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Eurovision Song Contest

Background Information

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Eurovision Song Contest
Eurovision Song Contest logo.svg
Eurovision Song Contest logo since 2004
Genre Song contest
Created by Marcel Bezençon
Presented by List of presenters
Theme music composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Opening theme Te Deum (Prelude (Marche en rondeau))
Country of origin List of countries
Original language(s) English and French
Location(s) List of host cities
Running time 2 hours (semi-final)
3 hours, 15 minutes (final)
Production company(s) European Broadcasting Union
Distributor Eurovision
Picture format 576i (SDTV) (1956-present)
1080i (HDTV) (2007-present)
Original run 24 May 1956 – present
Related shows Eurovision Young Musicians (1983-)
Eurovision Young Dancers (1985-)
Junior Eurovision Song Contest (2003-)
Eurovision Dance Contest (2007-2008)
External links
Official website
Production website

The Eurovision Song Contest (French: Concours Eurovision de la Chanson) is an annual competition held among many of the active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

Each member country submits a song to be performed on live television and radio and then casts votes for the other countries' songs to determine the most popular song in the competition. The contest has been broadcast every year since its inauguration in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programmes in the world. It is also one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world, with audience figures having been quoted in recent years as anything between 100 million and 600 million internationally. Eurovision has also been broadcast outside Europe to such places as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela despite the fact that they do not compete. Since 2000, the contest has also been broadcast over the Internet, with more than 74,000 people in almost 140 countries having watched the 2006 edition online.

Artists whose international careers were directly launched into the spotlight following their participation and victory at Eurovision include Domenico Modugno who won third place with song " Nel blu dipinto di blu" in 1958, ABBA, who won the contest for Sweden in 1974 with their song " Waterloo", Céline Dion, who won the contest for Switzerland in 1988 with the song " Ne partez pas sans moi", and the Spanish Julio Iglesias who has sold over 300 million records worldwide.


In the 1950s, as a war-torn Europe rebuilt itself, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)—based in Switzerland—set up an ad-hoc committee to search for ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a "light entertainment programme". At a committee meeting held in Monaco in January 1955, director general of Swiss television and committee chairman Marcel Bezençon conceived the idea of an international song contest where countries would participate in one television programme, to be transmitted simultaneously to all countries of the union. The competition was based upon the existing Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy, and was also seen as a technological experiment in live television: as in those days, it was a very ambitious project to join many countries together in a wide-area international network. Satellite television did not exist, and the so-called Eurovision Network comprised a terrestrial microwave network. The concept, then known as "Eurovision Grand Prix", was approved by the EBU General Assembly in at a meeting held in Rome on 19 October 1955 and it was decided that the first contest would take place in spring 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland. The name "Eurovision" was first used in relation to the EBU's network by British journalist George Campey in the London Evening Standard in 1951.

The first contest was held in the town of Lugano, Switzerland, on 24 May 1956. Seven countries participated—each submitting two songs, for a total of 14. This was the only contest in which more than one song per country was performed: since 1957 all contests have allowed one entry per country. The 1956 Contest was won by the host nation, Switzerland.

The programme was first known as the "Eurovision Grand Prix". This "Grand Prix" name was adopted by Denmark, Norway and the Francophone countries, with the French designation being "Le Grand-Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne". The "Grand Prix" has since been dropped and replaced with "Concours" (contest) in French, but not in Danish or Norwegian. The Eurovision Network is used to carry many news and sports programmes internationally, among other specialised events organised by the EBU. However, in the minds of the public, the name "Eurovision" is most closely associated with the song contest.


The format of the contest has changed over the years, though the basic tenets have always been thus: participant countries submit songs, which are performed live in a television programme transmitted across the Eurovision Network by the EBU simultaneously to all countries. A "country" as a participant is represented by one television broadcaster from that country: typically, but not always, that country's national public broadcasting organisation. The programme is hosted by one of the participant countries, and the transmission is sent from the auditorium in the host city. During this programme, after all the songs have been performed, the countries then proceed to cast votes for the other countries' songs: nations are not allowed to vote for their own song. At the end of the programme, the winner is declared as the song with the most points. The winner receives, simply, the prestige of having won—although it is usual for a trophy to be awarded to the winning songwriters, and the winning country is invited to host the event the following year.

The programme is invariably opened by one or more presenters, welcoming viewers to the show. Most host countries choose to capitalise on the opportunity afforded them by hosting a programme with such a wide-ranging international audience, and it is common to see the presentation interspersed with video footage of scenes from the host nation, as if advertising for tourism. Between the songs and the announcement of the voting, an interval act is performed. These acts can be any form of entertainment imaginable. Interval entertainment has included such acts as The Wombles ( 1974) and the first international presentation of Riverdance ( 1994).

