ESC – Eurovision Song Contest

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Logo since 2015–present

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(en) The Eurovision Song Contest (French: Concours Eurovision de la chanson), often known simply as Eurovision or by its initialism ESC, is an international song competition organised annually by the European Broadcasting Union. Each participating country submits an original song to be performed live and transmitted to national broadcasters via the Eurovision and Euroradio networks, with competing countries then casting votes for the other countries’ songs to determine a winner.

Based on the Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy since 1951, Eurovision has been held annually since 1956 (apart from 2020), making it the longest-running annual international televised music competition and one of the world’s longest-running television programmes. Active members of the EBU and invited associate members are eligible to compete; as of 2023, 52 countries have participated at least once. Each participating broadcaster sends one original song of three minutes duration or less to be performed live by a singer or group of up to six people aged 16 or older. Each country awards 1–8, 10 and 12 points to their ten favourite songs, based on the views of an assembled group of music professionals and the country’s viewing public, with the song receiving the most points declared the winner. Other performances feature alongside the competition, including a specially-commissioned opening and interval act and guest performances by musicians and other personalities, with past acts including Cirque du Soleil, Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Mika, Rita Ora and the first performance of Riverdance. Originally consisting of a single evening event, the contest has expanded as new countries joined (including countries outside of Europe, such as Australia), leading to the introduction of relegation procedures in the 1990s, before the creation of semi-finals in the 2000s. As of 2023, Germany has competed more times than any other country, having participated in all but one edition, while Ireland and Sweden both hold the record for the most victories, with seven wins each in total

Traditionally held in the country which won the preceding year’s event, the contest provides an opportunity to promote the host country and city as a tourist destination. Thousands of spectators attend each year, along with journalists who cover all aspects of the contest, including rehearsals in venue, press conferences with the competing acts, in addition to other related events and performances in the host city. Alongside the generic Eurovision logo, a unique theme and slogan is typically developed for each event. The contest has aired in countries across all continents; it has been available online via the official Eurovision website since 2001. Eurovision ranks among the world’s most watched non-sporting events every year, with hundreds of millions of viewers globally. Performing at the contest has often provided artists with a local career boost and in some cases long-lasting international success. Several of the best-selling music artists in the world have competed in past editions, including ABBA, Celine Dion, Julio Iglesias, Cliff Richard and Olivia Newton-John; some of the world’s best-selling singles have received their first international performance on the Eurovision stage.

While having gained popularity with the viewing public in both participating and non-participating countries, the contest has also been the subject of criticism for its artistic quality as well as a perceived political aspect to the event. Concerns have been raised regarding political friendships and rivalries between countries potentially having an impact on the results. Controversial moments have included participating countries withdrawing at a late stage, censorship of broadcast segments by broadcasters, as well as political events impacting participation. Likewise, the contest has also been criticised for an over-abundance of elaborate stage shows at the cost of artistic merit. Eurovision has, however, gained popularity for its kitsch appeal, its musical span of ethnic and international styles, as well as emergence as part of LGBT culture, resulting in a large, active fanbase and an influence on popular culture. The popularity of the contest has led to the creation of several similar events, either organised by the EBU or created by external organisations; several special events have been organised by the EBU to celebrate select anniversaries or as a replacement due to cancellation.

(en) EUROVISION HISTORY. The story of the Eurovision Song Contest can be traced back to the mid 1950s, and the creative endeavours of the former director general of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Marcel Bezençon.

After a successful (and popular) live broadcast of the FIFA World Cup in 1954, the EBU was searching for a fresh entertainment format to test the limits of live television broadcasting technology.

The inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest came from Italy, which had, in 1955, successfully broadcast for the first time on television the fifth edition of their Festival di Sanremo, another song contest.

In October 1955, at an EBU meeting in Palazzo Corsini alla Lungara, in Rome, the idea of a wider song contest for all of Europe was pitched by Italian broadcaster Rai’s director general, Sergio Pugliese. The suggestion was met with great enthusiasm by Bezençon, then head of the EBU’s Programme Committee, thus paving the way for an ongoing tradition to begin.

The very first Eurovision Song Contest was held in Switzerland on May 24, 1956, with seven nations participating. Each country contributed two songs each, with the performances backed by a live orchestra, which was tradition in the early years up until the late ’90s.

The Contest’s appealing variety of songs in different languages and genres were soon playing across the radio airwaves of Europe. The Eurovision Song Contest quickly became a much-anticipated annual tradition throughout Europe, and well beyond.

Traditionally, each Contest is held in the country that won the preceding year’s event; though there have been exceptions throughout the years, such as in 2023.

At the beginning of the Contest’s history, participants used to sing in their country’s national language; through habit or expectation, rather than because of any particular rule on the matter.

