Following Barei’s performance in the grand final of Eurovision 2016, the bookies started narrowing Spain’s odds to win, moving her all the way to third favourite. Spanish Eurofans went crazy…but the illusion of victory soon faded. First came the jury results, which put Spain in 16th — a decidedly middling result. The televote was the final nail in the coffin: Spain only received 10 points from 42 countries. Almost immediately, all eyes turned to RTVE. And those eyes were rolling.
Barei’s 22nd place finish has led disgruntled fans to call for the heads of two key figures: Head of Delegation Federico Llano and RTVE Entertainment Director Toñi Prieto. As they launched an online petition, Prieto got rhetorical: Would Spain have finished higher without the two of them, she asked, or do the problems for Spain run much deeper?
Barei – Say Yay! live at Eurovision 2016
Spain’s string of poor results has deeper roots than one may think. Since Federico Llano took control of Spain’s Eurovision delegation back in 2002, the country has never reached top 5. A seventh place finish in 2002 remains their best result.
However, the situation wasn’t much better before. During the 90s, Spain only hit the top 5 three times — in 1990, 1991 and 1995. And in the 1980s it only did so once — in 1984. The problem appears to be structural and one that predates Llano’s direction.
Spain’s poor results at Eurovision are the consequence of a larger problem, directly related to RTVE’s approach to culture in general and the contest in particular. Let’s review a few of the symptoms.
1. Insufficient commitment to Eurovision
The vast majority of fans point to RTVE’s lack of dedication to Eurovision. This is something that Llano himself proved on Saturday, when he explained that the quest for the next Eurovision representative will begin in the fall.
While many broadcasters across Europe will kick off their Eurovision 2017 preparations shortly, Spanish television will ignore the issue until September. That contrasts sharply with Germany’s NDR, which has already started drafting its 2017 game plan. wiwibloggs has also learned that France is already contemplating how it can improve on its sixth place finish.
This, obviously, affects the level of preparations for the country’s selection and future representative. One might think that the Spanish delegation would be working non-stop to sort out its fortunes at the Eurovision Song Contest. Alas.
One of the biggest problems for RTVE is that none of its professionals in charge of Eurovision can commit fully to the contest. In delegations like Sweden and France, their current HoDs dedicate much of their year working on Eurovision. However, in Spain’s case, Federico Llano is the Head of Coproductions and Festivals. This, according to Spain’s TV Academy, includes Eurovision, and other festivals and contests in which TVE takes part, and all the audiovisual coproductions (documentaries, fictional series, animation and more). In this type of system, Eurovision obviously has to be put on the back burner for much of the year.
Most of the well-known names on the Spanish delegation have other responsibilities within RTVE. For example, in the months leading up to Eurovision, several of them are also involved in MasterChef, one of the public broadcaster’s most popular shows.
The point of all this is not to question their skills: We know that they are talented journalists and creators who give their best every year. But they are stretched too thin. They’re human and they have their limits. We shouldn’t discredit their work. But we should advocate for RTVE to give them the space and time to do their jobs well.
The problem is RTVE’s conception of Eurovision, and the fact they see it as just another regular show. Broadcasters like Sweden’s SVT understand that Eurovision is different and that having a team fully committed to it pays off — both in terms of audience and results.
Eurovision is one of RTVE’s most profitable shows, and it costs half as much as a regular TV serial, but brings in twice the audience. Yet there is not permanent and constant work on the contest. Recognizing this and responding to it with a devoted team is essential for progress.
2. RTVE’s old-fashioned approach to music
Eurovision is a music contest, so the cultural background of the broadcaster matters. A network that doesn’t understand music as an essential part of its schedule will never get the essential feedback from the music industry to secure a fab Eurovision representative. That’s exactly what happens with RTVE.
Music in the corporation is left to Radio 3 and Radio Clásica, two stations dedicated to alternative and classical music. These stations have very low ratings: in the last wave of the Estudio General de Medios (April 2016), Radio 3 only recorded 378,000 listeners per day (a 2.9% market share) and Radio Clásica recorded 174,000 (a mere 1% of the audience).
There have been attempts to put popular music on TVE’s spotlight recently, and they have failed miserably to say the least. For example, the station aired hideous TV shows like La Alfombra Roja Palace (a variety show that ran for a month in 2015 with a peak audience of 843,000 people) and Uno de los nuestros (a reality show that tried to find Spain’s best open-air dance singer). And then there was the Spanish version of RTÉ’s The Hit, which also experienced painfully low ratings. These shows all had the same ending: They were removed from the schedule within weeks.
Spain’s landscape is completely different to many broadcasters who earn much better results at Eurovision. For example, Italy’s RAI broadcasts the longest running music competition in the world (Sanremo), and Germany’s ARD, France Télévisions and Belgium’s RTBF offer ARTE, an entire TV station dedicated to culture and music.
3. Clichéd view of fans
RTVE pays major attention to the Spanish Eurovision fan base, who, of course, represent a small fraction of the viewers of Eurovision. This coincides with the stereotype of ‘diva-lover’ who is frequently disconnected from current musical trends. It’s as if RTVE plays to a caricature of the fandom.
