Editorials & Opinion

Why now is the perfect time for the United Kingdom to return to Junior Eurovision

The United Kingdom remains one of Junior Eurovision’s most successful countries. Yes I know fellow Britons, it’s shocking to hear that Europe seemingly does not hate the UK. This statistic isn’t riding on past glories either, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest is a purely 21st century contest. Okay, the fact the UK have only participated three times makes such a statistic a bit less representative. However, we can’t ignore the fact that 67% of the UK’s Junior Eurovision appearances resulted in a top 3 finish. Only a handful of other countries can claim a similar success record.

Third time… unlucky

The UK debuted in the contest when it was held for the first time back in 2003 in Copenhagen. Two of the UK’s most successful acts at the time were chosen as the interval acts, Busted and Sugababes. British entrant Tom Morley finished in 3rd place with My Song For The World. Indeed, this was the same year that Jemini scored nil points which apparently wasn’t anything to do with their overly-repetitive song performed with wildly off-key vocals.

Cory Spedding earned the honour to represent the UK at the 2nd Junior Eurovision Song Contest a year later. The Best Is Yet To Come finished in the top six of every single national televote on its way to an extremely impressive second place finish. Impressive indeed! Unfortunately, the UK couldn’t make it three top 3 finishes in a row. In 2005, Joni Fuller placed 14th with How Does It Feel?. In a contest that seemed to favour younger performers at the time, and arguably still does, the 14-year-old’s performance just didn’t click with viewers. Nevertheless, British broadcaster ITV called time on their participation in the contest.

The official word regarding the UK’s withdrawal from the contest was centred around poor viewing figures. The 2003 contest was broadcast on ITV1, the broadcaster’s main channel. The contest was relegated to digital-only channel ITV2 for the following two years at a time when digital television wasn’t necessarily found in every UK home. Indeed, ITV were set to host the 2004 Junior Eurovision Song Contest before stepping down due to financial and scheduling reasons.

So why is 2017 the right time for the UK to make a long-awaited return to the contest? Let’s take a look at 3 key reasons.

#1: The Voice Kids UK debuts this summer

For the first time, the UK will be broadcasting their own version of global phenomenon The Voice Kids. The show is due to air on ITV this summer for the first year of a two-year contract. Popstars will.i.am, Danny Jones and Pixie Lott will be coaching a new wave of young British talent. According to The Sun, the prize for the winner will be “life-changing”. However, this prize has yet to be announced.

It is rare for under 16s to be able to sustain a chart career as it is unusual for children’s music to appeal to adults. So what better prize is there to give the winning child the chance to sing on the biggest stage in Europe? There’s the argument that such an idea makes a winner into a potential loser. Nevertheless, as seen from Mariam Mamadashvili’s winning reprise last November, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest is just as much about making new friends with like-minded children and engaging in a once in a lifetime experience. You’ll struggle to find anything but love and joy in the video below.

A popular source for Junior Eurovision contestants of today

The Voice Kids has produced several other Junior Eurovision entrants in recent years. Fellow members of the Commonwealth, Australia, selected both Bella Paige and Alexa Curtis after their participation on the show. Bella’s song was written by The Voice Kids coach Delta Goodrem. Putting the UK back in the spotlight, Pixie Lott co-wrote two of her three UK #1 hits, Danny Jones wrote the majority of his band McFly’s seven UK #1 hits and will.i.am’s pedigree is clear with writing and producing many global smashes. The winning act could easily collaborate with their coach in late summer to write a Junior Eurovision entry for them to take to Tbilisi in November.

There’s the argument that The Voice Kids UK allow children aged between 7 and 14 to audition. The age limit at Junior Eurovision is slightly different where children must be aged between 9 and 14. So what happens if a 7 or 8-year-old wins? It’s the only downside to what is a natural connection between The Voice Kids and Junior Eurovision. The only way through it is to make this clear at the beginning of the series. Going to Junior Eurovision would be an optional prize rather than a certainty. Perhaps while the winner gets this “life-changing” prize (which we assume isn’t Junior Eurovision), another finalist gets picked for Junior Eurovision. Exact placings tend not to be revealed in UK versions of The Voice so the ITV can easily choose someone who fits the eligibility criteria.

