22-06-2023 The Eurovision Song Contest: A multifaceted cultural phenomenon and global production network
The Eurovision Song Contest is a unique television format – a co-produced product in which each of the participating countries (both the Host Broadcaster and the Participating Broadcasters) create and add value. Apart from the live broadcasted three nights of the international music competition (two semi-finals & final), Eurovision is the world’s largest live broadcast (which is not sports broadcast); i.e. we have a live performance, which can be classified as both performing arts and music industry production. Hence, the Eurovision is a cross-sectoral event that includes: a) performing arts product – live music performance of a song (concert); b) a music industry product – a recorded song and a video; and c) a TV format and a live broadcast that brings it all together.
The Eurovision Song Contest and its broadcasting takes place within the EBU framework – from the concept, the rules and specific requirements, to the overall control and management. Extremely complex in terms of organisation the Eurovision has clearly defined participants and distinctive roles and tasks/activities, as well as clear power relations. Besides the lead organisation – the European Broadcast Union (EBU), other key roles are of the Host Broadcaster and the Participating Broadcasters. Host and guest countries are partners of the leader organisation, with the host country being a strategic partner. Each country has power and autonomy on how to choose an artist, how to create and produce a song, and how to promote and market their product. The amount of power and autonomy of each country are defined by the rules and limitations set by the leader organization – the EBU.
The Eurovision Song Contest as case study for a global production network
The Eurovision Song Contest was selected as a case study for the CICERONE project for the following reasons. First, the importance of public service media for the audiovisual sector in Europe suggests a particular interest in the socio-cultural embeddedness of the EBU, (and the Eurovision Song Contest network in particular), in European societies. Secondly, because the Eurovision Song Contest is a case of a sophisticated public media service project, the implementation of GPN can reveal interesting analyses, dynamics and specificities. Third, the Eurovision televised contest has three dimensions as a cultural product, which makes it a rich case for analysis: the Eurovision Song Contest is a stage product (concert), a television product (live TV broadcast) and a music industry product at the same time.
No less complex and interesting is the chain of authors and participants that contributes to the spectacular size of its network and pan-European territorial scope. The entry point in the network is the Bulgarian National Television, which participates in the competition through a specific business model – a public-private partnership. This gives a particular perspective on the connections and relationships within the network.
The structure of the global production network phases is not linear in time. It is simultaneous and overlapping in the course of activities in the different phases, both at national and European level. The highest spatial scale in which the network is involved is global – through the distribution, the broadcast phase and the online archives.
In this case, we observe the creation of a complex product that is much more than a live TV event that attracts millions of spectators. Eurovision is an intersectional event that includes: a) a performing arts product – a live musical performance of a song (concert); b) a music industry product – a recorded song and video; and c) a TV format and live broadcast that brings it all together.
The creation phase takes place simultaneously at both national and European level. The lead actor – European Song Contest-EBU is the creator of the concept and the rules. Each participating country is a co-producer of the competition. The EBU has the main rights for the contest, but each participating country also has a share and is the creator of the concept for the national participation (selection of a song and an artist, financial support for the participation). In this case, with the participation of the Bulgarian National Television (BNT), a strategic partner from the private sector is involved in the creation phase. This is due to the chosen model of participation – through public-private partnership. This phase takes place simultaneously in all participating countries.
The production phase also takes place in many places simultaneously: in Bulgaria the BNT, and usually private partners record the song, shoot the video and create the set design for the performance on stage. In all participating countries similar processes take place. In the host country, the event programme is created, videos are filmed for each country’s participation and funding is finalised. EBU monitors all these processes,this phase is therefore not linear, but takes place simultaneously at national and pan-European level. EBU member countries that are not part of the European Union and countries in the Mediterranean are also participants. From this perspective, the production phase takes on a global aspect. Countries and actors from all around the world also participate in the Eurovision: e.g. Australia, Canada, Israel and other (from the 19 countries EBU-Associate members).
The distribution phase is dedicated to the promotion of the artist and the song. At the national level it involves media and PR agencies. The aim is that through marketing , media campaigns and touring, the artist is presented and branded as a representative of his nation. This process is identical in each country and the tours and concert appearances are also European. Specialised providers and intermediaries for these services have a major role to play here. The distribution process also reaches a global audience through social media and coverage by the specialist company Eurovoix.
The broadcast phase is the showing of the contest. The participants at this stage are the EBU, the host country and the local public broadcaster as well as the Participating Broadcasters who broadcast the signal. The EBU is the supervisory organisation responsible for ensuring that all its requirements are met in terms of the preparation and conduct of the Eurovision music and television show. As the creator of the contest, the EBU also owns all rights related to it. According to the contest rules, the next edition of the contest will be held in the home country of the winners of that year. Eurovision is therefore hosted by the local public broadcaster of the country that won the Eurovision Grand Prix in the previous year’s event. Together with the controlling organisation, the EBU, the local public broadcaster in the host country organises the live and televised broadcast of the contest. For example, in 2022, Eurovision was hosted by the Italian public broadcaster RAI and the city of Turin. The preparation of the final in Italy is covered financially by the government of the host country and the host city.
The other participants are broadcasters who broadcast the contest live and are entitled to receive the signal intended for international broadcasting.
A special category in this group are the countries which, in addition to broadcasting the signal, have sent a finalist to participate in the Eurovision final. The cost of their inclusion in the final and semi-final is borne by the participating country. The costs include an accompaniment fee, travel expenses, hotel and subsistence. Prior to this, the participating countries invest in the idea generation, they develop the crative content elements such as lyrics, music, video shooting. There are national and international inputs that are needed for the marketing and distribution of the music product.
