Every time a broadcaster enters the Eurovision Song Contest, they do so knowing there is a statistical possibility of victory. Obviously, as the contest has grown in audience and countries participating, this probability has shifted too. Nonetheless, there is a chance any song could theoretically win. However, as a song or staging is revealed it sometimes becomes glaringly apparent that there are occasions where a country wants nothing more than to avoid that possibility of winning. So, who actually does want to win the contest?
The elephant (lovely horse) in the room (stage)
I think nothing would please a Eurovision fan more than victory. However, I think there is a strong case to be made that nothing would please a broadcaster more than coming second.
This is a fascinating, yet unspoken disconnect that sometimes gets glossed over rather than being directly addressed. The unspoken phenomenon is usually led by financial anxieties and is the ugly elephant in the Eurovision room. There are repercussions and consequences to hosting, which usually comes with a hefty bill. Copenhagen 2014 is a recent example, as organisers faced controversy for spending triple the allocated budget for hosting the contest. Headlines like this, especially in a time when many broadcasters are facing huge budget cuts does not put the idea of winning in a good light. This has led to more conservative and frugal budgets for recent contests, as evidenced by RTP in Lisbon this year.
However, this is not a unique or new issue to the modern contest. It became a running joke for the Irish in the 1990s, where successive Eurovision successes led to fears of national bankruptcy. Father Ted makes light of these anxieties, as Ted and Dougal are controversially selected to represent Ireland in the 1996 Eurosong. For those who haven’t watched the hilarious episode, My Lovely Horse comes last in every jury (which would have been Ireland’s worst result and first ‘nul points’!). Endure the horror below:
Of course, the joke is even funnier now. The episode aired a month before the contest in Oslo, to which Ireland won.
In recent years, countries such as Bulgaria, Moldova and Cyprus have done exceptionally well. However, going by the less-than-positive precedent set by Ireland and Denmark, I am unconvinced the issue has been fully resolved.
Bulgaria’s recent and deeply upsetting withdrawal proves the sad reality of budgets, numbers and cash ultimately drive the contest. Had Equinox won this year, I highly doubt the fandom would be buzzing with excitement of next year’s slogan!
Similarly, should a micro-nation such as San Marino or Andorra (come back Andorra we miss you!) return and win, hosting would need many logistical solutions. Is the victory somewhat undermined if the winning country has very little realistic opportunity to host? Would funding be an issue for these nations?
There is absolutely an argument to be made about consolidating a national identity on the global stage through Eurovision. To win and host the next year gives a perfect reason to showcase the best of a city – its culture and history to millions. However, for many Eurovision veterans such as the UK or Ireland, this appeal is non-existent. Sweden, of course, appears to be an outlier…
If you listen to Graham Norton’s recent commentary he always manages an audiences expectation, suggesting the ‘left-hand side’ would be a good result. As the voice of the broadcaster guiding an audience, statements like these gently imply that a Eurovision is not in the BBC’s grand plan, at least this year.
As Oliver has rightly said, not wanting to host is a phenomenon we’ve seen throughout the history of the Eurovision Song Contest. In the early days, it seems to have been easier to decline hosting rights, with many of the first winners declining to host a contest – especially if they had won recently.
One of the most prolific examples to me comes from 1995. Hungary, a debutant from 1994, surprised itself with a wonderful fourth place with “Kinek Mondjam El Vétkeimet?” and the broadcaster actually got scared of victory. From the gentle Friderika, they chose to send a much more complicated entry with “Új Név Egy Régi Ház Falán” by Csaba Szigeti. Clearly an attempt to stay away from victory and they succeeded in their mission.
Looking at my own country, The Netherlands, we too sometimes ‘take a break’. When Anouk, The Common Linnets and Trijntje Oosterhuis were announced, the goal was clear: Victory. However, the Eurovision team later said pressure was pretty much getting to them and they then decided to take a year where victory wasn’t the #1 goal. That’s when they sent Douwe Bob.
For many of the countries taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest, I feel winning isn’t the absolute top priority. They want a respectable result and good TV ratings. That definitely is the case for a broadcaster like the BBC. In the end, that attitude shouldn’t be all too bad. As long as good songs and good results are what counts for the broadcasters, we’ll have a good contest.
A fear of winning would however lead to a contest full of poor songs. It would, probably, also lead to a monopoly for a couple of countries. Perhaps that’s what we’ve been seeing in the 1990s with Ireland and, to some extent, with Sweden in the past few years as it seems they will always go for victory.
It is true that some countries do not want to win: the UK is a classic example, but there are some players that we always forget. Iceland is one of them, for example: many fans complain at the not so good Eurovision potential of the Söngvakeppnin, and while the winning act is chosen by the public, the contestants are selected by the broadcaster.
But let’s concentrate on who does want to win. Sweden is the obvious choice, and as Nick said, it seems to have a monopoly on the matter. But other countries and broadcasters are in the game too. France (or at leat France Télévisions), with Edoardo Grassi’s effort, have shown that they want to win the contest. The choice of Amir and “J’ai Cherché” is proof enough, and got France on the left-hand side of the board for the first time since 2010. And this year, despite an average result, “Mercy” was seen as a strong contender and the French Delegation truly believed in a possible victory, and truly wanted it (unlike the BBC, saying “We’re gonna win” to be polite).
While we don’t have any details yet, not even a confirmation of participation, I believe Russia will once again act in a spirit of Eurovision conquest, especially after the ritual humiliation of withdrawing for political reasons and failing their comeback (although, to their credit, they followed their word when they sent Juliya). They want to win, and are not afraid to show it : they send songs that have a strong appeal, especially with the televote, they get creative, and are not afraid to spend a lot on the staging (2016 is the prime example of this).
Finally, there is the special case of Belgium. Belgium wants to win, every other year. Indeed, while VRT (the Flemish broadcaster, organising on even years) just want good results, RTBF is not afraid to win, and regularly scores better than its northern counterpart. I wouldn’t be surprised if Belgium were already high in the betting odds for 2019!
Generally, however, I personally believe every country should aim to do their best, because hosting is not mandatory for the winner. Even though the last contest that wasn’t held by the previous winner was in 1980, RTÉ made clear that, would they have won in 1995 (a fourth victory in a row), they would have forfeited the right to host in 1996. This whole “financial issue” of hosting is more an issue of pride : countries don’t want to win for nothing, but the price of the prize is too high…
What do you think – is winning everything? Let us know in the comments or on social media @ESCXTRA!