The Challenge Facing the Junior Eurovision Song Contest

The Challenge Facing the Junior Eurovision Song Contest

While it has never managed to escape the shadow of its older sibling, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest reached double digits with its tenth show last weekend. Throughout the decade, the Junior Contest has always had to put up with a certain amount of flak, even more than its older relation.

Can it look forward to another ten editions, or will the teenage years see Junior implode? Ewan Spence looks at the road ahead for Junior Eurovision.

Take Ownership and Make a Decision

Let’s start right at the top. With a clean bit of paper, no preconceptions, and no questioning certain elements, the EBU need to ask themselves a simple question that can only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. “Do you want to hold a Junior Eurovision Song Contest.”

Collectively there needs to be a strong ‘yes’ to the only question that matters. Everyone buys into it, one hundred percent, or not at all.

For the rest of the article, let’s assume the EBU have said yes!

What Are The Goals Of The Junior Eurovision Song Contest?

If there was one thing that I would thank Marcel Bezençon for, it would be defining the goals of that first Eurovision Song Contest; to test the limits of communications technology, to create a sense of community in post-war Europe, and to allow the people of Europe to share their individual cultures with one another.

Over fifty years later, those goals are still clear in the Adult Contest. From beyond the grave Bezençon continues to tell us what the Eurovision Song Contest strives for, even in today’s fast-moving internet-enabled world.

Junior Eurovision needs a strong set of goals as well. There would likely be a lot of crossover with those of the Adult Contest, but the simple act of defining the goals, making everyone aware of them (in the EBU, with the broadcasters, and on the ‘About’ page of JuniorEurovision.tv for everyone to see), would give the Junior Contest direction that it occasionally seems to be lacking.

Everyone singing together at JESC 2012

Everyone singing together in JESC 2012′s group number.

Redefining The Fabric Of The Junior Contest

It’s unlikely that the basic fabric of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest would be altered, so let’s look at three main areas of Junior Eurovision, the host city, the entries, and the voting. They all have an impact on the Contest’s perception.

Join Us Next Year In…

As one Junior Eurovision ends, why are many left asking what happens next? Because we don’t know next year’s host.

The problem here is the bidding process to host Junior Eurovision is not tied into the date of the Junior Contest. One of the nicer moments at Junior Eurovision 2011 was the ability for the hosts to say, on air, that the Contest would be in the Netherlands the following year. That gave the Contest the stability and the audience the expectation that there would be a Contest next year.

The end of JESC 2011

The end of JESC 2011, next stop the Netherlands!

The Adult Contest has that continuity because everyone watching knows that the winners host the Contest the following year. Junior Eurovision does not place that pressure on the performers.

If the EBU have committed to Junior Eurovision (the first challenge that I’ve already mentioned), then I would work on speeding up the bidding process one year, and having the host broadcaster announced 18 months before they host the Contest, and have the reveal of the host city during the Junior Contest in the year before.

What Return Is Offered To The Broadcasters?

As Luke Fisher pointed out on our podcast, the roll call of winning Junior Eurovision songs features many countries that no longer enter the Contest. While twelve entrants is the absolute minimum with the current scoring system (allowing just a bit of tension, wondering if the twelve points would go to Ukraine or Albania), the numbers need to be increased.

But attending Junior Eurovision is a noticeable line on a broadcasters balance sheet. It’s just over a week’s accommodation in a host city, and while delegations are smaller and the timetable of rehearsals is shorter than Adult Eurovision, the Contest in May provides seven hours of television and a prime-time Saturday night show that is a ratings winner for many.

Junior Eurovision provides just over two hours of television, and many broadcasters will place it on a children’s channel and hope that parents watching in Eastern Europe will let their kids watch a Contest that could be starting as late as 11pm, and finishing well past their bedtime.

