He was the head honcho of Eurovision for ten years. But in 2020, Jon Ola Sand stepped down as the Executive Supervisor of the song contest. In an interview with the Eurovision Legends Podcast, the Norwegian television executive has now spoken out about a wide range of topics.
Jon Ola Sand revealed behind-the-scenes information from his time working at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). He also discussed where he’d like Eurovision to go in the future.
Jon Ola Sand on preferred Eurovision rule changes
During the first part of the interview, Jon Ola was asked what Eurovision rules he would like to change if he was freely able to do so.
The first thing Jon Ola brought up was the running order. In 2013, during his time as Executive Supervisor, the running order was partly put together by producers for the first time. This system, where contestants are drawn into halves and then producers put the exact order together themselves, has been used ever since.
This is a change that Jon Ola defends, but he would also like it to go further and for producers to be able to determine the entire running order themselves. He believes one of the most important things in Eurovision is being able to produce the best TV show possible:
“It is the most significant and most important change in Eurovision Song Contest, that you can actually compose the best TV programme […] I think that would have been a great change, to be able to compose it freely”.
Following on from this, Jon Ola turned to the topic of backing vocals. Eurovision 2021 saw pre-recorded backing vocals being allowed for the first time, and this will continue in 2022. Jon Ola Sand commented that this was good for a number of reasons:
“We have to look closely at backing vocals on tape. I understand that there is a a lot of resistance to this, because some people see this as moving towards a karaoke show. But both for practical reasons and economical reasons, also for the pure sound issue, I think it would be good to put the backing vocals on tape and then focus on the visual aspect and of course have the lead singer singing live.”
Later on in the interview, Jon Ola also says there have been yearly discussions about the best way to use juries in the voting. They have looked into whether there should be changes to how these are made-up, both in terms of numbers and location:
“We are discussing this with the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group almost every year. We’re doing calculations, we’re doing simulations – how would that be, would that help, how should it be organised? There have been discussions if we should have juries appointed by the EBU and sitting in Geneva, representing different countries. Discussions about should we have a common European jury, which is one big European jury appointed by the EBU or in cooperation with the members.”
Ultimately, he believes the current system is the best they can come up with. They have not found a concrete answer as to whether raising the number of people on each jury would be beneficial:
“We think that the system that is in place now is the best we can get. Hence that’s why we have it like this. I think it’s good that we reflect the national taste. And whether ten, fifteen people would be better – we haven’t really got a good answer on that.”
Jon Ola Sand – Eurovision Legends Podcast
Turkey’s absence and Kazakhstan’s debut
There is speculation each year about which countries may return to the contest, or if any new countries will debut. Jon Ola was asked about several of these, including Turkey and Kazakhstan.
Turkey withdrew from Eurovision after the 2012 contest. A number of theories have been given over the years for Turkey’s absence. At first, it was a disagreement with the new voting method (the inclusion of juries) and the Big 5 rule that allows the largest financial contributors to automatically qualify to the grand final each year. Another reason was the rampant LGBT-phobia shown by some of the broadcaster’s key managers.
Jon Ola notes that broadcaster TRT never informed the EBU about the reasons behind their withdrawal:
“We never got formal explanation from the Turkish member of the EBU why they decided not to continue with the Eurovision Song Contest. They never mentioned any specific rules to us. We also read in some media outlets and in some blogs that that should be the case, but they never presented that to us.”
He goes on to suggest that there is wider context at play:
“When it comes to Turkey’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, I think that should be seen in a broader sort of context about the relationship between Turkey, Europe and EU. I don’t think this is particularly about rules or points in the rules, as that could easily have been cleared out with us. At least, we could have talked about it, but they never approached us or talked to us about that. We have had several attempts at the highest level of the EBU to understand why the situation became this way, but we never got any explanation.”
In regards to a possible debut by Kazakhstan, Jon Ola confirms that the Kazakh broadcaster has made several requests to participate in Eurovision. However, despite being a participant of Junior Eurovision, he does not believe the country will feature at Eurovision itself any time soon:
“When it comes to Kazakhstan, they have shown a very keen interest for many years. We know that they can come up with fantastic acts – we’ve seen that at Junior Eurovision, where they are allowed in at a case by case basis. But there’s never been any serious discussion to bring them into the Eurovision Song Contest.
The reason for this is they are not a full-fledged EBU member and they’re on a very different time zone to Europe. When you go to Baku I think you have five hours difference, which is very challenging in itself, and you have even more if you go to Kazakhstan. And then it’s a very different TV and media environment there. So I don’t think in the next years they will be a member of the Eurovision Song Contest family.”
This just scrapes the surface of what Jon Ola Sand discussed in the interview. You can listen to discussions about the following topics at the designated time stamps:
- 07:48 – The concept of the Big 5 is both good and bad
- 09:02 – Would like the producer to be able to set the running order completely freely
- 20:45 – Poor logistics in Birmingham 1998
- 27:09 – The problems when producing the Eurovision in Norway in 2010
- 29:50 – Thrives on chaos
- 30:20 – The irregularities in Baku
- 38:19 – Jon Ola in a roundabout way admits to torturing Sweden in the semi-final 2011
- 45:17 – On Turkey’s absence
- 48:19 – On debuts for Liechtenstein, Kosovo or Kazakhstan
- 50:46 – Jon Ola gets angry on controversial flags
- 54:00 – Disappointment of Russia in 2017
- 1:00:02 – Azerbaijan buying votes
- 1:04:05 – Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s jury votes
- 1:05:30 – More members on each jury?
- 1:06:35 – Encouraging countries to have a national selection
- 1:09:30 – On cancellation of the 2020 contest
- 1:13:56 – On his involvement in the American Song Contest
What do you make of Jon Ola Sand’s comments? What direction do you want to see Eurovision go in the future? Let us know all your thoughts in the comments below!