With one top ten finish in the last two decades, Swiss fortunes at Eurovision have been rather bleak. An inauspicious 17th and last place at the semifinal stage for Mélanie René means Swiss stakeholders are asking questions, but the response from the broadcasters remains the same.
Plans for 2016 have already been announced, with another drawn-out multi-broadcaster marathon, culminating in a sixth Grosse Entsheidungsshow on 13 February. Once again, an open invitation for submissions has been announced, by German-language broadcaster SRF with potential contenders to be received by 26 October. Live auditions will take place for a selected handful for each broadcaster, with six finalists reaching the live televised show, the same arrangement as in previous years. (Three acts from SRF, two from French-Swiss RTS and one from Italian language RTI.)
The 12th place of Sebalter in 2014 marks the greatest success that Die Grosse Entscheidungsshow has produced, but the general quality of songs in the national final has not been high, nor have the competing songs shown significant local chart impact or contemporary kudos, if these were aims of the organisers.
Whilst nuggets of precious metal such as ‘Hunter of stars’ and ‘In love for a while’ have been strained from the narrow seams of the Swiss selection, the broadcasters are chipping away at the wrong rock if they are serious about seeing chart success or the left side of the Eurovision scoreboard.
The multi-phase operation will scare off established acts. Record companies are not directly approached to enter songs, and with the prospect of being pitted against amateur acts and internet novelties, those in the industry see far more threat than promise. Compare that to the invitational approach of Melodifestivalen or the controlled established versus emerging talent of the German selection franchise, and it is clear why established Swiss acts steer clear of the show. Of course, this is by no means only a Swiss problem; but another early announcement of an identical selection procedure is surprising, given the dearth of gems it has produced. Broadcasters are also too often over-reactive in ditching a selection procedure after one or two bad outcomes (see: UK), but there’s surely a place for considered tinkering.
Mélanie René’s fate is not too unusual in recent Eurovision history for Switzerland. Lacklustre results saw the Confederation step out of the arena for 1995 and yo-yo with three relegation gaps in 1999, 2001 and 2003.
The Swiss have tried a range of selection procedures to stop the rot. Internal selections were used from 2004 to 2009. The notable success here was the first attempt at this strategy, where Estonian pop-rock pixies were drafted in by the Swiss, amid much consternation from local media and fans who resented the use of an act with negligible Swiss ties, albeit with a Swiss-penned song. However, the formula worked thanks to a plum draw and some friendly voting, and the Estonians finished eighth for Switzerland.
The two points somehow collected by Michael von der Heide in 2010’s semfinals marked a low point, and led the the birth of Die Grosse Entscheidungsshow in 2011 (pictured in the article heading image), with the captivating Anna Rossinelli stumping up a strong enough song to scrape the Swiss into the Eurovision final for the first time in five years.
Sebalter finished fourth in his Eurovision semifinal, the best Swiss performance under the new system. Aside from that, the Swiss public have had little opportunity to pick entries that can threaten the qualification zone.
It looks like this pattern will continue in 2016, or will some Eurovision gold emerge from the Swiss musical reserves to challenge in Stockholm?