As national broadcasters join and leave the EBU feed, the EBU/Eurovision logo is displayed. The accompanying theme music (used on other Eurovision broadcasts) is the prelude to Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Te Deum.

The Eurovision Song Contest final is traditionally held on a spring Saturday evening, at 19:00 UTC (20:00 BST/ IST, or 21:00 CEST). Usually one Saturday in May is chosen, although the contest has been held on a Thursday (in 1956) and as early as March.


Eligible participants include Active Members (as opposed to Associate Members) of the EBU. Active members are those who are located in states that fall within the European Broadcasting Area, or are member states of the Council of Europe.

The European Broadcasting Area is defined by the International Telecommunication Union:

The "European Broadcasting Area" is bounded on the west by the western boundary of Region 1 (see below), on the east by the meridian 40° East of Greenwich and on the south by the parallel 30° North so as to include the western part of the USSR, the northern part of Saudi Arabia and that part of those countries bordering the Mediterranean within these limits. In addition, Iraq, Jordan and that part of the territory of Turkey lying outside the above limits are included in the European Broadcasting Area.
Participation since 1956:
  Entered at least once
  Never entered, although eligible to do so
  Entry intended, but later withdrew
Cities that have hosted the Eurovision Song Contest.

The western boundary of Region 1 is defined by a line running from the North Pole along meridian 10° West of Greenwich to its intersection with parallel 72° North; thence by great circle arc to the intersection of meridian 50° West and parallel 40° North; thence by great circle arc to the intersection of meridian 20° West and parallel 10° South; thence along meridian 20° West to the South Pole.

Active members include broadcasting organisations whose transmissions are made available to at least 98% of households in their own country which are equipped to receive such transmissions.

If an EBU Active Member wishes to participate, they must fulfil conditions as laid down by the rules of the contest (of which a separate copy is drafted annually). As of 2013, this includes the necessity to have broadcast the previous year's programme within their country, and paid the EBU a participation fee in advance of the deadline specified in the rules of the contest for the year in which they wish to participate.

Eligibility to participate is not determined by geographic inclusion within the continent of Europe, despite the "Euro" in "Eurovision" — nor does it have any relation to the European Union. Several countries geographically outside the boundaries of Europe have competed: Israel, Cyprus and Armenia in Western Asia (Cyprus and Armenia are members of the Council of Europe and Cyprus is a member state of the European Union), since 1973, 1981, 2006 respectively; and Morocco, in North Africa, in the 1980 competition alone. In addition, several transcontinental countries with only part of their territory in Europe have competed: Turkey, since 1975; Russia, since 1994; Georgia, since 2007; and Azerbaijan, which made its first appearance in the 2008 edition.

Fifty-one countries have participated at least once. These are listed here alongside the year in which they made their début:

Year Country making its début entry
1956   Belgium,   France,   Germanya,   Italy,   Luxembourg,   Netherlands,   Switzerland
1957   Austria,   Denmark,   United Kingdom
1958   Sweden
1959   Monaco
1960   Norway
1961   Finland,   Spain,   Yugoslaviab
1964   Portugal
1965   Ireland
1971   Malta
1973   Israel
1974   Greece
1975   Turkey
1980   Morocco
1981   Cyprus
1986   Iceland
1993   Bosnia and Herzegovina,   Croatia,   Slovenia
1994   Estonia,   Hungary,   Lithuania,   Poland,   Romania,   Russia,   Slovakia
1998   Macedonia
2000   Latvia
2003   Ukraine
2004   Albania,   Andorra,   Belarus,   Serbia and Montenegro
2005   Bulgaria,   Moldova
2006   Armenia
2007   Czech Republic,   Georgia,   Montenegro,   Serbia
2008   Azerbaijan,   San Marino
a) Before German reunification in 1990 occasionally presented as West Germany, representing the Federal Republic of Germany. East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) did not compete.
b) The entries presented as being from "Yugoslavia" represented the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, except for the 1992 entry, which represented the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This nation dissolved in 1991/1992 into five independent states: Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia reconstituted itself as Serbia and Montenegro in 2003—entered the contest in 2004—and finally dissolved in 2006, making two separate states: Serbia and Montenegro; both of which débuted in the contest in 2007, winner that year was Serbia.


Most of the expense of the contest is covered by commercial sponsors and contributions from the other participating nations. The contest is considered to be a unique opportunity for promoting the host country as a tourist destination. In the summer of 2005, Ukraine abolished its normal visa requirement for visitors from the EU to coincide with its hosting of the event.

Globen, Stockholm, the site of Eurovision 2000.