It was only in 1965, when the Swedish entry (Absent Friend) was sung in English, that the EBU set strict rules on the language in which songs could be performed; lyrics henceforth had to be written in participants’ national languages. 

Songwriters across Europe soon started wondering if success might only come if the judges could engage easily with the lyrics in another language.

This thinking is considered to have resulted in songs with simpler lyrics that were easy-to-sing-along to being submitted to the Contest such as winners La, La, La and Boom Bang-A-Bang in 1968 and 1969.

In 1973, the rules on use of language were loosened and the following year ABBA won the Contest with Waterloo, which was performed in English.

In 1977, the rule that nations must sing in a national language was reintroduced until it was abolished for good in 1999. All entries though, regardless of which language they are performed in, must be no longer than three minutes in length.

There have never been any rules on the nationality of the artists or songwriters competing for each country, resulting in Greece’s Nana Mouskouri singing for Luxembourg in 1963 and Canadian Celine Dion triumphing for Switzerland in 1988.

Voting systems, too, have changed throughout the years. The current system has been in place since 1975. Voters can give points ranging from 1 to 8, then 10, with the favourite then being given the infamous ‘douze’ (12) points.

In the past, a jury selected by the participating broadcaster from each country always decided that nation’s set of votes. However, in 1997, five countries (Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) were tasked with sampling the televoting method, thus giving the audience in those countries the opportunity to vote for their favourite songs for the very first time.

The experiment proved to be successful and, starting from 1998, all countries were encouraged to use televoting wherever possible. Nowadays, viewers are also allowed to vote by SMS and by downloading the official app.

National juries, who had decided the winners until 1997, were reintroduced in 2009 alongside the public vote. Regardless of the voting method used, however, countries cannot vote for their own song.

In the early ’90s, there was a large increase in the number of participants, with many broadcasters from former Eastern Bloc countries joining the EBU and now eligible to compete at the Contest for the first time. This continued throughout the ’90s and ’00s, with more countries joining in on the fun throughout that period.

To handle the higher number of countries wanting to take part, in 2004, the EBU introduced a Semi-Final for the very first time, with countries competing to qualify to the Grand Final each year.

As interest in the competition grew, in 2008, two Semi-Finals were introduced, and they remain to this day.

Now, all countries except for the ‘Big Five’ (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom), and the winner of the previous year’s Contest, must compete and finish in the Top 10 of a Semi-Final in order to qualify for the Grand Final.

Throughout the years, a total of 52 countries have participated at least once. A record number of 43 countries competed in a single Contest in 2008, the first year that two Semi-Finals were introduced. This record was matched in 2011, and again in 2018.

In 2015, the Contest celebrated its 60th anniversary. The BBC hosted a celebratory show in London, Eurovision’s Greatest Hits, featuring over a dozen former participants.

The EBU marked the anniversary in Vienna the same year by inviting Australia to take part for the first time, following the Australian broadcaster SBS’ commitment to broadcasting the event down under since the early ’80s. The country has continued to take part ever since.

In 2023, Liverpool hosts the 67th Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine, 2022’s winner. It will be the ninth time the BBC has hosted the Contest and the fourth time it’s hosted on behalf of another broadcaster.

It’s also the first time since 1980 that the previous year’s winner has not hosted the following year’s show.

History is always being made at the Eurovision Song Contest and, with the rest of the world also being invited to vote for the very first time, this year’s event promises to be one of the most memorable yet.

(it) L’Eurovision Song Contest è il più grande concorso musicale del mondo! Tutto cominciò così… Negli anni ’50, in un Europa che stava cercando di rinascere dopo le devastazioni della guerra, l’European Broadcasting Union (Unione Europea di Radiodiffusione) con sede in Svizzera, istituì un comitato ad hoc che studiasse un modo per riunire i paesi membri attorno ad uno show di intrattenimento leggero. Nel 1955, tale comitato decise di organizzare un concorso canoro internazionale in cui i paesi, rappresentati dalle loro rispettive emittenti televisive pubbliche, avrebbero potuto partecipare ad uno show televisivo, da trasmettere simultaneamente in tutte le nazioni partecipanti. Questo progetto fu concepito durante un incontro a Monaco nel 1955 da Marcel Bezençon, il Direttore dell’EBU-UER. Il concorso, che prendeva spunto dal Festival di Sanremo nato nel 1951,  fu anche visto come un esperimento tecnologico in diretta televisiva. A quei tempi, quello di mettere insieme molti paesi in un’ampia area di network internazionali, fu considerato un progetto molto ambizioso. In quel tempo la rete Eurovisione era costituita da una rete terrestre a microonde.