In the archiving phase, a digital archive of the event and all related materials is created and preserved. The EBU has primary responsibility and access is global. Member States have the right to count re-broadcasts. But the archive is mainly used for advertising and marketing. Part of the archive, which is more than 50 years old, can also be considered as common European cultural heritage.
As one of the most influential media organisations, the EBU looks after the collective interests of public service broadcasters. It provides them with quality content exchange, training and know how.
One of the EBU’s most popular products, the Eurovision Song Contest, is positioned as a platform for the exchange of cultural content and an opportunity to promote the participating countries. However, it is an expensive endeavour for each country. For example, the total budget for Eurovision 2019 was €28.5 million according to www.eurovisionworld.com. Each participating country finds different options to finance their own participation.
The final economic gains of this multicultural mega-show of performance, music and suspense, are debatable. There is no doubt, that it creates jobs, but the number is difficult to determine.
Revenue is generated for the host country from advertisements during the three-day event, but there are also advertising revenues for the participating countries. The Eurovision attracts a lot of interest from sponsors and partners in advertising time at its events, as well as in advertising space on social media, where the event is followed.
Social impact and embeddedness
The case studies of the European Broadcasting Union’s Eurovision Song Contest (TV industry) and the Music Radio Exchange Platform (radio industry) described activities, related to the common mission of public service broadcasters, which is based on trust, common aesthetics and cultural values. The integration of values and mission determines the power distribution in these networks. Despite the clearly articulated role of the EBU as Lead Firm with Eurovision and Euroradio, with control on the concept, the rules, the evaluation, the brand etc., all EBU members have creative and administrative freedom in creating their part of the cultural product. Each national public broadcaster is a strategic partner with a free choice about the degree and form of participation in the network. The desire to preserve common cultural capital through the transfer of policies, knowledge, and technology also determines how value is created in these networks.
The embeddedness of production networks in the audiovisual industries show some different features, which we detected through the case studies. Territorial embeddedness in audiovisual industries is not limited to the context of the specific geographic location, where the network is positioned. The technical possibility of unrestricted signal transmission, i.e. broadcasting, removes the limits to the territorial embeddedness of a particular television or radio network. This almost unlimited territorial distribution of audiovisual content is also a form of societal embeddedness: because content becomes globally accessible it also shapes global cultural, aesthetic and moral values. These values are no longer linked to the traditions of a specific geographical place and society, but are supranational. Thus, we are witnessing the formation of global values in a generation of viewers.
The Eurovision Song Contest always creates prestige and high ratings for every national public broadcaster that participates. The period of its broadcast is usually also the one with the highest viewership for the Bulgarian National Television, comparable only to the broadcasting of world sport events. The national representative of the contest, (in 2021 it was the young singer Victoria Georgieva) is gaining popularity. Participation in the contest, regardless of ranking, gives a boost to any musical career and is an opportunity to position the singer also on the European scene. The Eurovision Song Contest also impacts the Official Charts. This is easier to happen when the artist is specifically catered for by an international label and influencer such as Ostereo, as is the case with Victoria.
Cultural impact has broad dimensions that encompass the relationship between entities in the network and its territorial location. Traditions, culture, institutional dimensions of actors and territory help us to see the specificity of any global production network.
The EBU competition has a long history. According to the historical reference on the contest’s website:
The history of the Eurovision Song Contest began as the brainchild of Marcel Bezençon of the EBU. The Contest was based on Italy’s Sanremo Music Festival and was designed to test the limits of live television broadcast technology. The first Contest was held on 24 May 1956, when seven nations participated. With a live orchestra, the norm in the early years, and simple sing-along songs on every radio station, the Contest grew into a true pan-European tradition. (source: Eurovision website)
It is a cultural event that unites the eyes, the assessments and the voices of one continent – Europe, but it goes far beyond Europe. As a competition, as a business model, and even as a scope, this competition format is increasingly popular. Examples in this direction are the purchase of the licence in the USA, and the experience of holding the competition in Asia.
To this day, the contest is a benchmark of superior TV technology and organisation. The contest is not only a cultural event – already part of the traditions of united Europe – it is also a political barometer of every change and upheaval on the continent. Known for its free spirit in every respect, Eurovision is very often remembered not only for its winning songs, but also for its unusual and daring set design, its bizarre and daring choreography, and its political bias in voting.
The TV market is global, open and dynamic. The Eurovision Song Contest, in which Bulgaria participates, is a good example of a TV production relevant to the local and European market in general. The EBU’s assistance is not in terms of funding, but is much more complex. „This is a collaborative organisation. It reflects on the very structure, the way the EBU is built. If we are talking about television, we are talking about huge volumes available for co-production, not content exchange. To produce together, or once produced, to infuse it, solves tasks that Bulgaria could not solve on its own, because the EBU is involved, in the whole process, right from the planning they are involved, programming, contributing rights, contributing to production. In their documents you will see how much they contribute to the dissemination, I mean also organisationally, in terms of registration of the produced content. (Interviewee X)
Following the above-mentioned advantages and disadvantages in the EBU – BNT – Eurovision chain, Bulgaria clearly needs to improve the legislative framework in the field of broadcasting, the financing of the two public media and the governance model of the two media.
Today, radio and television share space as a type of media with other types of services that weaken their role and they need a serious transformation of their business model. Creating a stable and predictable funding model for public service media is a step in this direction.
Written by Diana Andreeva, Bilyana Tomova and Tsveta Andreeva
This blog relates to a case which is part of the report “Production networks in the cultural and creative sector: case studies from the audiovisual and radio industry”. This full report can be access here.