In a music entertainment market that becomes more varied and saturated every year, Eurovision maintains a role as a reliable, known entity. Whilst being a household name across the continent, the Eurovision brand is a dividing term in different nations and different social circles.
It could be argued that the Eurovision Song Contest is on the wane. Viewing figures for 2012 show 63.9 million tuned in the final, in contrast to numbers at least five million higher in recent previous years. However, with viewers offered a widening range of TV channels and entertainment options across a range of platforms, there are few long-running programmes that have not witnessed drops in gross ratings figures. The market share for this year’s final was 37.4%, an actual increase on 2011 despite the lower number of live viewers.
Currently, only nine nations have confirmed their participation in the tenth edition of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, to be held in Amsterdam in December. 28 countries have previously taken part in at least one edition of the contest. Whilst there is still time for other countries to confirm their participation, such a low figure at this stage shows national broadcasters are focusing on the Eurovision Song Contest, the fundamental and familiar cornerstone of the Eurovision brand, in the current restrictive economic climate. The EBU has not attempted to hold a Eurovision Dance Contest since the aborted third staging in 2009. Although the biennial Eurovision Young Musicians and Eurovision Young Dancers events continue, they are not seeing increased numbers of participating countries.
The stalwart that is the Eurovision Song Contest strides on, as the world’s longest running annual TV show. Arriving for the first time in Azerbaijan this May, the Caucasian nation fell under the media and political spotlights thanks to its hosting, for both positive and negative reasons. Having strived to hold the contest since its debut, Azerbaijan hoped to bring visitors’ cameras and currency to Baku. This it did, but it also gained some undesired attention.
The world was not content to focus on the contest alone. The hosting of the event gave human rights groups a focus to accuse the Azeri authorities of a range of misdoings. Media outlets across the continent leapt on stories of forcefully-evicted Baku residents whose land was used to make way for the hastily-erected Crystal Hall.
Like the Olympic games in Beijing, or Formula 1 in Bahrain, the EBU and most accredited journalists distanced themselves from the ‘off-topic’ issues surrounding the hosting nation. Rightfully so, for it would be rather a leap for a broadcasting union or entertainment journalists to claim the right to be an authority or expert on human rights issues. That would be as absurd as, say, Hollywood actors influencing US foreign policy in African conflict zones…
Whilst some criticised this stance, claiming the event in Baku should not be supported, would not the exposure and focus garnered by the hosting of the event serves a more useful purpose than ignoring or trying to prevent the event, should groups or individuals wish to criticise any regime?
One key area of conflict highlighted by the contest was the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The hosts’ western neighbour withdrew citing ‘security concerns’; the latest turn in the Eurovision-focused chapter of on the turbulent relationship between these two nations.
Hindered or helped by its traditions and reputation, Eurovision strides forwards to 2013. It can be argued that the EBU’s best known face has been both helped and hindered by its foray to Azerbaijan, but one certain positive for the Eurovision brand has come out of this May’s event.
Loreen’s victory for Sweden has brought a different sound to the winners’ circle and, most importantly to the reputation of the Eurovision brand, chart success. Topping itunes charts across the continent, ‘Euphoria’ attained top ten positions in countries as diverse as Iceland and Moldova. Loreen’s entry became the first non-British Eurovision song to chart higher than tenth in the UK for 25 years. Criticisms of the contest in recent years have included accusations of diaspora-determined voting, unworthy winners, and a blend of music that doesn’t reflect the modern tastes of the continent.
The shift to a 50-50 jury/public voting split has tamed some of these arguments, a move that has done much to strengthen Eurovision’s reputation. ‘Euphoria’ set a record for the greatest number of 12 point scores received. Having a winner that was ‘agreed’ by so many nations will bring strength to the validity of the contest’s outcomes and dispel the arguments of many against its result. Through the chart success of Loreen, music fans beyond Eurovision’s usual sphere of influence have been brought into the fold, giving the contest an increased degree of validation as a launchpad for musical talent. For this, the Eurovision brand should be grateful, as many participating broadcasters and A&R companies will take note of 2012’s recipe for success and seek the same with heightened fervour in 2013.