JESC 2011 Opening Number

Big Brassy Armenian Riverdance, the JESC 2011 Opening Number

It’s not just a matter of saving costs for the Broadcasters who enter the Junior Contest by lowering participation fees, hotel costs, or travel arrangements.  There needs to a decent return on the other side of the equation. What do broadcasters want from Junior Eurovision? At the very least they want a well produced program that delivers an audience that are attractive to their advertisers, to allow them the potential to make a profit (or at least break even).

There are many things that could be considered. Do we really need to keep Junior Eurovision at the traditional start time of the Adult’s Contest? Does there need to be more promotional work done by the EBU? Does there need to be another two hours of television provided to the broadcaster to create a better package (perhaps a live show on Thursday night with the kids doing a second song or some duets, à la San Remo?).

Build a better package, and the hope is that more broadcasters will sign up for the 2013 Contest.

And Then We All Have To Vote…

For the keen Eurovision Song Contest fan, the voting patterns in Junior Eurovision show all the signs of heavy diaspora voting (and a perfect illustration of the relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia). This is magnified by the language rule, making the Belgian and Dutch songs understandable to each other, the former Soviet countries all picking up what’s going on, and Sweden hoping that the harmonies sound nice.

To the casual viewer the scores are ‘all political’.

That sort of view can easily damage the Contest, and here’s a clear case of something needing to be done. Douze points is a cornerstone of recognition, but the decisions behind these scores needs to be examined closely, and there needs to be a lack of sacred cows when deciding on a new voting system that takes accounts of the children watching, the differing views of an adult back-up jury, and maintains a sense of fair play.

That’s a tough ask, but it needs to be addressed.

JESC 2012 Scoreboard

How much controversy can one scoreboard hold? (JESC 2012)

What About The West?

Conspicuous by their absence are the “Big Five” from the Adult Contest. The United Kingdom, France, and Spain have all entered the Junior Contest, but the last of them had left by 2007. Germany and Italy have never graced the Junior stage. Without them there is a sense that the Junior Contest is not ‘complete’, but because of the nature of the Contest (specifically that it is for singers aged 10 to 15) it does not fit well with public sentimentality in the Big Five.

Bringing in at least one of the Five should be a priority, but it is important that the Contest not only delivers a package that is valuable to a broadcaster as a show, but also one that addresses the ethical concerns of broadcasters not currently in the contest.

The age limit of Junior Eurovision has already been lifted (from 8 years old to 10 years old), I wonder if lifting the age range to 11-15 would address some of the concerns of both broadcasters and people who actively choose not to watch the Contest?

What Happens Next?

The Junior Eurovision Song Contest has many challenges ahead of it, but just like the Adult Contest, it is constantly in flux. Changes can always be made, and if the EBU’s decision is to move forward with Junior Eurovision, then we here at ESC Insight look forward to see a Contest fit for another ten years.


15 Responses to “The Challenge Facing the Junior Eurovision Song Contest”

  1. Ewan Spence says:

    A short note to those leaving comments. Please make them constructive… if you want to say ‘this Contest is wrong and should not be run’ then I’d ask that on this occasion be ready to constructively discuss why and be ready to ‘show your mental working’ as my teachers always told me at school. There’s a lot of love out there for Junior Eurovision, so no knee- jerk reactions please!

  2. Anthony says:

    I have watched the contest since 2009 and there has always been that feeling of the contest being an Eastern one, you can see that in the voting on occasions. I have always wondered how the contest can get countries into it if it is held at a time when most children are being put to bed or too tired to watch. What is wrong with making the contest start around 5pm GMT.

    I also totally agree with the idea of raising the age of the participants in the contest, there is the feeling that in Western Europe having a 10 year old child performing is wrong. 11 seems like an age where a child takes on more and more responsibility. This would likely gain the interest of a few more countries and convince the public a bit more about the ethics of the contest.

    The real issue in the contest future is the fact that you only have a few countries that are committed to it. You have Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Belarus, Armenia and Georgia. Before this contest I was sure that Ukraine were going to leave the contest, that Sweden might be having second thoughts. Yes bringing in Albania, Azerbaijan and Israel was good for the contest, but I don’t see Albania back in 2013.