#2: Restoring the UK’s faith in Eurovision

With the adult contest being broadcast on the BBC and Junior Eurovision (in the past) and The Voice Kids being broadcast on ITV, there is a bit of a clash here. If the UK could pick up where they left off and score a few top 5 finishes, that would surely but a spanner in the works for those members of the British public who are adamant that “the UK will never win” and that “Europe hates us and just votes for their friends”. Such a thought process hadn’t fully set in by 2003. Jessica Garlick had just finished 3rd with Come Back in Eurovision 2002. Maybe Jemini’s result could have just been a one-off? However, despite the contest’s improving reputation and consistent viewing figures, a clear majority of Britons cannot shake the thought process that the UK will never win Eurovision again.

Success in Junior Eurovision, something that is easier to come by due to the smaller field, could have a very positive knock-on effect for the BBC. Imagine how positive headlines would be if the UK won a Eurovision. The chances of winning Junior Eurovision are much higher than winning the adult contest and, for believers of the diaspora theory, the jury-only vote in the junior contest should only be advantageous for the UK.

#3: Success for Malta, debuts from Australia and Ireland

For the first time in Junior Eurovision history, 2015 saw three nations with English as an official language take part in the contest. Australia and Ireland both took part for the first time. Meanwhile, Malta secured their second victory in the space of three years. Malta have proved that an isolated island can win Junior Eurovision on multiple occasions. Furthermore, Australia have secured two top half finishes out of a possible two. Irish broadcaster TG4 insists that Irish be the main language of Ireland’s entry in the contest so aren’t comparable success-wise. Nevertheless, there is a significant market of native English speakers for the UK to tap into across the Irish sea that wasn’t there before.

Indeed, the language rule is still in place in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Only a small part of an entry can be performed in a language that isn’t an official language of the country. Many countries opt to include English choruses in their Junior Eurovision entries these days. They believe that there is an advantage to performing in English. A similar theme is present in the adult contest. All but a handful of countries enter songs entirely in English as a result of the free-language rule there. Therefore, the UK should seize the opportunity to be one of only four countries that would be able to perform entirely in English.

Surely it’s a done deal right?

So what does ITV have to lose? The two key stumbling blocks will be participation fees and low viewing figures. According to The Guardian, ITV spent approximately £50 million on acquiring the rights for The Voice and The Voice Kids. These contracts are for three and two years respectively. Last year, it was reported by Philenews that CyBC’s participation fee for Cyprus’ participation at Junior Eurovision 2016 was €30,000 (£25,500). In addition, it was reported their fee for the 2017 adult contest stood at €40,000 (£34,000).

According to Dr. Eamonn Butler of adamsmith.org, the BBC’s fee for the adult contest in 2012 was approximately £300,000 (€355,000). Using a similar ratio to that of Cyprus, the UK may expect to spend £225,000 to participate in the Junior contest. With no “big 5” equivalent in Junior Eurovision, this figure could perhaps be significant lower. You would expect this is a drop in the ocean for a broadcaster that spends £2 million per live episode of The X Factor every year. Of course, in the event the UK won Junior Eurovision, it would cost substantially more to host the contest. Nevertheless, they could follow Italy’s lead and pass over the rights if they should so wish while still receiving the positive coverage for their victory.

The controversial new time slot may benefit ITV

Viewing figures have long been a problem for many Junior Eurovision participating countries. It wouldn’t have been a UK-only issues back in the mid-2000s. Why should ITV waste a primetime TV slot on something that could get substantially less figures than The X Factor does at the same time of year? The contest’s new Sunday afternoon slot should appeal to ITV. Viewing figures on ITV on a Sunday afternoon wouldn’t get much higher than the 2 million mark. With constant promotion via The Voice Kids UK, I think Junior Eurovision wouldn’t be too far off that mark.

At the very least, the introduction of The Voice Kids should encourage ITV to give Junior Eurovision another go. Imagine a Pixie Lott-written song performed by the winner of the first ever series of The Voice Kids UK taking victory in Tbilisi in November. Brexit who? Europe hates us what? Junior Eurovision may just be the key to reversing the UK’s fortunes in even the adult contest. In the future, it could secure the Eurovision brand a healthier reputation to add to its consistent popularity here in the UK.

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Comments (2)
  1. Ben Cook says:

    Broadcasters aren’t actually allowed to use The Voice format to select a Eurovision entry. The Voice creators don’t allow it to have anything to do with ESC directly.

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