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Eurovision: Svante Stockselius moves on

August 31, 2010

It’s all change on the Eurovision bus. Head honcho Eurovision Supervisor Svante Stockselius (above) has announced his departure from the European Broadcasting Union.

Now someone else will have the responsibility of making sure the scoring spreadsheet is working correctly. So too the tricky job of delivering cheesy grins to camera and delivering fairly chronic jokes aimed at a pan-European audience. Poor old Svante. You’ll never quite reach the dizzy heights previous Eurovision scrutineer Frank Naef did. Gah. Them were the days. Still. Everyone, please! Raise your glasses of warm Asti Spumanti to our Eurovision Supervisor Mr Stockselius.

Svante’s job isn’t just a cameo role on the night of the contest, nodding to the rest of the continent in the hope we’ll believe everything is above board.

Svante’s contribution to the Eurovision Song Contest has been considerable since he joined the EBU in 2003 (coiincidentally the year of the UK’s worst performance in the Contest – Cry Baby). He’s had considerable vision and implemented his strategy efficiently and effectively. The resulting Eurovision machine is massive.  Mr Stockselius has been quite  a busy little bee.

His tenure has seen the Contest because a considerably more commercially focussed affair. This is reflected in the branding of the event. Long gone are the days of distinctive identities developed by each successive host country’s broadcaster. Now there’s a logo which exists in its own right. The Eurovision brand exists outside of the manic few weeks in the run up to the event. Eurovision has a life of its own. This might seem superficial but without an instantly recognisable brand, it’s difficult to maximise the effeciency of the sales department.

Selling Eurovision – or the idea of Eurovision as a staple in the TV schedules – has been vital to it’s continued existence. Not only is the logo a visual representation of Svante’s strategy – it seemed such a strange notion when he introduced it at an EBU press conference at the Eurovision in Latvia 7 years ago – it’s also a reminder that the lifeblood of the Contest is in part the tremendous stake record companies have over a TV programme.

It’s massive scale – 2010’s Contest set Norwegian broadcaster NRK back £23 million – makes this more than just a TV programme. It offers the record companies representing singers and songwriters alike the opportunity to promote their acts such that revenue streams can be established, ripe for exploitation later. Eurovision isn’t long flowing dresses and dicky bow ties anymore. Eurovision is a positive label. Artists can be “Eurovision” artists and not suffer as a result – at least outside the UK. It’s a backable label. That Eurovision logo has currency.

And pushing the Eurovision broadcast more towards the search for a star/reality TV format has been crucial in that too. Whilst some might mourn the passing of that annual identity imposed by the host broadcast, the flipside is that ensuring TV viewers see pretty much what they saw and enjoyed watching the year before is important it maintaining viewing figures and in turn maintaining the brand’s momentum.

Where Sweden in particular is concerned, the fever-pitch excitement for the main Eurovision event is exploited further by the annual national selection programme Melodiefestivalen (the revamped format for Sweden’s national final was Svante Stockselius’ work) . Over a period of weeks artists and their songs (last year there were 32 acts) are whittled down to a handful of hopefuls for a large scale stadium finale which looks to the unitiated to all intents and purposes like a Eurovision final itself. Last year’s final was watched by approximately 4 million people. Swedish has a total population count of 9 million. Melodiefestivalen is a popular beast. From a TV executive’s point of view, if a core viewing audience can be secured in one country – and amongst its neighbouring Scandinavian countries who also watch it – then the main event’s popularity is secured to a certain extent, in turn underpinning the brand’s continued value. It’s a far cry from what Eurovision creator Marcel Bezençon had in mind when he formulated the idea of the TV broadcast in 1955.

To give Svante Stockselius the sole credit for the popularity of Melodiefestivalen would be unfair. What he’s absolutely succeeded in doing in translating that success into a reinvigorated Eurovision. Taking a TV format, honing the elements that work and representing those elements year after year. Audiences know what they’re going to get. People are sure to return. Audience viewing figures will remain up. And if they do, sponsors will be keen to participate. Record companies know they’ll get a return on their investment. Even if they don’t win, the artists will get 3 (maybe 6) minutes of singing exposure plus the PR (if their host country can be arsed) too. Everyone’s a winner.

That’s how Svante’s role in Eurovision these past seven years has transformed it from a TV event into a business. There are lots of dependancies in the system. He’s not just been the exec on a TV format. He’s been the man managing a massive business comprising delicate relationships.

And it will be interesting to see how – if at all – that changes in the future. Can the ecosystem continue? Will the format go off the boil? Will Svante’s successor dare to change anything? Will they return to some of the elements which established Eurovision in the hearts of those of us who sat attentively cross-legged in front of the TV screen when we were kids? Whoever that person is, it will take a stronger man than me.

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