    There does need to be the stability of having some big Western nations in the contest. We need to see some input from the likes of the United Kingdom and Germany. With the UK I could see CBBC giving it a go, they have staged some singing contests before for children and they have shown that they work. The issue is that CBBC coverage is only on BBC1 until 17:10 and then it heads off to it’s own channel. The contest needs for at least 3 or 4 Western nations to join the contest, it needs Germany, the UK, Norway or Denmark and someone like Switzerland or Austria.

    I agree that the EBU need to be decisive over whether the contest can go ahead in 2013.

  3. Sam Smales says:

    I think Junior Eurovision needs to make some big changes, firstly, it needs to get all the Scandinavian countries back, cause they are the reason it is around, with Denmark starting it, then Norway and Sweden joining in. And for me, Denmark, Norway and Sweden are the Big 3 for Junior Eurovison. I also think that going to countries that Eurovision hasn’t been to would help the increase the popularity of the contest. And also hosting it earlier. But with the UK, and participating, ITV withdrew because of low viewing figures.

    I also think that it would be good if they found the host earlier, to give a sense of continuity, that as you said, at the end of the contest, there is stability in the fact that it will run the next year. It’s also nice to see new countries doing well, i.e. Belarus, Armenia and Georgia, which havn’t done spectacularly well in eurovision, but continually do well in Junior Eurovison.

  4. Ben says:

    This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction, but the reason I pay no attention to the Junior contest is because it is stripped of the core reason I watch the Adult contest. Musical interest.

    The only children I know of to have ever released half decent pop music that I would genuinely listen to whether it had anything to do with Eurovision or not, are the Jackson 5 and Birdy. Yes you could argue that I can’t say none of the JESC songs are good until I listen to them, but given the statistics in the real world, I think I’ll take my chances.

    While I admit that the little Ukrainian girl had a good voice for her age, there was nothing about it that grabbed my interest. Having kids doing this just looks and feels a bit pointless. I don’t understand what Junior Eurovision is trying to achieve… SVT has already been making us question if the Adult Eurovision is achieving -its- own goals well enough.

    Not to mention the laughable number of countries that actually take part, and the stark lack of geographical diversity, to put it nicely. I do remember seeing JESC a little bit in.. 2004 I think. We (the UK) were taking part, and all I can really remember thinking about our own entrant was “garish Christina Aguilera pseudo-opera?” I don’t know, it was just… awful. I think that stigma has probably stuck with me since.

    I don’t and probably never will watch or care about JESC. There is no musical or cultural interest in it for me, and I can’t really understand the love for it by so many adult fans. To me it seems like those people are just fans of the format, not the children. I’m sure we’ve all gotten the impression that a lot of people base their entire musical taste on Eurovision and that “impress me in 30 seconds” approach that I think is inexcusably distasteful. Perhaps they are so drawn in by the format and the musical approaches it takes that they need JESC to tide them over, as if it’s an addiction? I know that’s a bit of a controversial thing to say, but at least I’ve put thought and time into writing this.

    When I start hearing that JESC entries become musically credible in the real world and it’s not just a gimmicky shell for the Eurovision format that attracts demographics it really shouldn’t be, then maybe I’ll give an S.

  5. Ewan Spence says:

    Ben, thanks for the thoughtful response, much appreciated and I’m hopeful that ‘people’ are watching for feedback like this. Beyond the ”get some chart success’ how would you define musically credible?

    What demographic do you think JESC should aim to attract? I know that my children love the show (but would also be aware that might be a nuture not nature area given their Dad). Would you want a pure ‘teen’ contest, say 13-18? A clearly kids contest of 8-12?

  6. Ewan Spence says:

    Sam, interesting idea on the JESC Big Three, more for standing and viewing figures than participation fee. Question. Which of the ESC Big Five would you (a) most like to see back and (b) most likely to be brought back?

