The Economics of Eurovision

cover image eurovision

I quite like Eurovision - hardly a controversial statement, even if some may find the absurd pageantry a little too much. As I was watching Ukraine’s last minute dash to victory (despite winning neither the popular vote, nor the judges vote) in the 2016 reincarnation of the franchise I couldn’t help but think about the cost of performing and hosting Eurovision. The politics of Eurovision - itself a well documented subject - is heavily informed by the money involved (like everything). And like all stories of government spending on what is essentially a vanity project, this means it can go very wrong, very easily.


In the true austerity spirit of the day, Romania were kicked out of Eurovision 2016 before it had even begun, for non-payment of debts to the tune of CHF 16m (just over £11m). Not only could Romania not perform, but they were no longer entitled to show the event - a true blow for many (but luckily not the fans - according to the World Bank, over half of Romanians have access to the internet, as well as having access to some of the fastest and cheapest internet connections in Europe, so streaming would not have been an issue for most). The financial burden of performing at Eurovision was a stretch too far and to me it was obvious what was causing this: the increasing cost of glitter and sequins.

Ukraine's entry Jamala won the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest with her politically charged '1944'
Ukraine’s entry Jamala won the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest with her politically charged ‘1944’

I decided to look in to it and it turns out that my hypothesis was incorrect. In reality, the people who own and operate Eurovision are called the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) - an alliance of public service media corporations and entities from 56 different countries. There are also 34 associate members from other countries. It is somewhat linked to the EU, although we will still be allowed in Eurovision if we vote Out in June. The main output of the EBU is Eurovision, although their members include non-European states such as Egypt and Algeria.


They are funded mostly by the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italy, hence the automatic inclusion of these countries in Eurovision, although Italy have pulled out for political reasons in years gone by. The EBU is a non-profit organisation, but then again so is FIFA, and we all know about their never ending struggle for the normalisation of bribery. Moreover, it turns out like FIFA - or a particularly adventurous prostitute -  the EBU will let anyone do anything for enough money  .


After all, Australia’s inclusion in to Eurovision seems to be for financial reasons. The EBU is not quite the financially secure institution it was, and in a time where frivolities are being reigned in on the continent, events like these are the first to lose funding. It seems that Europe will have to look outward to maintain the behemoth that Eurovision has become, and with the shape that the world seems to be taking - increased globalisation and further erosion of previously defined boundaries (despite nationalistic and religiously motivated backlash all over the world) - combined with the positive scores given by the judges to the Antipodean nation, it appears that Eurovision will soon become Globalvision.


Of course, the watering down of traditional entertainment so that it can be packaged and resold to a global audience is hardly a new phenomena; in this respect football’s Premier League is well ahead of Eurovision. Jon Ola Sand - an executive supervisor with the EBU - was particularly forthright about the aims of the show, saying “We strongly believe the Eurovision Song Contest has the potential to evolve organically into a truly global event.”.


When it comes down to it though, does this really matter? For the individual, after all, despite its popularity here and abroad, Eurovision is basically an excuse to get drunk with your friends and gain an incredibly shallow knowledge about modern European politics. There is no real European culture that can be gleaned from Eurovision, other than an apparent love for key changes and glitter. The trend of “globalisation” has been around in Eurovision for a while as well, with Morocco participating in previous years.


On the other hand, this slow march towards a lack of real identity is what is plaguing a lot of cultures in recent years. The very tangible idea of a nation state with borders is being eroded, whether it be through codified means like the currently suspended Schengen zone, or whether it be by groups of struggling refugees fleeing from poverty and death. Of course, the state of Eurovision is hardly analogous for the disintegration of a world order that has been around since World War Two, but maybe the ultra-camp contest can be a canary for the global community mission creep.


It may not be that important - and many may rejoice in its evolution in to a more globalised event - but it is somewhat sad to see Eurovision’s slow descent in to view-grabbing, instead of being a genuine yet flamboyant celebration of European identity and togetherness. It is sad that Romania can be kicked out of a European celebration because their government can’t afford the exorbitant costs of entering. A ridiculously high barrier to entry  is completely contradictory to the spirit of Eurovision.


Maybe I’m reading too much in to it, or maybe I’m on the right track - either way, there is no doubt that Eurovision is changing to reflect a false flag of a libertarian ideal that is exemplified in OECD’s across the world: it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, you are welcome (but only if you can afford it, of course).

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