Sietse Bakker, Event Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, has a lot on his mind. The world’s biggest music spectacle is right around the corner and there are plenty of loose ends to tie up. But at the end of February he was kind enough to take some time out of his hectic pre-Eurovision schedule to chat with wiwibloggs about a number of issues — from Australia at Eurovision to determining the ESC running order to Ukraine’s withdrawal to what constitutes a political song. You can listen to the full interview below, but we’ve also pulled out some highlights for your convenience.
If you’re interested in hearing more from Sietse, I spoke with him in a three-part series last year, and we talked (1) money, venues and change (2) the ballot box and other scandals and (3) whether the voting system needs to be reformed. I didn’t bother to ask any of these questions again, and many of his answers then are still relevant for this and future contests.
Thank you to Sietse for his candor and insight!
Sietse delves into how Australia’s participation came about. We’ve discussed this previously on the site, but it was great to get some insight from the EBU. He said that starting three years ago the Australians said they wanted to participate. And the EBU replied that this was a problem because the rules said you have to be in the EBU and Australia is quite a ways away from the EBU.
So the first step was to have them performing in the interval last year. That gave both parties the chance to see how participating worked. The Aussies created such a superb act it demonstrated that Australia was up to the challenge. Many discussions followed, around the building bridges theme and the 60 year anniversary, and the desire to do something different.
I asked if Australia’s participation fee is similar to that of a Big 5 nation. He wouldn’t give an exact amount — fair enough — instead saying “they’re paying a reasonable amount.”
Will There be Another?
Next I asked him if there will be another big nation from outside Europe joining the mix. He said there is no long term plan to bring in other countries. But he then immediately followed up that it would be interesting to see if they could involve Canada, the United States, South Africa, or China. He viewed this more of a way to increase interest in those countries — not as a step to adding them to the lineup.
What makes a song political?
Next I asked Sietse what constitutes a political song. His answer was very similar to Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced, but I know it when I see it.”
Fundamentally they don’t want the song contest to be a platform for promoting political views or political messaging.
Ukraine This Year
This next question is one dear to my heart as I think Ukraine tends to have the most amazing songs every year. I asked if Ukraine called up today and wanted to participate whether this would be possible. He said that there is no way to do so now because it’s too late to schedule in another act. He sounded like he liked the possibility — the more the merrier! — but explained that the scheduling is locked in. He also said that they have had numerous conversations with the broadcasters and they have strong reasons to not participate this year. He followed on by saying that they are continuing to talk with Ukraine and they hope to see them back next year.
The Running Order
I then asked Sietse if the EBU has any influence on the running order. He talked about how they observe the show producers as they discuss how best to order the acts, based on the songs themselves, the lights, the contents on the screen, the geography of the countries, and then pick the order. The EBU then has to approve that ordering. To date they have always approved the initial proposed ordering.
Will Vienna Go Over Budget?
I asked if Vienna will pull a Copenhagen and go way over budget. Sietse pointed out that the song contest itself was under budget, but the City of Copenhagen went way over budget turning the shipyard into a concert venue (gee what a surprise).
He then talked about the challenges Vienna faces. First the venue is in the middle of a residential area (so forget driving to it). They are hitting issues like where to put the additional power supplies and other equipment they need for the show.
Second there are other events at the same time including a convention of 30,000 liver doctors (yes there are over 30,000 liver doctors). Sietse did point out that with all the excessive drinking during the event, we’ll have doctors there to handle anyone having liver problems from all the alcohol.
I asked Sietse if we’ll see as much questionable voting as last year. He replied that the countries last year saw the result of the full votes being published and how journalists then asked critical questions about the vote results. And he hopes this year that they will take into account the result of this transparency.
He then went on to talk about his hope that with this increased transparency their integrity is now on the line. And that over time this transparency will lead to a better result. He then did talk about how this is a hope and what we’re going to see is improvement, but we’ll probably never hit a point where there are no issues.
Sietse then brought up the legit point that the televoters have all these songs they’re hearing for the first time and it’s so many that they look for anchors for their votes. So when a neighbor sings, they remember it because it’s their neighbor. That doesn’t determine the vote, but it helps their neighbors, when the song is good.
What’s The Most Interesting Change This Year?
My final question is what will be the most interesting this we will see this year. That lead to a 15 second pause as he was thinking about it and he then said the set. That the stage will be out of this world in terms of what they can do with it. So be prepared to be blown away with what can be done on the stage.
He then talked about how everyone in Europe makes fun of Eurovision and how they want people to realize how good the music is. He said that Eurovision is one of those guilty pleasures where everyone trash talks it, yet then watches it.
He then went on to talk about Eurovision has become a giant media event, along with the TV broadcast. Eurovision will shortly have their 1 billionth YouTube view (that’s billion with a B!). Everyone talks about it, everyone watches it.
Or as an American friend of mine said after living in Europe for 3 years, no one even mentions it and then the week of the show comes around and the entire continent of Europe goes bat-shit insane.