The new Eurovision has arrived: armchair audiences, chosen tribes and digital engagement

Embrace 'the new normal' as Eurovision takes its first steps into the post-pandemic world.

You might have noticed that Costa made mention of rewatching all the contests since 1956 with a group of like-minded friends during the first lockdown in the United Kingdom. We are both a part of this group, along with some former ESCXTRA faces and some new friends from across the European continent. In fact, it was another of our group that inspired us to write this piece. 

Before we undertook this ‘journey’, and trust us… it was a journey, we had only ever met sporadically for Eurovision-related adventures across the country, the continent and beyond! Some of the group had, of course, formed friendships aside from the contest but it was the contest which had united us all in the first instance. 

Why is this important now? Tonight, we begin our mammoth journey across the continent to find our entries for Eurovision 2021. The contest will go ahead this year, this much we know. In which format? We aren’t sure. However, this is the new Eurovision. No matter what happens after 2021, in which we will regain live audiences and a real sense of togetherness at an event, armchair audiences, chosen tribes and digital engagement will persevere as the new Eurovision.

Armchair audiences are not new, but they are the regularity in 2021.

We have spent 10 months now as an armchair audience, arguing over taste, the ridiculousness of each other’s votes and the quality of the entries in the contest. And yes, it has now devolved into chaos with themed shows being created around Eurovision entries, national final injustices and celebrating certain prolific songwriters (naming no names… Mr Siegel). 

Inevitably, this year the new Eurovision has arrived. Tonight, we as a group will watch our second *live* national final which will take place without an audience. Except, there is an audience. The audience is at home. Like us, across Norway, Lithuania, and the continent, armchair viewers will make their judgements on the entries without the influence of a crowd reaction. 

This touches on a point that is largely untouched ground. Last year, Denmark was the first to take this approach. Though the acts, presenters and orchestra were present in attendance – there was no audience in the arena.

Ben & Tan performed “Yes” live, but without a crowd.

While other national finals, like Melodifestivalen, Eesti Laul and Beovizija went ahead without any COVID related precautions, every viewer of DMGP 2020 was watching on some form of screen: TV, mobile phone, computer etc. Last year this format was very much the exception rather than the rule that many broadcasters have adopted for the near future. However, little time was really dedicated to dissecting the ways in which this alteration can impact how we digest and enjoy these shows.

In some sense, a crowd is a crucial component to all televised entertainment shows. Maybe not as influential as a professional sound mix or logical camerawork but a live audience does have a part to play in amplifying the spectacle of a televised show. An audience acts much like a barometer. Shots before a song helping build up a sense of excitement for what the next few minutes will offer. Shots after a performance also double up as a mood board of sorts, a subtle reference point for viewers at home as to how the performance was received in the arena. A small but constant influence that is no longer there.

Oliver has previously suggested that completely ignoring the audience and staging a song like a music video may visually appeal but emotionally isolate a viewer from home. However, in the context in which we find ourselves, would presenting a song as close to a music video be the best of a weird situation? This NF season will put these ideas to the test and stretch the creativity of an act/production to maintain momentum and audience connection with the song/show at large. 

Now, this isn’t anything too new for many Eurovision fans. We are used to watching multiple national finals through our laptop screens and learning cursory Albanian (suksëse, falemenderit, dashuri, zemër, zjarr) every year. The difference is: we’re not able to have a real-life watch party. What’s the Swedish Church going to do this spring without its weekly Melodifestivalen gatherings? 

So instead, we’re turning to Zoom to stream the national final with our friends so we can react together, chat together and lip sync fiercely together. We are together, albeit virtually, and it’s fair to say that even when we return to live audiences, many of us will continue to share in the contest and its many, many selections in this virtual armchair audience format anyway.

Chosen tribes take our love of the contest to another level

A concept we can all agree with is that Eurovision fans are not alone (cue Aram MP3), even when we are watching from home. The advent of Twitter fandom, Reddit flairs and Discord channels mean that there are more ways than ever before for us to interact as fans and find our own place in the big wide world. 

This means that despite multiple lockdowns, enforced isolation and spending a whole lot of time at home, we are actually never really alone as we are always amongst a group of like-minded individuals. Sure, we almost always never agree on a favourite, but that doesn’t make our ties any less strong.

London Eurovision Party 2017 © Tom O’Donoghue / Tomodo Photography

One of the things this Contest can be credited with is creating long-lasting relationships that were found via the medium of Eurovision. The nature of the contest is that it brings together people from across the continent. Inevitably, as we all come from a variety of walks of life and backgrounds, it’s only the very rare occasions that we can be in the same room with some of our closest friends.

Our Zoom rewatch group has individuals from Portugal to Serbia, Norway to Italy, the Czech Republic to Albania. We are planning to meet up once this pandemic is finally beaten, but it would be a very special occasion to have so many international friends in one place at one time. Our chosen tribe is so strong but exists entirely within a digital sphere. We know exactly how each of us looks, what each of us does for a living and which types of entries we love. It almost doesn’t matter that most of us have never met in person – but oh my god, it will be a wild ride when it does happen.