Preparations for the event start a matter of weeks after the host wins in the previous year, and confirms to the EBU that they intend to—and have the capacity to—host the event. A host city is chosen—usually the capital—and a suitable concert venue. The two largest concert venues were Parken in Copenhagen (which held approximately 38,000 people when Denmark hosted in 2001) and the Esprit Arena in Düsseldorf (which held approximately 36,500 people when Germany hosted in 2011). The smallest town to have been hosts was Millstreet in County Cork, Ireland, in 1993. The village had a population of 1,500—although the Green Glens Arena venue could hold up to 8,000 people.

The hotel and press facilities in the vicinity are always a consideration when choosing a host city and venue. In Kiev 2005, hotel rooms were scarce as the contest organisers asked the Ukrainian government to put a block on bookings they did not control themselves through official delegation allocations or tour packages: this led to many people's hotel bookings being cancelled.

Eurovision logo and theme

The current generic logo was introduced for the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest in Turkey, to create a consistent visual identity. The host country's flag appears in the heart of the generic logo. Each year of the contest, the host country creates a sub-theme which is usually accompanied and expressed with a sub-logo and slogan. The theme and slogan are announced by the EBU and the host country's national broadcaster.

Eurovision Week

The term "Eurovision Week" is used to refer to the week during which the contest takes place. As it is a live show, the Eurovision Song Contest requires the performers to have perfected their acts in rehearsals in order for the big night to run smoothly. In addition to rehearsals in their home countries, every participant is given the opportunity to rehearse on the stage in the Eurovision auditorium. These rehearsals are held during the course of several days before the Saturday show, and consequently the delegations arrive in the host city many days before the event. Journalists and fans are also present during the preceding days, and so the events of Eurovision last a lot longer than a few hours of television. A number of officially accredited hotels are selected for the delegations to stay in, and shuttle-bus services are used to transport the performers and accompanying people to and from the contest venue.

Each participating broadcaster nominates a Head of Delegation, whose job it is to coordinate the movements of the delegate members, and who acts as that country's representative to the EBU in the host city. Members of the delegations include performers, lyricists, composers, official press officers and—in the years where songs were performed with a live orchestra—a conductor. Also present if desired is a commentator: each broadcaster may supply their own commentary for their TV and/or radio feed, to be broadcast in each country. The commentators are given dedicated commentary booths situated around the back of the arena behind the audience.

Rehearsals and press conferences

Lena, representing Germany, performing Satellite during a rehearsal in 2010

Traditionally, delegations would arrive on the Sunday before the contest, in order to be present for rehearsals starting on the Monday morning. However, with the introduction of the semi-finals—and therefore the resulting increase in the number of countries taking part since 2004, the first rehearsals have commenced on the Sunday almost two weeks before the Grand Final. There are two rehearsal periods for each country. The countries taking part in the semi-finals have their first rehearsal over four days from the first Sunday to Wednesday. The second is from Thursday to Sunday. The countries which have already directly qualified for the Grand Final rehearse on the Saturday and Sunday.

Switzerland hosting a press conference at Eurovision 2006.

After each country has rehearsed, the delegation meets with the show's artistic director in the video viewing room. Here, they watch the footage of the rehearsal just performed, discussing camera angles, lighting and choreography, in order to try to achieve maximum æsthetic effect on television. At this point the Head of Delegation may make known any special requirements needed for the performance, and request them from the host broadcaster. Following this meeting, the delegation hold a press conference where members of the accredited press may pose them questions. The rehearsals and press conferences are held in parallel; so one country holds its press conference, while the next one is in the auditorium rehearsing. A printed summary of the questions and answers which emerge from the press conferences is produced by the host press office, and distributed to journalists' pigeon-holes.

Before each of the semi-finals three dress rehearsals are held. Two rehearsals are held the day before (one in the afternoon and the other in the evening), while the third is held on the afternoon of the live event. Since tickets to the live shows are often scarce, tickets are also sold in order that the public may attend these dress rehearsals. The same applies for the final, with two rehearsals on the Friday and the third on Saturday afternoon before the live transmission of the grand final on Saturday evening. For both semi-finals and for the final, the second dress rehearsal is also the Jury Final, this is where the jury from each country casts their votes. This means that 50% of the result is already decided before the live contests have taken place.

Parties and Euroclub

On the Monday evening of Eurovision Week, a Mayor's Reception is traditionally held, where the city administration hosts a celebration that Eurovision has come to their city. This is usually held in a grand municipally owned location in the city centre. All delegations are invited, and the party is usually accompanied by live music, complimentary food and drink and—in recent years— fireworks.

After the semi-final and grand final there are after-show parties, held either in a facility in the venue complex or in another suitable location within the city.

A Euroclub is held every night of the week; a Eurovision-themed nightclub, to which all accredited personnel are invited.