In the weeks preceding the contest, we often hear the typical comments of, “Oh, how do you know so much about Eurovision?” or “Yes, the fans know everything about the contest, it’s incredible”. These exclamations of wonder come from the same people who run Spain’s Eurovision entry. The prevailing vision of the Eurovision fan reduces the audience who can relate to Eurovision. Unlike other countries, such as the UK or France, the Spanish public is not especially hostile to the contest. Many complain, but everybody watches. RTVE reduces its target to the stereotypical ‘diva-lover’ anyway.
4. The disconnect with Spain’s music scene
Given the point of view of the contest that prevails at RTVE, Eurovision is not attractive to Spanish musicians. And it really should be, given that the Spanish music industry is not going through its best moment. The economic crisis and the increase of cultural VAT to 21% (the highest in Europe) has thrown Spain’s music scene into ICU.
Even at this desperate moment there’s still a lot of music in Spain. The country is a giant summer festival, with musicians of all genres performing for tens of thousands at FIB, BBK, Arenal Sound, SOS 4.8, Viña Rock, Primavera Sound and Sonorama. All of these events attract viewers.
RTVE could take advantage of this and stage a massive selection. The public broadcaster’s budget isn’t what it once was, but they have experience broadcasting live concerts, which are frequently broadcast on La 2 and Radio 3.
With these synergies the Eurovision selection could be transformed into a major stage for bands and artists. They helped change the artist’s point of view about the contest, and gave them a platform in prime time, on mainstream TV.
Spain has never had a consistent national selection format. In fact, the current Head of Delegation openly says that the public broadcaster tries to persuade a famous artist to participate and if nobody accepts, they stage a preselection with mostly unknown artists. This selection is often created a month before it happens and the results are lame and unappealing as was the case this year and in 2014 — when the selection was staged on the set of another show.
The big mistake here is that RTVE is basically improvising. Their selection depends on the will of a determined artist who may or may not want to enter Eurovision. If this option fails, then they hastily stage a selection. And then they’re surprised and blame bloc voting for Spain’s failure.
6. Lack of interest
As we say in Spain, this is the mother of all problems. As much as the broadcaster tries to present itself as supportive of the contest, RTVE basically twiddles its thumbs when it comes to Eurovision. The promotion is nearly non-existent: Nobody knows the Spanish entry before the contest unless the contestant is super famous (as with Edurne and Pastora Soler).
Things don’t improve when the contest arrives. Until two years ago, RTVE only aired one of the two semi-finals, and it constantly airs commercials during the interval acts. This year provides a good example. While our European brothers and sisters were loving SVT’s ‘Love Love Peace Peace’ number, Spaniards had to watch this:
Not one, but TWO split screens. And Spanish fans erupted in rage on Twitter obviously. The most ridiculous thing about it was that RTVE doesn’t show commercial publicity, so it was all self-promotion. It’s dirty to use your most popular show to promote TV shows nobody sees or wants to see.
Perhaps the greatest embodiment of this lack of caring is Spain’s Eurovision commentator José María Íñigo, who has already said publicly that he feels too lazy to go to Eurovision 2017. Íñigo, a truly veteran journalist who began working in TV in 1968, took on the task of commenting in 2011, and to be honest, he has never put much effort in it.
His commentary is often vague and consists of “insight” like “this is just another song which speaks about love and peace”. In 2012 he called Pastora Soler “Paloma Soler”. It’s not difficult to imagine the excitement that he transmits to people watching at home.
7. Bipolar participation
When somebody is selected to represent Spain at Eurovision, things can go two ways: either RTVE totally controls the staging and the music, or it doesn’t even bother. We’ve seen both examples recently.
This year Barei had total freedom to create her staging together with her producer Rubén Villanueva, who is also her boyfriend. This was heavily criticised by Spanish media, who thought she could benefit from professional help. In fact, our wiwibloggers on-the-ground in Stockholm said the same thing after her first rehearsal.
However, the singer has claimed that ” someone” in the Spanish Eurovision delegation asked the producers team to “simplify” the act, thus throwing to the bin the previous work Barei and Giò Forma agency had done. As the singer commented on radio show Pasión Eurovisión, who knows if keeping the staging as it was would have improved the final placing, but the fact that it was randomly changed gives us a taste of how things are done at the house of RTVE.
Back in 2009, RTVE totally changed Soraya’s stage show. The singer later complained about the broadcaster’s attitude and claimed they told her: “Eurovision is not your dream, it’s our dream and you represent us”. She had her dance routine changed and her choreographer replaced. Result? 23rd place.
In 2012 Pastora Soler said that RTVE had asked her “not to win” Eurovision, explaining that Eurovision “entails huge amounts of money which Azerbaijan can pay, but we can’t”. She later denied her own comments — but by then the game was up. We’re talking about Azerbaijan, a small republic in the Caucasus, and Spain, a country that brags about being one of the Top 20 economies of the world.
Conclusion: We need major changes at RTVE
This year’s edition was the third least watched Eurovision in Spain since the 90s. And from 2002, the contest has steadily seen a decrease in viewing figures in Spain, even as social networks go crazy for it and the overall viewing figures go up globally. This, coupled with the poor results this delegation has delivered lately, demands a response from the broadcaster.
Severe changes need to be made, not only within the Eurovision delegation, but within the whole Entertainment and Culture section at RTVE. It’s only then that the public broadcaster can fulfil its mission of promoting Spanish culture.
What do you think about Spain’s participation in the contest? What would you sort out at the house of RTVE? Share your feelings in the comment section below!