably hearing the phrase “Eurovision Song Contest” for the first time, it was a peek into the show that so many generations of fans love, and for the devoted fans of the show, it was a relief to know that the Contest wasn’t the joke, but simply the framework for the comedy.
Step 2: Relevance
In the two years since our last Eurovision Song Contest, Duncan Laurence’s ‘Arcade‘ has managed to do something that no other Eurovision song has been able to do since Gina G’s ‘Ooh Aah… Just a Little Bit‘ in 1996: crack the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.
While it might not be as ubiquitous as your average track by Arianna Grande or The Weeknd, the fact that ‘Arcade‘ has made a commercial impact in a country that does not air Eurovision live (and still has live clips geoblocked on YouTube) is astounding. (Tel Aviv 2019 was available for streaming on demand via Netflix after the show, but has not been on the site for over a year, well before the commercial breakthrough of ‘Arcade‘.) The song’s success is more directly linked to its popularity on social media services like TikTok, which has led to a massive bump in streaming. On the heels of that success, Duncan has performed on both “The Today Show” and “Ellen”, and his star appears to continue to rise.
For naysayers of Eurovision and the music that comes from it, the organic generation of a hit song without the context of the Contest just feels like proof positive that great tracks can, and do, come out of the ESC.
Step 3: Access and Promotion
Back in 2019, we got word that a production team that included Eurovision-affiliated notables such as Christer Björkman and Ola Melzig were working on exporting the Eurovision format to the United States. Details at that Tel Aviv press conference were scant at the time, but hopes ran high that an American Song Contest would come to fruition.
Last week, we got word that plans are beginning to coalesce, and that NBC has picked up the rights to the program. The plan is to air a 56-song competition starting in Summer 2022 that will cover all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five US territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). While there are many questions on the format that are unanswered as of this moment, the prospect of an ASC is certainly cause for huge excitement.
Following the confirmation of the NBC development deal came the news that this year’s Eurovision Song Contest (as well as 2022’s event, wherever that may be) will be streamed live and on-demand via Peacock, NBC’s proprietary (and free) video service.
Interestingly, the Peacock stream lacks commentary, which may avoid some of the issues of the LOGO streams of 2016-2018. If someone tunes in and comes to the conclusion that “the songs are not marketable and the voting is all political” on their own, that’s one thing, but if that same person comes in not knowing what to expect, and a commentator frames the show as “look at all of this irrelevant silliness that Europe indulges in”, that could turn potential fans off. (For those of you who are wanting a commentary stream to go along with your viewing, might I recommend the downloadable ones by our very own Ellie Chalkley?)
While I don’t have access to any contracts, it’s a pretty decent bet that these two developments are linked, and that NBC may be hoping that increased awareness of the original article may spill over into further interest in next year’s spin-off. Either way, it’s a boon to American viewers to have a cost-free, high definition option to watch this year’s shows.
And while NBC might not be putting Eurovision billboards up in Times Square, the fact that the livestreams have a place of prominence on the Peacock landing page does say volumes…as does the fact that one of the contestants on The Voice this week, which airs on NBC, sang ‘Arcade’.
Haba Haba, Hujaza Kibaba…
It’s wonderful to see increased awareness of Eurovision in the United States, especially if it allows new viewers to watch the shows without preconceived notions of what the Contest is. If Marcel Bezençon’s ideal was to increase co-operation between broadcasters and understanding between nations, the gradual ramping up of Eurovision into the American market might have been right up his alley, even if the idea of “on demand streaming via the internet” had never crossed his mind.