During the week many delegations have traditionally hosted their own parties in addition to the officially sponsored ones. However, in the new 2000 millennium the trend has been for the national delegations to centralise their activity and hold their celebrations in the Euroclub.


The voting systems used in the contest have changed throughout the years. The modern system has been in place since 1975, and is a positional voting system. Countries award a set of points from 1 to 8, then 10 and finally 12 to other songs in the competition — with the favourite song being awarded 12 points.

Historically, a country's set of votes was decided by an internal jury, but in 1997 five countries (Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom) experimented with televoting, giving members of the public in those countries the opportunity to vote en-masse for their favourite songs. The experiment was a success, and from 1998 onwards all countries were encouraged to use televoting wherever possible. Back-up juries are still utilised by each country, in the event of a televoting failure. Nowadays members of the public may also vote by SMS, in addition to televoting. But the current method for ranking entries, first used in 2009, is a 50/50 combination of both telephone vote and the votes of juries made up of music professionals.

Since 1964 the voting has been presided over by the EBU scrutineer, who is responsible for ensuring that all points are allocated correctly and in turn. The following are the scrutineers and Executive Supervisors of the Eurovision Song Contest appointed by the EBU;

  • Miroslav Vilcek (1964-1965)
  • Clifford Brown (1966-1977)
  • Frank Naef (1978-1992)
  • Christian Clausen (1993-1995)
  • Christine Marchal-Ortiz (1996, 1998-2002)
  • Marie-Claire Vionnet (1997)
  • Sarah Yuen (2003)
  • Svante Stockselius (2004-2010)
  • Jon Ola Sand (2011–present)

According to one study of Eurovision voting patterns, certain countries tend to form "clusters" or "cliques" by frequently voting in the same way. Yet another study concludes that as of 2006 voting blocs has, on at least two occasions, crucially affected the outcome of the contest.

Presentation of votes

After the interval act is over, when all the points have been calculated, the presenter(s) of the show call upon each voting country in turn to invite them to announce the results of their vote. Prior to 1994 the announcements were made over telephone lines; with the audio being piped into the auditorium for the audience to hear, and over the television transmission. With the advent of more reliable satellite networks, from 1994 onwards voting spokespeople have appeared on camera from their respective countries to read out the votes. Often the opportunity is taken by each country to show their spokesperson standing in front of a backdrop which includes a famous place in that country. (For example, the French spokesperson may be seen standing in front of the Eiffel Tower).

Currently, the votes from 1 to 7 are displayed automatically on screen and the remaining points are read out in ascending order by the spokesperson, culminating with the maximum 12 points. Countries must announce the country names and points in either English or French and the scores are repeated by the contest's presenters in the other language. The exclamation "douze points"when the host or spokesperson states the top score in French is popularly associated with the contest .

From 1957 to 1962, the participating countries were called in reverse order of the presentation of their songs, and from 1963 to 2003, each country was called in the same order in which their song had been presented. Since 2004 the order of the countries' announcements of votes has changed since the inception of the semi-final, and the countries that did not make it to the final each year could also vote. In 2004, the countries were called in alphabetical order (according to their ISO codes). In 2005, the votes from the non-qualifying semi-finalists were announced first, in their running order on the Thursday night; then the finalists gave their votes in their own order of performance. Between 2006 and 2010, a separate draw was held to determine the order in which countries would present their votes. In 2011, the voting order was determined by the results of a jury the day before the final so as to create as much suspense as possible when the votes were revealed.

From 1971 to 1973, each country sent two jurors, who were actually present at the contest venue (though the juries in 1972 were locked away in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle) and announced their votes as the camera was trained on them. In 1973 one of the Swiss jurors made a great show of presenting his votes with flamboyant gestures. This system was retired for the next year.

In 1956 no public votes were presented: a closed jury simply announced that Switzerland had won. From 1957 to 1987, the points were displayed on a physical scoreboard to the side of the stage. As digital graphic technology progressed, the physical scoreboards were superseded in 1988 by an electronic representation which could be displayed on the TV screen at the will of the programme's director.

In 2006 the EBU decided to conserve time during the broadcast—much of which had been taken up with the announcement of every single point—because there was an ever-increasing number of countries voting. From then onwards, the points from 1–7 were flashed up onto the screen automatically, and the announcers only read out the 8, 10 and, 12 points individually.

Ties for first place

In 1969, when four of the sixteen countries taking part, France, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, all tied for first place each with eighteen points, there was no pre-determined set of rules to decide the outright winner, therefore the four countries concerned were all declared the winners. This caused much discontent among most of the other participating countries, and mass-walkouts were threatened. Finland, Norway, Sweden and Portugal did not participate in the 1970 Contest as a protest against the results of the previous year. This prompted the EBU to introduce a tie-break rule.

