• Al Jennings

An Open Letter to the BBC...

I want to preface this by stating that this is not a BBC, or Eurovision bashing – however, after last night’s disappointing result I think a little chat is in order.

I’m a massive Eurovision fan, and I have been since I saw Helena Paparizou take the trophy for Greece in 2005. I love the contest. I love the community. I love the songs. I love the performances and I love the message that it stands for. What I don’t love however, is the UK’s poor showing over the last few years. I often refer to myself as a “Eurovision-False-Flagger” because over the last 10 years, I’ve supported other countries over us more times that I can remember; because let’s be honest – the United Kingdom just don’t get the competition anymore – they don’t understand how to compete. They just throw anything old thing together and think “will this do?”.

The Eurovision Song Contest’s reputation over the last twenty years in the UK hasn’t been the best. The media and the public are the first to cry “ITS ALL POLITICAL” every time Cyprus gives 12 points to Greece, when the fact of the matter is that the Cypriot singer most likely has a massive following in Greece and vice-versa.

When the UK finish rock bottom year after year; it’s easy enough to say that everybody hates the UK. Maybe the fact of the matter is that the British people have these delusions of grandeur which automatically think we should be respected because we are “Great Britain”. We’re not. We’re not some world superpower we think we are – we never were.

In 2021, 4 countries scored Nil Points in the Televote. The Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom and Germany, but only one country will claim their hated.

It is clear that over the last ten years, the Eurovision Song Contest has changed in many different ways, but what is also clear, is that the BBC’s approach to the contest has lost its sense of direction.

When it was announced that the BBC had agreed to work with BMG to choose the song and artist that would represent the United Kingdom in 2020, I was pleased, and hopeful that a positive change was being made to increase the chances of the UK placing higher in the competition and whilst due to the cancellation of the contest making us unable to see the fruits of its labour, a mid-table placing was looking to be a likely outcome for James Newman.

Going forward into 2021, the BBC had the opportunity to continue their strategy and aim for a higher placing in the final this year. Embers, however, did nothing to attract the voters of Europe, neither with the 39 juries, or the televoting public. What was clear to the viewing and voting public was that the United Kingdom has lost its way and turned out yet another very average package in Rotterdam.

Yes, mistakes have been made, but this means that we can learn from them and rectify our stance and how we approach the Eurovision Song Contest in 2022, and if the UK is to have any chance of climbing up that leader board, then things need to change. A whole fresh perspective on the contest is needed.

Firstly, let’s remember that this is a competition. We are battling it out against 39 other countries to win. We’re not there to make up the numbers – we are there to show that the United Kingdom creates and produces some of the greatest musical output in the world. We have so many incredible singers and songwriters that could put something incredible together; but with the UK’s poor results in recent years attracting artists to compete for the United Kingdom is difficult.

For many the stigma of performing in the contest and not winning is too much; but there are some incredible benefits that come alongside it. Exposure is one of them. You’ve got three minutes to show Europe what you can do – and in those three minutes, you are being watched by 182 million viewers; that is nearly double the amount of people that watch the Superbowl. Having access to that many viewers at one time is impossible outside of the contest.

Turning things around the UK at Eurovision doesn’t have to be difficult. We just need to look at what some of the more recent successful countries are doing. Let’s look at Sweden for example. Since 2010, Sweden have won the contest twice and finished in the top five on five occasions. What Sweden do is consistently deliver is an excellent song, with a complete package to go with it. Maybe this is because in order for a song to represent Sweden it has to compete and win Melodifestivalen.

Is a completely retooled National Final what the UK need to get Europe back on board? It doesn’t have to be done at the same scale of Melodifestivalen, but the premise would need to remain the same.

10 or 12 performers, some new talent and some established; all performing on a prime-time Saturday night TV Show with a vote made up from International Juries, and a televote. We don’t need to have a celebrity panel sticking their two cents in after every song. The public can have their decision, but also by using the International Juries, this will balance out what Europe thinks and what they want to see the UK send to Eurovision. Split the vote 50/50 and give them the same weighing as the public vote. Give the artists to chance to come up with their own concepts for the performances, let them build the package that they think could win the contest.

Having the song and the package is just one part of the journey – now you’ve got to get the artist out there and sell the song to Europe. If you can get the song together early enough, and you take full advantage of the National Final season then you can promote the song Europe and start to generate a buzz. We’ve seen that this works. It worked for Jade in 2009 where following an extensive press and promo tour we the UK finished fifth. Eurovision winning songs are hits prior to the contest. They are hits in their own right, without Eurovision being attached to them.

Getting the song out there is key to our success. We are at the disadvantage by not having a full performance in a semi-final – and the time first time that the majority of Europe sees our performance is on the Grand Final. We need to create the exposure and the buzz.

It’s not impossible for the UK to do well at Eurovision again. We just need to take a different route. We need to be bold; unique, brave and believe in ourselves that little bit more. We’ve shown that we can do it; we did something realty unique with Lucie Jones in 2017, and we achieved our best result since 2011. If the BBC can show to the Europe that they want to do well, then they will. It will translate into points. There is hope for the United Kingdom at Eurovision – and I look forward to the day we host it again.

Manchester 2023 anyone?

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