Running since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest (in French: Concours Eurovision de la Chanson) is an annual televised song contest with participants from numerous countries whose national television broadcasters are members of the European Broadcasting Union. The contest is broadcast on television and also radio throughout Europe. More recently, the contest has also been televised in other parts of the world and broadcast on the internet.
The contest's name comes from the Eurovision TV Distribution Network, which is run by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and can reach a potential television audience of more than one billion. Any member of the EBU may participate in the contest. This also includes countries of Africa and Asia such as Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Syria. Of these non-European nations, only Israel and Morocco have participated in the contest. Lebanon had intended to participate for the first time in 2005, but decided to withdraw because of problems broadcasting the Israeli performance. 
The EBU is unconnected to the European Union.
Based on the San Remo Music Festival, the first Eurovision Song Contest was the brainchild of the European Broadcasting Union. The first contest took place on May 24, 1956, when seven of the original invitees participated (the other three were disqualified for late entry). The original participants were France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Switzerland. They were joined the next year by the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Austria ("the Procrastinators"), and in 1959 by Monaco. More countries came on board in a gradual trickle over subsequent decades, with for instance Israel first appearing in 1973, and Iceland in 1986. However, the definitive end of the Cold War in the early 1990s led to a much more sudden increase in numbers, with many former Eastern bloc countries queueing up to compete for the first time. This process continues into the 2005 contest, in which both Bulgaria and Moldova will make their debut appearance.
Up until 2003, participation in the Eurovision Song Contest was dependant on a country having performed with a reasonable amount of success for the previous few years. A poor run of form meant that a country could be effectively suspended for a year. Because of the size of their contribution to the EBU budget, France, Germany, Spain and the UK automatically qualify regardless of how poorly their songs perform.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decided to make the Eurovision Song Contest a two day event as of 2004, dropping the previous restrictions on the number of EBU member countries that can participate. The new format calls for the 10 most successful countries from the previous year along with the four biggest budget contributors to directly qualify for the final show. The remaining countries go through a qualification round from which the 10 best advance to the 24-26 nation final show.
For the 2002 edition, the Spanish TVE created a reality show Operación Triunfo that showed the selection and training of unknown singers. At the end, one of them would be elected by the public to represent the country in the contest. The format was initially an enormous success in Spain and was swiftly exported to other countries. One example is the Irish You're A Star, a Pop Idol clone run on Radio Teilifís Éireann since 2002, which carries the ultimate prize of representing Ireland at Eurovision. Ironically, however, the original Spanish show was quietly dropped for the 2005 contest, with the country reverting to a conventional national pre-selection competition.
Number of songs
Initially each country was allowed to submit two three-minute (or less) songs, performed by inhabitants of the respective country. By the 1960s, entries were limited to one song per country (participation in the contest had almost doubled). Participation continued to grow through the 1980s, and by the turn of the century the rules had been changed several times to both limit the number of finalists and to allow for the new independent republics that arose from the former Eastern bloc countries.
Current rules state that countries are only allowed to have six performers on stage and that performers must be aged 16 or more, on the 31st of December in the year of the contest. It is worth noting that under the current rules there is no restriction on the nationality of the performers, allowing the Canadian Céline Dion to represent Switzerland, amongst many others. If an EBU country does not broadcast the Song Contest they are automatically disqualified for the next year.
Among the famous performers that have graced the Eurovision stage, we find Cliff Richard, Nana Mouskouri, The Shadows, Vicky Leandros, Olivia Newton John, t.A.T.u., Mocedades , Baccara and the previously mentioned Canadian star, Céline Dion.
Following the dominance of English language songs, particularly Sweden's 1974 victory (with ABBA's "Waterloo"), a rule was passed in 1977 that the song had to be sung in one of the official languages of the performing country.
The rule was quashed in 1999, and Sweden immediately won again with another English song ("Take Me To Your Heaven" by Charlotte Nilsson ).
Many small countries sing in English to reach broader audiences, though in bigger countries this is sometimes looked upon as unpatriotic.
Voting and Results
The winner of the contest is decided by each country assigning points (currently 1 to 8, 10 and 12) to their favourite ten entries. Until recently votes were decided by small juries in each country, but under normal conditions national telephone polls are now held during the broadcast in order to determine points assignment. Countries are not allowed to vote for themselves.
The jury voting system still exists as a reserve measure, when televoting is impractical or suffers a malfunction. In 2003 Eircom's (Irish telecom) telephone polls system ceased to operate normally, RTÉ did not receive the votes on time and instead used a panel of judges. The Russian act, t.A.T.u. threatened to take legal action against the Irish brodcaster on the grounds that the votes would have allowed t.A.T.u. to win 2003's contest, and accusing RTÉ of intentionally causing an error in the televoting, to directly prevent t.A.T.u. from winning, although this has been strongly denied by the broadcaster.
The presenters of the contest connect by satellite to each country's jury in turn, inviting the spokesperson for each national jury to read out that country's votes in French or English. The presenters then repeat the votes in both English and French, following the formula: "Country name, number points. Nom du pays, nombre points".
Since each of the entrant countries casts a series of votes, it is only rarely that a song has failed to have any votes at all cast for it - under the modern rules this means that the song failed to make the top ten most popular songs in any country. This is also known as receiving nul points, from the practice of reading results in French as well as English during the broadcast.