Today, in the event of a tie for first place at the end of the evening, a count is made of the total number of countries who awarded points to each of the tied countries; and the one who received points from the most countries is declared the winner. If the numbers are still tied, it is counted how many sets of maximum marks (12 points) each country received. If there is still a tie, the numbers of 10-point scores awarded are compared—and then the numbers of 8-points, all the way down the list. In the extremely unlikely event of there then still being a tie for first place, the song performed earliest in the running order is declared the winner, unless the host country performed first in the running order. The same tie-break rule now applies to ties for all places.

As of 2013, the only time since 1969 when two or more countries have tied for first place on total points alone was in 1991, when France and Sweden both totalled 146 points. In 1991, the Eurovision rules of the day did not include counting the numbers of countries awarding any points to these countries' songs, but began with tallying up the numbers of 12 points awarded. Both France and Sweden had received four sets of 12 points. However, because Sweden had received more sets of 10-point scores, they were declared the winners. Had the current rule been in play, France would have won instead.


There are a number of rules which must be observed by the participating nations. The rules are numerous and unabridged, and a separate draft is produced each year, which explicitly specifies the dates by which certain things must be done; for example the deadline by which all the participating broadcasters must submit the final recorded version of their song to the EBU. Many rules pertain to such matters as sponsorship agreements and rights of broadcasters to re-transmit the show within a certain time. The most notable rules which actually affect the format and presentation of the contest have changed somewhat over the years, and are highlighted here.


In 1958 it was decided that from then on, the winning country (France, at the time) would host the Contest the next year. The winner of the 1957 contest was the Netherlands, and Dutch television accepted the responsibility of hosting in 1958. In all but five of the years since this rule has been in place, the winning country has hosted the show the following year. The exceptions are:

  • 1960—hosted by the BBC in London when the Netherlands declined due to expense. The UK was chosen to host because it had come second in 1959.
  • 1963—hosted by the BBC in London when France declined due to expense. Although the UK had only come fourth in 1962, Monaco and Luxembourg (who came second and third) had also declined.
  • 1972—hosted by the BBC in Edinburgh when Monaco was unable to provide a suitable venue: Monegasque television invited the BBC to take over due to its previous experience.
  • 1974—hosted by the BBC in Brighton when Luxembourg declined due to expense. The BBC was becoming known as the host by default, if the winning country declined.
  • 1980—hosted by the NOS in The Hague when Israel declined due to expense, having staged the 1979 event in Jerusalem, and the fact that the date chosen for the contest (19 April) was Israel's Remembrance Day that year. The Dutch offered to host the contest after several other broadcasters (including the BBC) were unwilling to do so.

The reluctance of those national broadcasters to stage the contest were due to already having hosted the event during the past couple of years, in addition to the expense involved. Since 1981, all contests have been held in the country which won the previous year.

Live music

All vocals must be sung live: no voices are permitted on backing tracks. In 1999, the Croatian song featured sounds on their backing track which sounded suspiciously like human voices. The Croatian delegation stated that there were no human voices, but only digitally synthesised sounds which replicated vocals. The EBU nevertheless decided that they had broken the spirit of the rules, and docked them 33% of their points total that year as used for calculating their five-year points average for future qualification.

From 1956 until 1998, it was necessary for the host country to provide a live orchestra for the use of the participants. Prior to 1973, all music was required to be played by the host orchestra. From 1973 onwards, pre-recorded backing tracks were permitted—although the host country was still obliged to provide a live orchestra in order to give participants a choice. If a backing track was used, then all the instruments heard on the track were required to be present on the stage. In 1997 this requirement was dropped.

In 1999 the rules were amended to abolish the requirement by the host broadcaster to provide a live orchestra, leaving it as an optional contribution. The host that year, Israel's IBA, decided not to use an orchestra in order to save on expenses, and 1999 became the first year in which all of the songs were played as pre-recorded backing tracks (in conjunction with live vocals). The orchestra has not since made an appearance at the contest; the last time being in 1998 when the BBC hosted the show in Birmingham.


The rule requiring countries to sing in their own national language has been changed several times over the years. From 1956 until 1965, there was no rule restricting the languages in which the songs could be sung. In 1966 a rule was imposed stating that the songs must be performed in one of the official languages of the country participating, after Sweden presented its 1965 entry in English.

The language restriction continued until 1973, when it was lifted and performers were again allowed to sing in any language they wished. Several winners in the mid-1970s took advantage of the newly found allowance, with performers from non-English-speaking countries singing in English, including ABBA in 1974.

In 1977, the EBU decided to revert to the national language restriction. Special dispensation was given to Germany and Belgium as their national selections had already taken place - both countries' entries were in English.

