Eurovision song contest seeks new viewers across the globe

Annual contest, taking place this week in Portugal, has ‘a life beyond Europe’, says EBU boss

The kitsch costumes, power ballads and risk of a humiliating nul points are familiar to its fans. Now, if the Eurovision song contest organisers get their way, these traits could find a bigger global audience.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the body behind the event, is considering how it can sell the broadcast to the rest of the world.

The EBU’s director general, Noel Curran, said the singing contest had “a life beyond Europe” and his team were looking at how to bring it to audiences beyond the continent. “For us, it is how we expand the core Eurovision brand beyond Europe and building awareness.”

He said: “The Eurovision song contest is going from strength to strength and we need to consider what its life is beyond Europe It is such a phenomenon now in European broadcasting. That I think we all believe that it has a life beyond Europe and we need to be careful how we look at that.”

The EBU has long included public broadcasters beyond Europe’s borders, such as Israel and Tunisia, and Australia was welcomed into the glittery Eurovision family in 2015. Curran said the EBU was “not actively looking right now” to invite other non-European countries to compete, but wanted to “build awareness” in other markets.

According to EBU data, 182m people in 42 markets watched the Eurovision’s two semi finals and final in 2017. “Its fanbase is huge, its audience figures are in a digital age are absolutely extraordinary,” said Curran, a former director general of Ireland’s public service broadcaster RTÉ.

Drawing in large numbers of teenage and twentysomething viewers makes Eurovision an outlier in the age of YouTube and smartphones. It gets a 43% share of viewers in the 15-24 age bracket, almost four times higher than average for the channels that show it.

Swiss singer Lys Assia, who won the first Eurovision song contest in 1956.
Swiss singer Lys Assia, who won the first Eurovision song contest in 1956. Photograph: Jacques Munch/AFP/Getty Images

Across all ages, Eurovision gets a one third audience share, but that rises to more than 70% in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. It got a 98% audience share in Iceland last year, even though the country’s entry, Paper by Svala Björgvinsdóttir, did not make the final.

The EBU has public service broadcaster members in 56 countries and is not related to the EU. Brexit was not likely to have “any kind of negative impact” on the EBU’s ties to the BBC, Curran said.

Intended to promote European unity, Eurovision was first staged in 1956, one year before six countries signed the political treaty that paved the way for the European Union.

The UK did not take part in the first contest, held in Lugano, Switzerland, because it missed the entry deadline. One year later, Hull-born Patricia Bredin made the UK’s Eurovision debut with a ballad called All and finished seventh out of 10 countries.

This week, 43 countries will be competing, culminating in the final at the Lisbon Arena on Saturday 12 May. Portugal won the right to host the competition for the first time when Salvador Sobral’s restrained ballad, Amar Pelos Dois, beat a dancing gorilla from Italy and a rap-yodelling mix from Romania.

The EBU boss said Portugal’s victory was proof that the outcome was not determined by block voting - a frequent complaint of critics, especially in the UK. “There are always accusations that block voting is increasing and then a ballad from Portugal won last year,” Curran said. “Explain that, except that people really like the song.”

Despite recent controversies over song lyrics and performers, he rejected suggestions that Eurovision had become too politicised. Russia’s Channel One did not screen the show last year, after its competitor, Julia Samoylova, was barred from host country Ukraine in a dispute related to the annexation of Crimea.

Such political conflicts, said Curran, were “bound to happen when you have that kind of conflict situation. That spills into all sorts of international and cultural events and the Eurovision song contest just happens to be one of them”.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Eurovision contest voting is no laughing matter, says Wogan

Showbusiness stars and politicians have joined Sir Terry Wogan's attack on the integrity of the Eurovision song contest after Russia romped home thanks to bloc voting from its near-neighbours. By Steven Morris

Steven Morris

26, May, 2008 @6:14 AM

Article image
Eurovision song contest won by Israel's Netta in Lisbon final
Singer captures Europe’s hearts and votes with her entry Toy, beating competition from Cyprus

Ruth McKee

13, May, 2018 @7:27 AM

Article image
Chinese broadcaster loses Eurovision rights over LGBT censorship
Mango TV blacked out performance featuring two male dancers during semi-final

Lily Kuo

11, May, 2018 @9:13 AM

Article image
Israel wins the Eurovision song contest 2018 – as it happened
Crown goes to Netta of Israel with her quirky entry Toy, in memorable contest after stage invader interrupted UK’s song

Heidi Stephens

12, May, 2018 @10:59 PM

Article image
Eurovision song contest faces questions over its text voting system

The winner of the Eurovision song contest could be called into question because most countries taking part will allow text voting. By Leigh Holmwood

Leigh Holmwood

23, May, 2008 @1:55 PM

Article image
Song of terror picked by Israel for Eurovision

Israel's Eurovision song contest entry will be a number called Push the Button about the threat of terrorism. By Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem.

Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem

02, Mar, 2007 @11:07 AM

Article image
Eurovision Song Contest: UK could lose guaranteed place in final

The UK could lose its guaranteed place in the Eurovision Song Contest final following criticism that the event is becoming increasingly biased against western European countries. By Leigh Holmwood

Leigh Holmwood

28, May, 2008 @9:44 AM

Article image
Eurovision song contest

This year's Eurovision song contest is being held in Riga this weekend. From Lulu to tATu, all you need to know is here.

Imogen Tilden

23, May, 2003 @4:07 PM

Article image
Eurovision: Who is Jessica Mauboy's toughest competition?
With the Eurovision song contest final nearly upon us, here’s your guide to the top contenders

Guardian staff

12, May, 2018 @1:21 PM

Eurovision contest tempts Morrissey

The BBC has confirmed it was in talks with arch miserabilist Morrissey to pen Britain's Eurovision Song Contest entry. By Owen Gibson.

Owen Gibson, media correspondent

10, Jan, 2007 @7:46 AM