5 Things to Watch Out for at Eurovision 2024, According to the Song Contest’s Executive Supervisor

5 Things to Watch Out for at Eurovision 2024, According to the Song Contest’s Executive Supervisor

At last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Graham Norton identified him as “Mr. Eurovision” and said he just calls him “the boss.” While almost everyone on the production team for the Eurovision Song Contest does their work behind the cameras, the European Broadcasting Union’s executive supervisor Martin Österdahl is visible every year on the live broadcast. When it comes time to reveal the votes of the participating countries, the hosts turn to Österdahl to confirm that the votes of the juries and the public are checked and that there is a verified result. He then tells the hosts that they are “good to go.”

Before he was named executive supervisor in 2020, Österdahl was executive producer of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2013 and 2016, both produced by Sveriges Television (SVT) following Sweden’s victories in 2012 and 2015. He has also produced past versions of Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s televised national final to select the country’s entry for the annual Eurovision competition.

To find out what to watch for in the 2024 contest airing next week, Billboard talked to Österdahl via Zoom to get a preview of this year’s 68th edition of the popular pan-European event.

How are things in Malmö with just a few days to go before the two semi-finals and grand final of the 2024 contest?

The rehearsals are going really well. All the delegations are here now. I wish the world could see what the atmosphere is like. People are hugging, high-fiving. It’s great to be together again and great to be getting the job done.

What are five things we should be looking out for this year?

The first thing is that for the first time ever, we are finally going to see the Big Five and the host country perform full-length performances on stage [in the semi-finals], which is great. We’ve never done that before, as you know. It will give more entertainment to the viewers and more value to the fans, so I think that’s a great change.

In recent history, the Big Five (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom – the five countries that contribute the most to the production budget) don’t have to compete in the semi-finals to qualify for the grand final, so we would only see snippets in the two semi-finals. Why was this change made?

We’re very much about the even playing field and we have felt from time to time that the Big Five perhaps had a disadvantage. We’ve looked at ways to correct that. The Big Five have been doing much better recently, but still we feel the time is right to make this change now. And it has to do with [the second thing to watch out for].

That is to increase the engagement in this show. For an entertainment show in Europe, we have a lot of young viewers. We’re quadrupling the channel average when it comes to reach and the youth segments, which is fantastic, but the voting system is quite old fashioned with SMS [texting] and televoting and also the fact you had to wait for two hours before you can cast your vote. So we’re trying out this new thing this year where you can vote in the grand final from the very top of the show. If you see something that you like, you can cast your vote, which is something that is more in line with the behavior of young people today, who are used to interacting straightaway with the shows.

We introduced the rest-of-the-world vote last year and we’re increasing the window for that to be 24 hours before the show, so that people in Asia and in South America don’t have to sit up and watch this live on Central European Time. We get votes from 180 countries around the world in the show, so we want to embrace that love for Eurovision in other parts of the world.

How did that rest-of-the-world vote work last year?

Very well. We do a show called the Junior Eurovision Song Contest as well and we’ve had an online voting platform for that. We did a show in Warsaw a couple of years ago during the darkest days of the pandemic, so we couldn’t have the delegations on site. There were pre-recorded performances from the different countries. And then we had a studio in Warsaw where I sat with the presenters and the interval acts and Polish TV did a great job with that.

But when we saw the online voting come in, it was a real eye-opener for me, because there were 12 participating countries as opposed to 40 in Eurovision and it’s a kid show. We saw the votes coming in from 180 countries around the world on this European kids’ show. It was amazing, so I thought, “We need to tap into this.” My expectations are high when it comes to the engagement here.

Does the fact that U.S. viewers can watch live on Peacock greatly increase the number of people watching?

Yes, the engagement from the U.S. is great. The United States is the second biggest ticket buyer [for the live shows]. If you forget about [host country] Sweden, the biggest country of ticket buyers is the U.K. followed by the U.S. Amazing, right? We have ticket buyers from 89 countries coming to Malmö.

And what is the third thing we should watch out for?

Celebration. We have so much to celebrate this year. Sweden has taken the number one position now alongside Ireland with seven wins in history. Loreen is only the second ever female artist to win twice and she and Johnny Logan are the only artists to have won twice, so we’re celebrating that. And of course, it’s 50 years since ABBA won with “Waterloo” and we’re going to celebrate all these things in the show, so that’s another one to look out for.

How exactly are we going to celebrate “Waterloo” and ABBA in the show?

There’s an easy reply to that. Tune into the show and you’ll see.

I didn’t think you were going to give that one away. And the fourth thing to watch out for?

Number four, you should look out for the new hit phenomena. When I started working on Eurovision a long time ago, we used to refer to the classics like Celine Dion and ABBA when it came to who had the international global hits from this show, but that’s not the case anymore. We churn out international hits every year and you’ve probably seen the success of Duncan Laurence, Rosa Linn and Måneskin. That’s a really exciting trend with modern day Eurovision and I think it’s going to continue. It’s a really strong field this year.

Alright, you’ve given us four things to watch out for. What is the fifth?

Number five is that we’re going to have a really exciting climax to this show. The Eurovision Song Contest voting sequence is arguably one of the longest, but also one of the most nail-biting sequences of any show on TV and I think this year we don’t really have one standout favorite. We’ve got a couple who are talked about a lot but not that one standout. So I think it’s going to be exciting this year and I think it’s going to lead to a really exciting climax.

Speaking of the voting sequence, do you track the ratings on different parts of the show, and if so, how does this part of the contest do?

Normally the voting sequence is the most viewed part of the show.

In the past, some years were runaways and we knew who the winner was going to be long before the final vote was cast. Other years we didn’t know until the last moments.

When Loreen first won in Baku [in 2012], everyone knew 35 minutes before the show ended that she was going to win, because you could do the math. But we still had to go around all of these countries and listen to their 12 and 10 and eight points. It seemed this show deserved a better climax, so that’s when we made that change [to report the juries votes first and add in the public voting at the very end] and now it’s all down to the very last delivery of points.

One last question. As an EBU official, how would you describe your interaction with the production team, which is from the host broadcaster.

My job covers a lot of different areas, but when it comes to the production, this is a co-production between 37 different national broadcasters in Europe and beyond and as such it needs a central coordinator or supervisor for the whole thing and that’s me. That means I have final say in all questions, including all of the show content. I work very closely with the producers every year. My main mission is to transfer knowledge and best practice. Of course, this year it’s special, because the knowledge is already here and it’s my old team. We work together really well.

Viewers in the U.S. can watch the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest live on Peacock (and on demand). The first semi-final will air on Tuesday, May 7 at 3 p.m. ET. The second semi-final will air at the same time on Thursday, May 9. The grand final will also air at the same time, on Saturday, May 11.

The post “5 Things to Watch Out for at Eurovision 2024, According to the Song Contest’s Executive Supervisor” by Joe Lynch was published on 05/03/2024 by www.billboard.com