In 1999 the rule was changed to allow the choice of language once more. With this allowance, Belgium entered the 2003 Contest with " Sanomi", a song sung in a constructed language. In 2006 the Dutch entry, " Amambanda", was sung partly in English and partly in an artificial language. In 2008 the Belgian entry, " O Julissi", was sung in an artificial language. In 2011 the Norwegian entry, " Haba Haba", which was sung in English and Swahili, was the first song to be sung in an African language.

The submitted songs must always have vocals; purely instrumental music is not allowed.


Each participating broadcaster is required to broadcast the show in its entirety: including all songs, recap, voting and reprise, skipping only the interval act for advertising breaks if they wish. From 1999 onwards, broadcasters who wished to do so were given the opportunity to take more advertising breaks as short, non-essential hiatuses were introduced into the programme. Three major contest preemptions took place since 1999. The Dutch state broadcaster pulled their broadcast of the 2000 final to provide emergency news coverage of a major incident, the Enschede fireworks disaster. Spain's RTVE delayed their broadcast of the second semi-final in the 2009 Contest, due to the Madrid Open tennis tournament. The Albanian state broadcaster deferred their broadcast of the first semi-final in the 2012 Contest to provide emergency news coverage of a major bus accident. These were technically violations of the rule, but were done out of necessity.

Political recognition issues

In 1978, during the performance of the Israeli entry, the Jordanian broadcaster JRTV suspended the broadcast and showed pictures of flowers. When it became apparent during the later stages of the voting sequence that Israel was going to win the contest, JRTV abruptly ended the transmission. Afterwards, the Jordanian news media refused to acknowledge the fact that Israel had won and announced that the winner was Belgium (which had actually come in 2nd place). In 1981 JRTV did not broadcast the voting because the name of Israel appeared on the scoreboard.

In 2005, Lebanon intended to participate in the contest. However, Lebanese law does not allow recognition of Israel, and consequently Lebanese television did not intend to transmit the Israeli entry. The EBU informed them that such an act would breach the rules of the contest, and Lebanon was subsequently forced to withdraw from the competition. Their late withdrawal incurred a fine, since they had already confirmed their participation and the deadline had passed.


  • In the first contest in 1956, there was a recommended time limit of 3½ minutes per song. In 1957, despite protests, the Italian song was 5:09 minutes in duration. This led to a stricter time limit of 3 minutes precisely. Since the three-minute time limit was adopted in 1960, some artists have had songs longer than three minutes which must be edited for time constraints, though some songs exceed that length by a few seconds. Many of the entries also have longer versions (including different languages) for commercial release, and since the 1990s, some are released in additional remixed versions.
  • There is no restriction imposed by the EBU on the nationality of the performers or songwriters. Individual broadcasters are, however, permitted to impose their own restrictions at their discretion.
  • From 1957 to 1970 (in 1956 there was no restriction at all), only soloists and duos were allowed on stage. From 1963, a chorus of up to three people was permitted. Since 1971, a maximum of six performers have been permitted on the stage.
  • The performance and/or lyrics of a song "must not bring the contest into disrepute".
  • From 1990 onwards, all people on stage must be at least 16 years of age.
  • The music and text must be published or performed on or after the 1st September of the year before the contest is held. Many countries also have the additional rule that the song shall never have been performed before the concerning national Eurovision contest. Covers, reworked or sampled versions of older songs are not allowed.

Expansion of the contest

Regular participants in 1992. Yugoslavia is coloured in red: 1991 was the last year in which that nation participated under one name.
Regular participants in 1994. Changes from 1992 include the addition of Central and Eastern European countries, and the separation of ex-Yugoslavian states.

The number of countries participating each year has steadily grown over time, from seven participants in 1956 to over 20 in the late 1980s. In 1993, twenty-five countries participated in the competition, including, for the first time that year, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, entering independently due to the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

Because the contest is a live television programme, a reasonable time limit must be imposed on the duration of the show. In recent years the nominal limit has been three hours, with the broadcast occasionally overrunning.

Pre-selections and relegation

Since 1993, and following the cessation of the Eastern European OIRT network and the merger with the EBU, there have been more countries wishing to enter the contest than there is time to reasonably include all their entries in a single TV show. Several relegation or qualification systems have, therefore, been tried in order to limit the number of countries participating in the contest at one time. To that end, the 1993 contest introduced two new features: firstly, a pre-selection competition was held in Ljubljana in which seven new countries fought for three places in the international competition. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia took part in Kvalifikacija za Millstreet; and the three former Yugoslav republics, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, qualified for a place in the international final. Also to be introduced that year was relegation. The lowest-placed countries in the 1993 score table were forced to skip the next year, in order to allow the countries which failed the 1993 pre-selection into the 1994 contest. The 1994 contest included—for the first time—Estonia, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and Russia.

