The Eurovision Song Contest (French: Concours Eurovision de la Chanson) is an annual competition held among active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
Each member country submits a song to be performed on live television and then casts votes for the other countries’ songs to determine the most popular song in the competition. Each country participates via one of their national EBU-member television stations, whose task it is to select a singer and a song to represent their country in the international competition. The Contest has been broadcast every year since its inauguration in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programmes in the world. It is also one of the most-watched non-sporting events in the world, with audience figures having been quoted in recent years as anything between 100 million and 600 million internationally. Eurovision has also been broadcast outside Europe to such places as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Uruguay despite the fact that they do not compete. Since 2000, the Contest has also been broadcast over the Internet, with more than 74,000 people in almost 140 countries having watched the 2006 edition online.
Each country must submit one song to represent them in any given year
they participate. The only exception to this was when each country
submitted two songs in the inaugural Contest. There is a rule which
forbids any song being entered which has been previously commercially
released or broadcast in public before a certain date relative to the
Contest in question.
Countries may select their songs by any means, whether by an internal decision of the participating broadcaster or a public contest that allows the country’s public to televote between several songs. The EBU encourages broadcasters to use the latter, as this generates more publicity for the contest. These public selections are known as national finals.
Some countries’ national finals are as big as—if not bigger than—the international Eurovision Song Contest itself, involving many songs being submitted to national semi-finals. The Swedish national final, Melodifestivalen (literally, “The Song Festival”) includes 32 songs being performed over four semi-finals, played to huge audiences in arenas around the country, before the final show in Stockholm. This has become the most-watched programme of the year in Sweden. In Spain, the reality show Operación Triunfo started in 2002; the winners of the first three seasons proceeded to represent the country at Eurovision.
Regardless of the method used to select the entry, the song’s details must be finalised and submitted to the EBU before a deadline some weeks before the international Contest.
Since 1971, each participating country has been required to provide a preview video of their entry, ostensibly to be broadcast in all the nations taking part. Broadcast of the previews was compulsory until the mid 1990s, but is no longer so, providing each country provides access to the videos online.
The voting systems used in the Contest have changed throughout the years. The modern system has been in place since 1975, and is a positional voting system. Countries award a set of points from 1 to 8, then 10 and finally 12 to other songs in the competition — with the favourite song being awarded 12 points.
Historically, a country’s set of votes was decided by an internal jury, but in 1997 five countries (Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom) experimented with televoting, giving members of the public in those countries the opportunity to vote en-masse for their favourite songs. The experiment was a success, and from 1998 onwards all countries were encouraged to use televoting wherever possible. Back-up juries are still utilised by each country, in the event of the televoting failure. Nowadays members of the public may also vote by SMS, in addition to televoting.
Since 2000, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain have automatically qualified for the Eurovision final, regardless of their positions on the scoreboard in previous Contests. They earned this special status by being the four biggest financial contributors to the EBU (without which the production of the Eurovision Song Contest would not be possible). Due to their untouchable status, these countries became known as the “Big Four”.
Italy also contribute heavily to the EBU and they have been offered similar status should they wish to rejoin the Eurovision Song Contest. This would obviously make them known as the “Big Five”, however they have currently not shown any interest in returning despite attempts to encourage them.
From 1997 to 2001, countries qualified for each Contest based on the average of their points totals for their entries over the previous five years. However, there was much discontent voiced over this system because a country could be punished by not being allowed to enter merely because of poor previous results, which did not take into account how good a fresh attempt might be. This led the EBU to create what was hoped would be a more permanent solution to the problem, which was to have two shows every year: a qualification round, and the grand final. In these two shows there would be enough broadcast time to include all the countries which wished to participate, every year. The qualification round became known as the Eurovision Semi-Final. In 2009 due to the number of nations entering, it changed very slightly as two separate semi finals were created, once going from the first semi a nation would enter straight into the final as would those progressing from the second semi.