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Eurovision Chat Over Coffee, with Eurovision Reference Group Chair Bakel Walden Written by on March 11, 2024 | 1 Comment

What is the Eurovision Song Contest’s Reference Group? Ewan Spence sat down with the new chair, Bakel Walden, to find out. Stay on top of the Contest by adding our Eurovision RSS Feed to follow us in your favourite podcast application, or click here to follow us in iTunes and never miss an episode.

The Eurovision Song Contest’s Reference Group guides the Contest, overseeing its development and format, financing, brand awareness, and, of course, the Contest alongside the host broadcaster and the core team at the EBU.

In 2023, Dr Frank-Dieter Freiling retired as Chair after thirteen years, and Bakel Walden was voted to take his place at the head of the Reference Group. With two decades of experience in broadcasting, he is currently the Director of Development and Offering at Swiss EBU Member SSR SRG.

The Reference Group is one of the less visible parts of the management of the Song Contest, but one that has a significant say in the course of our Contest. On a recent trip to Malmö, Ewan Spence sat down with Bakel to talk about the role of the Reference Group, his television career, and how he sees Eurovision evolving over the next few years.

Bakel Walden (l), Ewan Spence (photo: ESC Insight, Ben Robertson)

Bakel Walden (l), Ewan Spence (photo: ESC Insight, Ben Robertson)

Eurovision Chat Over Coffee, with Eurovision Reference Group Chair Bakel Walden

Bakel Walden, Chair of the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group, sits down with Ewan Spence to talk about the role of the Reference Group, his career in Television, his hopes for the Song Contest, and more…

This interview was recorded in late January, 2024.

Discover more about the Eurovision Song Contest ahead of May’s show by listening to the ESC Insight podcasts. You’ll find the show on iTunesGoogle Podcasts, and SpotifyA direct RSS feed is available. We also have a regular email newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (

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One response to “Eurovision Chat Over Coffee, with Eurovision Reference Group Chair Bakel Walden”

  1. Wonderful piece Ewan. Very insightful. Especially when it comes down to the professional entertainment part of the show (streaming, engagement of fans, being massively digital, financial sustainability, close to the music industry at large).

    More interesting though were the following two points he made remarks about:

    – The voting procedure and how he said that jury’s are quite helpful in getting a mix of audience vs. artist/jury feedback. In my opinion a different way of looking at things is always good: new perspectives. Which you certainly have with jury’s vs. audience (televoting).

    – Also interesting was how he sees the contest as primarily entertainment (which has always been the case) and how it can ‘grind’ every now and then with hardcore journalism. Should it be more entertainment? Or more hardcore journalism? And also what he said about the contest being a cultural event.

    But his remarks raise up questions myself. There’s obviously more to having a televoting system and a jury system. Not just “háving that mix”. And obviously, looking back at the 2022 jury ordeal, there obviously are more arguments as to why we have jury’s.

    The entertainment vs. journalism part also interested me. And obviously financial sustainability as well. A) entertainment, B) journalism, C) financial sustainability = important. But I miss another important element that, alas, is not mentioned by Bakel, nor is it mentioned as a core competence of the EBU reference group listed at the EBU-website. That is: competition elements. Or: improvement of competition standards (not necessarily the entertainment format).

    Having read all reports, and also knowing must of the lengthy formulated contest rules (which have become very ambiguous/liberal to interpretation), I miss the seriousness behind these competition standards. The contest rules (formulating them more firmly, less experimenting), televoting, motivating televoters differently (“perhaps you can rank all the songs at home as well!”), the jury’s, and whý we have them in greater detail, scripting (spokepersons), having an equal playing field per country (who has more financial backbone to invest in huge stage acts), winning money prizes, perhaps medals for runner-up and 3rd place.

    In an evergrowing contest, that even by some of the reference group members are promoted as the Olympics of Music, I solely miss that serious approach to improving contest standards/rules. That part is driven a bit tóó much by entertainment and money I think, and less so by the fact that Eurovision still ís a competition. If you want people at home and the fans online to take the contest more serious, then one should be assertive on that point. Especially during the times we live in (geopolitics, social media).

    Overall, a great interview. And Mr. Walden seems such a nice and approachable chap. I wish him lots of luck and success. Well done Ewan. Hugs Gert

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