The best part of these digital platforms coming to the forefront is the presence of the sense of fandom, and even further micro-fandoms within the fandom itself. Take one look at Twitter on a Super Saturday and you can find BLOCK CAPITALS EXCITEMENT (mainly from Nathan when Linda Bengtzing appears on his screen) from people shouting in joy, anger and shock at one another. This is all part of the Eurovision fandom. But then the micro-fandom of favourites – were you #TeamMove or #TeamBulletproof, were you a Dadi-stan or a Roop-ite? – this takes our digital engagement with the contest to another level and creates even stronger friendships within the fandom. 

As an example, as part of our ridiculous rewatches group, we created a ‘ROBBED! National Final’ show in which everyone anonymously submitted their favourite entries never to make it to Eurovision. Introducing two Serbians to the existence of Linda Bengtzing is probably Nathan’s crowning glory. The reaction and the love that our friends gave to his favourite Eurovision-adjacent artist of all time just made these friendships even stronger. 

Yes, Nathan really did submit this as a National Final injustice…

When you find friends within the fandom who hold the same taste, views and opinions as you, that just doubles down on the echo-chamber of the Eurovision fandom and creates everlasting relationships within a micro-fandom. Now, most dialogue surrounding the idea of an echo chamber talks about how we must get out of them and all they do is reinforce our own opinions. Of course, this is no different for Eurovision – we have to hear opposing opinions and challenge our own thoughts. However, there is no denying that living in a digital echo chamber with people who agree with your thoughts, feelings and favourites is a very comfortable place to live.

However, negotiating these nuances of opinion within a micro-fandom or bubble who may or may not share your thoughts, feelings and favourites provides an exciting and engaging environment to discuss, debate and create distinctions. 

These groups that we live amongst online are our chosen tribes. The people we choose to surround ourselves with within the fandom itself. These chosen tribes are what keeps us coming back for more: every year, every week… every hour!

Digital engagement ensures the contest is everlasting

Remember when the hashtag became a thing? Eurovision introduced branded hashflags for the 2015 contest, with every participating nation receiving their own three-letter abbreviated hashtag. Of course, we now routinely engage with national finals and the contest through related hashtags. #melfest regularly trends extremely high across the continent during February and March, whilst we have all seen #EurovisionAgain take the world by storm during the last 10 months.

It is through these hashtags that we discover our communities and continue to amplify the importance and popularity of the Eurovision Song Contest. We don’t have to be in a host city as part of a huge crowd for people to understand the scale of Eurovision. Hashtags aren’t the only way in which we can see the power of the contest either. 

YouTube continues to be a very powerful barometer by which we can measure the impact, success and scale of the contest. Of course, viewer numbers continue to increase as the contest reaches more and more people, but so does the number of content creators. Fans interact with the contest in many more interesting ways from reaction videos to ‘my top 1’ content, there are so many ways in which we can hear the opinions of others on each of the competing entries. 

In our rewatches group, once we’ve made our mind up how we feel about the entries, and shouted it into the digital ether rather than had a debate over a G&T and meteorite-like burger meal with our friends, we of course then rank the entries. It wouldn’t be Eurovision without ranking the songs now, would it?

In fact, all Eurovision fans love ranking entries. We think that our favourite entry is the best entry, and we want to tell the whole world about it! Thanks to our friends at My Eurovision Scoreboard, it is now incredibly easy to have your opinions heard on a wider scale and see what the fandom really thinks is the best entry in each national final and in the contest itself. 

My Eurovision Scoreboard keep track of our community’s favourites every year.

All the noise that we make online as Eurovision fans influence the bookies’ odds. It’s not new news to learn that the bookmakers do track the trending conversation online. It’s also not a surprise to hear that the numbers of YouTube views and likes on certain videos also influences who the bookies think will win the contest. 

This further amplifies the importance of these digital conversations, as opposed to our traditional rewatches in the same room/bar/club. When we’re face to face, our impact on the digital footprint of the contest is reduced. 

Invite your friends over, digitally, to watch this weekend

There are far too many benefits to watching the contest together, in reality. The benefits outweigh the negatives. But what we have to learn is that this is the arrival of the new Eurovision. Our real-life group watches will endure, but the impact that our digital viewership will have on the contest could take it to the next level and ensure that the Eurovision Song Contest which we cherish will live on for decades to come. 

Don’t dismiss the Zoom stream you’re being invited to this weekend to watch Melodi Grand Prix, Pabandom iš Naujo or Drag Race. Embrace it. Break out from behind your keyboard and interact with your friends in this new way. If you’re not already in a Eurovision bubble, try setting one up! Trust us, it will change your Eurovision life. Maybe you’ll go slightly batshit crazy like us and end up creating your own shows.

Now… when’s our next production meeting? We need to decide the running order for our next national final injustices show…

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