It’s Monday, so it’s time for another ESCXTRA Debate! Last week, in Minsk, Jon Ola Sand said he hoped more countries would get on board the Junior Eurovision adventure, but that a final with 26 countries would be too long, and too difficult to schedule. The show shouldn’t exceed two hours. But what about the Eurovision final?
Obviously, we can’t expect the Eurovision final to be shorter than two hours. It usually reaches near to the double of that, but it doesn’t mean this length can’t be questioned. To regular viewers, the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final is quite long. And it is true that broadcasts starting at 21:00 hardly ever end after midnight, except for election nights or special news editions. This length has become part of the Eurovision identity, and has even been joked about on the stage:
When we reach the end of the show, in approximately three to eight hours […]Petra Mede, opening of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest Final in Stockholm
The show is long. Is it too long? Maybe. If so, how could we make it shorter? Those are the questions we will be discussiong in this article.
Dissecting the final
In order to understand the length of a Final, and the way we could cut it, I think that we should dissect the shows. As such, I have divided finals in five parts, in a division that can be applied to most Eurovision shows:
- the introduction
- the songs
- the interval
- the voting
- the ending
There are two structural parts that would weigh a lot in the length of the show: the songs, and the voting. They are structural because they depend on a structural element on which the host production team has no power: the number of participants, and thus the number of entries.
There are however ways to counter those structural effects: the postcards (although you hardly save much time on those, and you still need time to change the stage), and the voting format and presentation.
When the “New Voting” was introduced in 2016, it was seen as a way to save time, because the televote could be counted when the juries were announcing their points (which would actually shorten the interval), and the juries would only announce their “12 points”. Historically, in the 2000’s, another choice in the announcement of the voting was made: only announcing the top three votes, instead of ten. Indeed, the voting, and the show, were starting to get too long because more than 35 countries had to announce all their points.
The change was made in 2006. This is why I decided to compare five different years to illustrate this debate: 2005 (the last year with full voting announcements), 2015 (the last year with the old system, and with 27 entries), 2016, 2017, and 2018 (to have a better idea of the current pattern, the one that we could change).
What the figures reveal
Those numbers show several important points, confirming but also negating some of my starting hypothesis.
The weight of commercial breaks
First, the voting has become shorter, indeed. There were almost the same number of participants in 2005 and 2015 (39 and 40), yet the voting was almost 15mins shorter in 2015. And the new system also shortened the voting, with an average of 47mins (instead of 68 in 2005).
The number of entries, doesn’t exactly have the expected effect though. In 2005, the final had 24 entries. The rest had 26, except 2015 with 27. The last four years are pretty similar (strangely, 2017 and 2018 took more time with the singing than 2015, despite having less entries to show). But the difference with 2005 is of 14-20 minutes. That is a lot : normally, there is about 4 minutes between the beginning of a postcard and the beginning of the next. So jumping from 24 to 26 should only add 8 to 10 minutes, not 20.
This longer time is due to commercial breaks (only one in 2005, against three in 2018) and unexpected events (the stage invasion in Lisbon, after which the show took a short unscheduled Green Room break).
The issue of the voting window
But the thing that surprised me the most is the difference in time for the interval acts. In 2005, the interval took less than 24 minutes. Ten years later, it was 40 minutes long. Obviously, it can be caused by the voting system : in 2005, only televoting was used, so once the EBU had the televoting figures, they had the results. In 2015, the televotes of each country had to be combined with the jury rankings, and transmitted to the spokespersons.
The real surprise lies in the years of the new system : the interval is actually longer now, going as far as 10 minutes longer in 2016. Yet, the new system allows the voting to start very early, since the EBU can count and confirm the televote while spokespersons announce the jury votes. And they do so. The real problem is the voting window. In 2005, people had 10 minutes to vote. In 2015, a bit more than 20 minutes. But when the new system arrived, the producers didn’t decide to shorten the interval. Instead, they chose to make the voting window longer, by spanning it over the entire interval.
Here is the best place to cut 15-20 minutes in the show : let’s cut the interval acts. Countries did a very good promotion of their culture or music in 25 minutes during the 2000’s, and even before that. And Europe could vote perfectly well in 10 minutes thirteen years ago. But simply cutting it to a 25-30m intervaL would be enough, and could have saved us from less interesting interval acts (aka Justin Timberlake).
First of all, I think we should be extremely careful about context. Though similar in many respects, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest contains many deviations from the adult version. Junior is a relatively new component to the Eurovision portfolio compared to the six decades of the adult contest. Obviously, it is primarily designed for children and as such, the event occurs on a Sunday afternoon. Compare that to the adult contest which traditionally is Saturday evening (and Tuesday/Thursday for semis respectively!). It goes without saying the intended demographics are vastly different, which is important when transposing an assertion about one contest into another.
I don’t think I could subscribe to the conclusion the contest is too long for a regular audience. If it was too lengthy for viewers, I would have expected a decline in ratings across the continent. Instead, we have seen audience figures either consistently increase or maintain at a stable level for years. I feel that this absolutely has to do with being aired on Saturday at primetime. It becomes an event in itself, where people are fully aware that the act of ‘watching’ Eurovision is an all-night affair. Speaking locally, the amount of venues in London that stay open or make a special night of Eurovision has skyrocketed in the last 5 or so years. I’m sure this is also the case internationally, with France broadcasting the contest in cinema’s back in 2017, for example. The contest length is about right for a perfect social event (or even the beginning of a party!).
In some respects I think the never ending nature of the contest, as cheekily alluded to by Petra Mede, is more stereotype than reality.
Perception vs reality
Going from Vincent’s incredibly insightful chart, it is clear that on the whole the length of the contest hasn’t radically changed in the last four contests. Where I agree is that if the contest was to cut parts, it would have to be from the interval. When you takeout the ‘essential time’ from the contest, there isn’t a lot to play with. However, looking at the stats is very different to the lived experience. Time is something that is felt, as much as it is scheduled. Personally speaking, while Stockholm 2016 was pretty similar to Lisbon 2018 time wise… Lisbon felt a lot longer. Certain parts of the show felt a bit sluggish. We all know the feeling when a song we aren’t so keen on just won’t end… well that is how I felt with moments in Lisbon. An inability to maintain energy levels or engage an audience can too easily be conflated with the comments made by Jan Ola Sand.
You can dissect the shows to optimise the show, but at what cost? Eurovision is a once a year spectacular event. It seems somewhat counterproductive to cut and crop things so much it becomes essentially a ‘skeleton’ contest with the barebones and no personality or authenticity. The EBU and respective broadcasters are all too aware when changes need to made and on the whole they adapt accordingly, as Vincent has pointed out. However, there is also a mutual understanding that, as with any live event, there is a chance things don’t go to plan and could overrun. This is why most broadcasters opt to go to the news after the contest, rather than another popular or live programme. Overrunning by a few minutes is a price most broadcasters are happy to trade-off in exchange for impressive and sustained viewing figures.
Jumping back over two decades to 1993, 25 countries competed for the Eurovision trophy. The entirety of the show took three hours. Lisbon 2018 was 3hrs 49mins. However, the contest has become more synonymous with the verb ‘party’. It seems to me that though there are minor components that could be tightened, the Eurovision final is at an ideal length.
What do you think? Do you feel that the Eurovision final is too long? If you do, how would you cut it? Tell us more in the comments below, or on social media at @escxtra !