Relegation continued through 1994 and 1995; but in 1996 a different pre-selection system was used, in which nearly all the countries participated. Audio tapes of all the songs were sent to juries in each of the countries some weeks before the television show. These juries selected the songs which would then proceed to be included in the international broadcast. Norway, as the host country in 1996 (having won the previous year), automatically qualified and was therefore excluded from the necessity of going through the pre-selection.

One country which failed to qualify in the 1996 pre-selection was Germany. As one of the largest financial contributors to the EBU, their non-participation in the contest brought about a funding issue, which the EBU would have to consider.

Big Four/Big Five

Since 2000, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain have automatically qualified for the final, regardless of their positions on the scoreboard in previous contests, due to their status of being the four biggest financial contributors to the EBU. As a result, these countries became known as the "Big Four". Germany became the first "Big Four" country to win the contest since the rule was made in 2000, when Lena Meyer-Landrut won the 2010 Contest. On 31 December 2010, it was announced that Italy would automatically qualify into the final, thus joining the other four qualifiers to become the "Big Five". This rule has caused controversy; Turkey withdrew from the 2013 Contest with the status of the "Big Five" being one of the reasons cited.


From 1997 to 2003, countries qualified for each contest based on the average of their points totals for their entries over the previous five years. However, there was much discontent voiced over this system because a country could be punished by not being allowed to enter merely because of poor previous results, which did not take into account how good a fresh attempt might be. This led the EBU to create what was hoped would be a more permanent solution to the problem, which was to have two shows every year: a qualification round, and the grand final. In these two shows there would be enough broadcast time to include all the countries which wished to participate, every year. The qualification round became known as the Eurovision Semi-Final. In 2008, due to the number of nations entering, it changed very slightly as two separate semi-finals were created. A nation proceeding from the first semi-final would go straight into the final, as would those progressing from the second semi-final.


A qualification round, known as the semi-final, was introduced for the 2004 Contest. This semi-final was held on the Wednesday during Eurovision Week, and was a programme similar in format to the grand final, whose time slot remained 19:00 UTC on the Saturday. The highest-placed songs from the semi-final would qualify for the grand final, while the lower-placed songs were out of the competition for that year. From 2005–2007, the semi-final programme was held on the Thursday of Eurovision Week.

The ten most highly placed non-Big Four countries in the grand final were guaranteed a place in the following year's grand final, without the need to participate in next year's semi. If, for example, Germany came in the top ten, the eleventh-placed non-Big-Four country would automatically qualify for the next year's grand final. The remaining countries—which had not automatically qualified for the grand final—had to enter the semi.

At the 50th annual meeting of the EBU reference group in September 2007, it was decided that from the 2008 Contest onwards two semi-finals would be held. From 2008 onwards, the scoreboard position of any previous years has not been relevant, and—save for the automatic qualifiers—all participating countries have had to participate in the semi-finals, regardless of their previous year's scoreboard position. The only countries which automatically qualify for the grand final are the host country, and the Big Five: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, who continue to enjoy their protected status.

In each of the semi-finals the voting is conducted among those countries which participate in that semi-final in question. With regards to the automatic grand final qualifiers, which do not participate in the semi-finals, a draw is conducted to determine in which semi-final each of them will be allowed to vote. In contrast, every participating country in a particular year may vote in the Saturday grand final — whether their song qualified from the semi or not.

After the votes have been cast in each semi-final, the countries which received the most votes—and will therefore proceed to the grand final on Saturday—are announced by name by the presenters. Full voting results are withheld until after the grand final, whereupon they are published on the EBU's website.


Winning the Eurovision Song Contest provides a unique opportunity for the winning artist(s) to capitalise on the surrounding publicity to further his, her or their career(s).


The most notable winning Eurovision artist whose career was directly launched into the spotlight following their win was ABBA, who won the contest for Sweden in 1974 with their song " Waterloo". ABBA went on to become one of the most successful bands of all time.

Another notable winner who subsequently achieved international fame and success was French Canadian singer, Céline Dion, who won the contest for Switzerland in 1988 with the song " Ne partez pas sans moi", which subsequently helped launch her international career.

Other artists who have achieved varying degrees of success after winning the contest include France Gall (" Poupée de cire, poupée de son", Luxembourg 1965), Dana (" All Kinds of Everything", Ireland 1970), Vicky Leandros (" Après toi", Luxembourg 1972), Brotherhood of Man (" Save Your Kisses for Me", United Kingdom 1976), Marie Myriam (" L'oiseau et l'enfant", France 1977), Johnny Logan (who won twice for Ireland; with " What's Another Year" in 1980, and " Hold Me Now" in 1987), Bucks Fizz (" Making Your Mind Up", United Kingdom 1981), Nicole (" Ein bißchen Frieden", Germany 1982), Herreys (" Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley", Sweden 1984) and Sandra Kim (" J'aime la vie", Belgium 1986).