Entries which received no points, or nul points, since the introduction of the current scoring system in 1975 are as follows:
- In 1978, Jahn Teigen for his song, "Mil etter mil", for Norway.
- In 1981, Norway's "Aldri I Livet" by Finn Kalvik.
- In 1982, Finland's "Nuku Pommiin" by Kojo.
- In 1983, two entries- "Opera" by Cetin Alp and Short Wave (Turkey) and "Quien Maneja Mi Barca" by Remedios Amaya (Spain).
- In 1987, Turkey's entry "Sarkim Sevgi Ustune" by Seyyal Taner and Locomotif.
- In 1988, Austria's "Lisa, Mona Lisa" by Wilfried.
- In 1989, the Icelandic entry, "Það sem enginn sér", sung by Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson .
- In 1991, the Austrian entry "Venedig Im Regen" by Thomas Forstner.
- In 1994, Lithuania's "Lopisine Mylimaj" by Ovidijus Vsyniaukas.
- In 1997, both Norway's entry ("San Francisco" by Tor Endresen) and Portugal's entry ("E depois do adeus" by Célia Lawson).
- In 1998, the Switzerland entry, "Lass Ihn" sung by Gunvor.
- In 2003, the UK contestants, Jemini, scored no points for their entry, which caused slight consternation in the UK.
- In the 2004 semi-final (a new procedure), Switzerland's performance, "Celebrate".
Political and regional voting patterns
It has been observed, most notably by Terry Wogan, the BBC TV presenter that politics dictate a lot of the voting. It was believed by many that the United Kingdom recieving 'nul points' in 2003 reflected Europe's opposition to British involvement in the invasion of Iraq, as much as the poor quality of the song and performance. The last time the United Kingdom won the contest was just after the EU-sceptic Conservative administration of John Major was heavily defeated by the more EU-friendly Tony Blair (although the country had come second in both 1992 and 1993, during the Major administration). Traditionally Turkey has not recieved many points from Greece, however in a reflection of the improved state of relations in 2003, Greece awarded Turkey (the eventual victors) a number of points. Countries entering the contest for the first time often score highly as well, as voters are generally sympathetic to newly forged nations.
Regional and cultural voting patterns are also common; Cyprus and Greece usually give maximum points to each other, regardless of the quality of their songs. Former Yugoslav states have the habit of voting for each other. With the introduction of voting by the public, Turkey gets many points from Germany and the Netherlands due to large Turkish expatriate communities in those countries, France, with a large Portuguese community, often awards a high score to Portugal, and former Soviet states, with large Russian populations, frequently award high scores to Russia. In 2004, France got 12 and 10 points respectively from its francophone neighbours Monaco and Belgium - more than half of its total points. In general, the public and juries alike seem to favour songs where they can understand the lyrics.
The Scandinavians and Baltic countries tend to stick together, leading to victories for Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Latvia in 2000 through to 2003. Ireland, although not part of a voting block, often does well as a neutral, largely English speaking country. However, a clear exception to this was in 2004, when the only points received by Ireland came from the United Kingdom.
The counter-argument to accusations of regional and politically prejudiced voting patterns is that it is natural for people of similar cultures within Europe, sharing common borders where the TV and radio stations of a number of countries can be received, to enjoy similar styles of music. That said, even though voting is now done by public telephone poll rather than by jury, friendly voting does seem to persist, and with an increasing number of nations appearing each year, may even be becoming more prevalent.
Hosting the Eurovision Song Contest is an honour accorded to the winning country from the previous year -- although this means that the victor's home broadcaster actually incurs heavy expenses as a result of winning and this has led to suggestions that some nations deliberately choose substandard acts so as to ensure they do not win. In the early 1990s the Irish broadcaster RTÉ was reported to have experienced financial difficulties through having to host the contest four times in five years (this was somewhat parodied in the Father Ted episode "A Song for Europe"). The 2004 ESC was allocated a budget of some €15 million and was the most expensive edition ever. However, the contest is considered a unique showcase for launching the host country as a tourist destination.
Many pop singers and groups have begun the path to fame with a win at the contest. However ABBA, Céline Dion and Secret Garden are the only contest winners to have had significant international success.
The presenters on the night are known for having remarkably cheesy, corny humour.
The maximum duration of each song is three minutes, and the musicians and songs selected for the contest tend towards very commercial pop, although there are exceptions. Many viewers of the contest view the event as a combination of camp entertainment and a musical train wreck (a fact played upon in the English-language broadcast with the sardonic BBC commentary of Terry Wogan) and a subculture of Eurovision song contest drinking games and the like has evolved in some countries.
Note: (#) In 1969 four countries were joint winners as there was no rule for a tie.
As of 2004, the most successful country in the song contest has been Ireland whose entrants have won seven times. Close behind them with five wins each are France, Luxembourg and the UK.
Junior Eurovision Song Contests
Denmark originally held a song contest for children in 2000 then it organised a Nordic Children's Eurovision. The EBU saw clips of the show and liked it so decided to create an official Children's Eurovision.
Thus, starting in 2003, an annual children's version of the contest was established, called the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. As originators of the concept, Denmark were given the honour of hosting the first running of the event, which was won by Croatia.
Intervision Song Contest
Between 1977 and 1980 the countries of the former Eastern bloc had a song contest of their own, known as the Intervision Song Contest. Organized by the Intervision Network and held in Sopot, Poland, it replaced an earlier event - the Sopot International Song Festival.