Dr Paul Jordan takes a look at the elements that represent the modern Eurovision – is the consistent imagery a good thing for the Contest? What of the other Eurovision competitions? And what lies ahead for the heart of the Song Contest?
Every year the Eurovision Song Contest is different, but there are some aspects of it which remain the same; key changes, certain voting patterns, and of course that ever-flamboyant audience!
Another aspect of the Eurovision experience which has remained the same since 2004 is the main logo of the contest. Eurovision has been branded.
In previous years the host television company was responsible for the logo of the contest. Over the years the unveiling of these diverse designs became a focal point for fans in the build up to the contest. Some had symbolic relevance; the 1989 logo being based on the Matterhorn, 1996 featuring the Hammer of Thor and 1988 including a representation of the Irish harp. The logo for the 1998 contest was cleverly linked to the EBU logo itself, an idea which was so popular that it was “adopted” by the Israeli Broadcasting Authority the following year!
The introduction of a generic logo for the contest has not totally eradicated originality however, since each host country has continued to design its own sub-logo along with a specific slogan for the contest. The branding of the Eurovision Song Contest, according to my good friend Phil Jackson from the Eurovision Research Network, represents an attempt by the EBU to take ownership of their format and provide the contest with a distinct visual identity.
There is of course the logistical and commercial aspect of such a move; Eurovision is now a commodity. The release of an official CD and DVD along with branded merchandise has proved popular and has arguably helped keep the contest relevant in the increasingly commercialised product-driven entertainment world.
“Eurovision” is technically a system of international broadcasting which is part of the European Broadcasting Union, the most well-known and successful event being of course the Eurovision Song Contest. Even the word, Eurovision, can now be seen as part of a wider brand identity. The EBU output through the Eurovision Network has expanded, physically and metaphorically to include the Junior Eurovision Song Contest (2003) and the Eurovision Dance Contest (2007). Let’s now reflect on the two most recent additions to the Eurovision family and no I don’t mean Celine Dion’s twins!
The inaugural Eurovision Dance Contest took place in September 2007 and was held in the BBC Television Centre in London. Based on a similar format to the hugely successful Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars) the contest saw sixteen couples from around Europe compete for the audience’s affections (and votes!) Interestingly enough, a relatively new country to find Eurovision Song Contest success, Finland, found instant dance contest success and won the very first competition. The hosts, the United Kingdom romped home in a lowly 15th place. Similar to the musical format of the contest, there were accusations of bloc voting and political skulduggery.
It appears that some lines are so good that they get trotted out time and time again.
In 2008 the contest moved to Glasgow and was produced by the BBC for a second consecutive year. Fourteen countries took part including a debut from Azerbaijan which had entered the Song Contest for the first time the previous May. Similar to the developments in the song contest, a jury vote was also introduced in 2008. Despite an early showing for Denmark, Poland was declared the winner. Having attended the event I have to say that one of the highlights was when the Dutch dancer broke into song towards the end of the performance. It was random, cringe worthy and such a shame that Craig Revel Horwood wasn’t on hand to deliver his verdict!
Despite the continued popularity of the Strictly format (which has been sold to 35 countries and according to magazine Television Business International, reached the top ten in seventeen countries), the Eurovision Dance Contest did not endure. The 2009 edition was scheduled to take place in Baku, Azerbaijan. Initially the show was postponed, however three years after the contest last took place it appears that the Eurovision Dance Contest is no more.
I personally find it quite surprising that the contest did not take off considering the popularity of Strictly and that that it could potentially have been used as a champion of champions contest by where each competing nation enters the latest winners of Strictly/Dancing with the Stars. It appears that the dance contest suffered the same fate as the widely-panned World Idol. Some formats can be sold and developed (Strictly, Pop Idol, X Factor) and yet when these franchises are merged in the form of an international contest they seem to unravel and fall apart at the seams.
One product of the expansion of the Eurovision Network which has thrived is the Junior Eurovision Song Contest which launched in 2003. Initially Junior Eurovision got off to a shaky start after ITV pulled out of staging the second contest in Manchester. Croatian Television was then given the opportunity to host since Croatia had won the first edition. However according to a Danish newspaper, an agreement with the venue had not been finalised and the contest was moved relatively late in the day to Norway and Lillehammer for 2004. Since then national broadcasters have bid for the rights to host the contest in order to avoid this happening again.
Despite an initially successful string of results for the UK (third then second) ITV withdrew in 2005 and the United Kingdom has never returned. Junior Eurovision is of course slightly different to its adult contemporary; each entrant must sing in an official language of the country and each act gets 12 points at the start (if only poor Gunvor had that in 1998!) Early editions featured very young performers from the age of 8 up to 15 however the rules were adapted in 2007 and performers now have to be aged between 10 and 15 to be eligible to participate.
Another early rule, that songs had to be written solely by the children themselves, was also scrapped. Arguably such a rule was difficult to enforce and any contravention of such regulations difficult to prove.
Junior Eurovision has also seen successes of countries which have not necessarily set the scoreboard alight in the Eurovision Song Contest. Croatia, Spain, Georgia, the Netherlands have all scored victories and Belarus is the reigning champion with two wins whilst in the adult format the country has only qualified for the final twice since 2004.
The contest has also been staged in new territories – Bucharest, Limassol, Minsk and this year, Yerevan. Also in a first for the Junior format, the contest is going to take place in the winning country of the previous year’s contest. Whilst participant numbers have fluctuated the contest has stabilised. Of this year’s 13 entries only three (Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden) are from the “old school” (i.e. pre expansion) of Eurovision. It does however appear that Junior Eurovision is favoured more in Eastern Europe where children’s talent shows still draw large core audiences. It will be interesting to see where the programme goes from here. No doubt one of these budding pop starlets will appear in the adult version of the contest soon enough. Talk about making someone feel really old!
Does the fact that countries keep producing their own logos alongside the generic EBU logo represent a form a rejection of this standardisation of the contest? Or does it simply mean that the host country still wants to make its mark and add their own identity to the show that they are producing?
Arguably in the age of globalisation and mass communication branding and logos are more important than ever. It’s no coincidence that television formats such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, The Weakest Link, X Factor and Dancing With The Stars have continued to use the same logo, even theme tune, around the world. It’s all about creating an instantly recognisable brand for what is essentially a product.
With the branding of the Eurovision Song Contest, the EBU have attempted to do this too. Even down to the on-screen graphics, the Eurovision Song Contest is starting to appear generic (in the nicest possible sense). Does this mean that the contest could potentially lose originality in the future or does this branding mean that Eurovision remains current, is instantly recognisable and is therefore able to compete with other hugely successful formats? In an age of rapid changes in broadcasting, media and the entertainment industry as a whole, it will be interesting to see what happens to the generic logo of the contest, the format itself and of course its offspring.
Junior Eurovision 2011 takes place in Yerevan, Armenia on 3rd December, and the ESC Insight team will be bringing you news, podcasts, and our thoughts from backstage.