  7. Ewan Spence says:

    Maybe the first step for some countries would be to simply air it “outside of competition” and see what happens. That could be an avenue for CBBC in the UK to measure interest. It wouldn’t be the first time CBBC have their own commentary team for an event (see the FA Cup final or F1 on the red button for examples).

  8. Sam Smales says:

    Good question, I think the UK would be my choice to bring back, mainly so I could actually watch Junior Eurovison, cause my internet is that bad. But last year I know Italy showed some interest in joining, so I would place them as the most likely, but with the problems Italy is facing financially, they may not, otherwise, its anybodies guess. Though Spain could rejoin, and the UK did have a good track record, but its if the broadcasters a) see the point, and b) want to risk it in joining and hoping for a good place

  9. martin says:

    how open minded of you it is to ask people for constructive critics. When the subject you make a critic on is not constructive itself what base do you have to start on ?

  10. Dimitry Latvia USA says:

    I think that’s it for Junior Eurovision. It’s a very nice contest, a lot of songs were very good but it seems it’s coming to an end. There may be 1 or 2 more contests but with the way things are it’s unlikely to have any future. Countries are leaving in droves, nobody is interested. I don’t know why, I guess kids just don’t generate that much attention, as well as children’s music.

  11. Ben Cook says:

    I watched the show this year and once again I was very disappoined by the quality of the songs. There were one or two which were respectable enough, but at the same time instantly forgettable, and another one or two which were almost catchy, but very very cheesy. But not a single entry was genuinely good in my opinion.

    I cannot see the point of a song contest that doesn’t have any good songs in it. I’m not against the principle of JESC, but if the songs are this bad there really isn’t any point in carrying on.

  12. Malcolm Birdsall says:

    Sorry to pour cold water on this, but there’s very little chance of the BBC showing JESC. After the various paedophile scandals that have shaken the BBC to the roots, anything that even hints at sexualization of children is taboo. There are lots of shows on BBC2 and Channel 4 that list the worst examples of bad taste tv from the last 25 years. Mini-pops is always on it, so not much hope for JESC as it is often bracketed with it, however unjustifiably.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minipops

  13. Ewan Spence says:

    Malcolm, fully aware of the Yewtree/Minipop issues. To be honest though if you put the kids on BGT next to something like Mit Modd there’s a world of difference, and it;s clear which is about song and whichis about exploitation.

  14. Malcolm Birdsall says:

    Ewan
    Of course you are correct, but it would have to be very carefully staged and prepared in this overheated climate. Let’s not forget that recently an elderly disabled man who took photographs of children vandalizing his flower beds (so as to provide evidence for the police) was beaten to death by neighbours. And the previous year, also in Bristol, a paediatrician was targetted, because the uneducated mob thought “paediatrician” sounded a bit like “paedophile”.

  15. […] JESC always seems to be balanced on the edge of failure in the minds of many. Where ‘Adult’ is expected to survive and somehow pull itself together, ‘Junior’ has a certain lack of momentum. After the 2012 Contest drew to a close in Amsterdam last December, we set out some of the challenges facing the Contest. It does appear that the EBU have made a positive decision and pushed to keep JESC in the portfolio. As for the other challenges, we’ll start to see how they have been addressed when we get to Kyiv on November 25th. The Challenge Facing The Junior Eurovision Song Contest […]

  16. mr82 says:

    I’ve been watching the show since 2007. Being an Armenian, I believe that the votes are polotical, especially in the late epoisodes of the show. However this is quite true in the adult version too.
    But it all comes down to money. If it is not generating ravenue, no broadcaster will be willing to participate, unless the goal is promoting culture, where the government helps the broadcasters financially. But even that, lately all participants are trying to Invlove as much English as possible so that all understand, pushing the goal of jesc (if it were this) from being cultural.
    I believe if the participation cost were lower, individuals will be motivated to represent their country in jesc, and they finance evrrything.

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