Sietse Bakker was kind enough to take some time out of a very hectic day to talk with us here at wiwi. And from this we got some really interesting information. If you want to know what's going on at the EBU, read on.
I talked with Sietse last year and published that at The Word from the EBU: Sietse Bakker on money, venues and change and at The Word from the EBU: Stuffing the Ballot Box and Other Scandals and at The Word from the EBU: Does the Voting System Need to Change? I didn't bother to ask any of these questions again, and many are still relevant for this, and future years.
Get Ready to Party
I first asked him how it's going and his reply was that the Austrians know how to throw a party (very true). We later discussed the difference between the Germans and the Austrians and he talked about how the Austrians have the German ability to organize, plus the Eastern European trait of enjoying life.
So get ready to party.
I next asked Sietse how Australia happened. He said starting 3 years ago the Australians started saying that 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 half-time show last year. That gave both parties a chance to see how participating worked. And they created such a superb half-time show, it demonstrated that Australia was up to any level of participation.
He then said many discussions then occurred this year, around the building bridges theme and the 60 year anniversary, and the desire to do something different. So they then had a lot of discussions about what participating would entail and what Australia would need to do. And about 5 weeks ago Australia met all the requirements and they were good to go.
I then asked if Australia was paying similar to the Big Five and he replied that "they're paying a reasonable amount." (The payment amounts are confidential, but I've always wondered who that confidentiality is protecting.)
Will There be Another?
Next I asked him if there will be another. 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 (No!!!), South Africa, or China. He viewed this as more of a way to increase interest in those countries.
My opinion is adding China one year could be incredible, both bringing in something from their culture, and it would guarantee the largest TV audience of any event that year.
He went on to talk about how they do want to bring in other unique events. So there may not be another outside contestant, but it sounds like they are looking to do things that are more than a special guest for the intermission show.
What Constitutes a Political Message Song
Next I asked Sietse what constitutes a political song. His answer was very similar to:
"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" - Justice Potter Stewart (describing pornography)
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 (with the occasional exception). I asked if Ukraine called up today and said the truce in the war with
He said that there is no way to do so now because it's too late to schedule another act in. He sounded like he liked the possibility, but 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.
I then asked if they could invite Ukraine to be in the half time show. He said again, based on their situation, this is not something that they can do.
He followed on 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 as the show producers 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 do they 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 tele voters 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.
It's Going to be Great
The biggie I took away from this is they have things moving along well and we're going to get an awesome show. But I am going to miss Ukraine.
This was originally posted at wiwibloggs (where you can hear the video of the interview).