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Editorial: What could other countries learn from ESCZ?

Other broadcasters could learn a lot from the creativity and efficiency of Czech Television's ESCZ format.

With FiKmas done and dusted, it truly feels like the national final season has begun. However, it’s important to remember that Festivali i Këngës was not the first national final of the 2022 season. Rather, it was the Czech Republic you kicked off proceedings in mid-December. An unlikely selection from an unlikely participating nation; I firmly believe that *certain* countries should pay attention to the ESCZ format.

With what I deem to be one of the most efficient and innovative formats of all competing countries, I believe that there are some aspects of how ESCZ was run that would be easily replicable for countries with a lower interest in Eurovision, whether among viewers, the domestic music industry, or both.

I particularly think countries like Ireland, Latvia and the UK could learn a few things from ESCZ, considering the standard of their national finals in the past. The Czech Republic has been far from a Eurovision powerhouse, however, considering that their two ESCZ-selected entries – “Lie To Me” (2018) and “Friend Of A Friend” (2019) finished in 6th and 11th place respectively, you cannot ignore the impact it has had on their trajectory.

Even if their 2022 choice, We Are Domi’s “Lights Off”, doesn’t result in a top 10 finish, I don’t foresee embarrassment from a slick, well-produced and commercial entry, something many other countries have failed to produce at all in recent years.

Let’s look at how this format could work elsewhere.

About ESCZ

Even following the success of Mikolas Josef’s “Lie To Me” in 2018, the development of ESCZ as a format and a brand has been incremental. The shortlist of artists has remained much smaller than other selections (usually 6-7 songs) and there has yet to be a full-on live show with live performances, which is the norm elsewhere.

While the selection did not involve live performances and real-time voting like other national finals do, this year we got to see the entries performed via a live-on-tape, in a format similar to the Live on Tape backup used for Eurovision 2021. This gave us a chance to assess artists’ vocals and performance abilities.

Voting was open for a week, with an international jury deciding 50% of the vote, and the international and Czech public deciding the remainder of the vote (25% each). The winning song was revealed via a YouTube stream the following day.

What’s so great about it?

To fans who are used to selections like Sweden’s Melodifestivalen, Portugal’s Festival da Cancão or Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix, the idea of an ‘online’ selection without semi-finals or a live final may seem jarring, but it’s important to remember that a national final isn’t accessible, nor worthwhile, for many participating countries.

Some broadcasters simply do not have the financial means to pump money into a full-scale live production, especially in countries where domestic interest in the contest is low. Even countries like the UK, which makes up a huge portion of the overall Eurovision viewership, has long struggled to build a brand for its [terrible] national selections.

It is for this reason that I would advocate for an ESCZ-style format as an ‘IKEA’ template of a national final; it’s simple, it’s less resource-intensive, it gives a great platform for domestic artists to gain international attention and it lends itself to the streaming era of the music industry.

Best of all, it’s one of the very few national finals that give international fans a say in the result, rather than resorting to a small ‘international jury’, the relevance of which to an international televote has always been… dubious.

Could and should it be replicated elsewhere?

Yes and yes. The bare bones of what ESCZ is would work for many other countries. I’m specifically thinking of countries that don’t currently have a consistent national final format with strong ratings or links with the domestic music industries. Ireland and the UK, I’m looking at you.

Internal selections can be great and have produced many winners in the past, however, they don’t provide a platform for multiple artists per year, nor do they provide programming opportunities for state broadcasters. For some songwriters and producers, the songwriting camps around selections are vital components of their creative processes. Also, let’s be honest, some broadcasters haven’t internally selected very competitive entries recently.

The format can act as a stepping stone into a full-scale national final. Most, if not all, of the most established selections in the calendar have had…rough patches or humble beginnings, from which brands have been built, with loyal audiences tuning in year-on-year. Even the likes of Albania’s RTSH or Italy’s Rai, otherwise inward-looking broadcasters, have been reckoning with an expanding international interest in their programming due to a growing cult following.

There is, therefore, no reason why the BBC, an internationally regarded broadcaster, can’t do the same.

Where to start?

Rather than give oxygen to the ridiculous claims that a country with over 67 million people and one of the biggest music industries in the world won’t be able to gather enough entries, I will simply remind you that Giudi’s “Jezinky”, a popular entry from ESCZ 2022, was co-produced by a Brit. If a Czech selection can attract a quality entry from a British producer, I’m sure the BBC could.

All that would be required would be the following:

  • 7-10 entries, representative of a variety of genres (ideally representation from across the UK)
  • Radio 1/2 Live Lounge-style performance for voting, if not staged live-on-tapes
  • All entries to be available to stream once announced
  • A jury representative of radio stations, songwriters and music publications across the UK
  • International voting
  • A live results stream via BBC iPlayer

Let’s be honest, the above would be unambitious for a broadcaster like the BBC. But I don’t see a reason why broadcasters with more strained resources couldn’t aim for a bare-bones selection like this.

Take Ireland as an example too. Rather than using their local equivalent of The Graham Norton Show to present six entries in a rushed way (The Late Late Show, if you were wondering), the acts could be given space and time to present their entry well – especially if this reduces the likelihood of featuring argumentative jurors fighting with songwriters.

It would also give the audience sufficient time to process the entries and choose their favourite away from a time-sensitive broadcast, rather than feeling like so much programming is crammed into such a small space of time.

As countries like Spain, San Marino, Ireland and North Macedonia are switching up their selections, I wonder what the future holds for these countries that have long struggled to get the results they’re capable of. I honestly believe that the ESCZ format could unlock something.

We Are Domi - Lights Off (ESCZ 2022 Live Performance)We Are Domi – Lights Off (ESCZ 2022 Live Performance)

What do you think? Let us know! Be sure to stay updated by following @ESCXTRA on Twitter@escxtra on Instagram and liking our Facebook page for the latest updates! Also, be sure to follow us on Spotify and YouTube to see our reactions to the news in the run up to Turin 2022!

Costa Christou

Ever since I saw Helena Paparizou's triumph at Eurovision in 2005 (at the tender age of 6), I have been crazy about Eurovision. From the regional native language bops and shrieky female-led balladry to the sophisticated avant garde pop songs and chart-friendly EDM, I love everything about this cultural phenomenon. I'm currently working as a Delivery Manager in a software development team.

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