Many other winners were well-known artists who won the contest mid-career, after they had already established themselves as successful. An example is Katrina and the Waves, representing the United Kingdom, who were the winners of the contest with the song, "Love Shine a Light". Likewise Sandie Shaw, who won in 1967 with Puppet on a String, was already a star in the UK.

Some artists, however, have vanished into relative obscurity, making little or no impact on the international music scene after their win.


Ireland holds the record for the highest number of wins, having won the contest seven times—including three times in a row in 1992, 1993, and 1994. France, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and Sweden are joint second with five wins. Next comes the Netherlands, with four victories.

The early years of the contest saw many wins for "traditional" Eurovision countries: France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. However, the success of these countries has declined in recent decades; the Netherlands last won in 1975; France, in 1977; and Luxembourg, in 1983. Luxembourg last entered the contest in 1993.

The first years of the 21st century produced numerous first-time winners, from both "new" and long-serving countries who had previous entered numerous times but without victories. Every year from 2001 to 2008 inclusive, a country won for its first time. Estonia was the first post-Soviet country to win the competition in 2001. The 2006 winner was Finland, which finally won after having entered the contest for 45 years. Ukraine, on the other hand, did not have to wait so long, winning with only their second entry in 2004. Serbia won the very first year it entered as an independent state, in 2007. Another relatively quick winner was Azerbaijan, who won in 2011 in only their fourth year in the competition.

The country that has participated the longest without any win is Portugal, who made its debut in 1964 and has never finished in the top five.

In 2009, Norway won the contest with 387 points, the highest total in the history of the competition, and the first to score 300 or more points, including 16 maximum scores. This feat was emulated in 2012, when Sweden won with 372 points, but with a new record of 18 maximum scores.

Criticism and controversy

The contest has been the subject of criticism regarding both its musical content and the perception that it is more about politics than it is about music.

Musical style and presentation

Because the musical songs are playing to such a diverse supranational audience with contrasting musical tastes, and that countries want to be able to appeal to as many people as possible to gain votes, the majority of the songs have historically been middle-of-the-road pop. Deviations from this formula have rarely achieved success, leading to the contest gaining a reputation for its music being " bubblegum pop". This well-established pattern, however, was notably broken in 2006 with Finnish hard rock band Lordi's victory. As Eurovision is a visual show, many performances attempt to attract the attention of the voters through means other than the music, notably elaborate lighting sequences and pyrotechnics; sometimes leading to bizarre on-stage theatrics and costumes, including the use of revealing dress.

Political and geographical voting

The contest has long been accused by some of political bias, where the perception is that judges—and now televoters—allocate points based on their nation's relationship to the other countries, rather than the musical merits of the songs. According to one study of Eurovision voting patterns, certain countries tend to form "clusters" or "cliques" by frequently voting in the same way. Another study concludes that as of 2006, voting blocs have, on at least two occasions, crucially affected the outcome of the contest. On the other hand, however, others argue that certain countries allocate disproportionately high points to others because of similar musical tastes, cultures and because they speak similar languages, and are therefore more likely to appreciate each other's music; for example, the explanation for Greece and Cyprus' routine exchange of 12 points in every possible occasion since popular voting was introduced in 1998 is because those countries share the same music industry and language, and artists who are popular in one country are popular in the other.

Another influential factor is the high proportion of expatriates, ethnic minorities and diaspora living in certain countries, often due to recent political upheaval. Although judges and televoters cannot vote for their own country's entry, expatriates and diaspora can vote for their country of origin from their country of residence.

Since the number of points to be distributed allotted to each country remains equal, and independent of their population, voters in countries with larger populations have less power as individuals to influence the result of the contest than those voting from countries with smaller populations.

In a move to help reduce the effects of voting blocs since the advent of televoting in the Eurovision Song Contest, national juries were re-introduced alongside televoting in the final in 2009, each of both contributing 50% of the vote. This hybrid system was expanded in 2010 to also be implemented in the semi-finals. But in practice it makes little difference to 'political' voting. However, since 1994 no country has won two years in a row, and semi-finals have also been won by different countries, until 2012 when Sweden won the second semi-final in 2011 and 2012. Although many of them used to give their 12 points to the same country each year, it has been noticed that factors such as the sets of other high votes received (7, 8 or 10 points) and the number of countries giving points to a specific entry, also highly affect the final positions.


A number of spin-offs and imitators of the Eurovision Song Contest have been produced over the years, some national and other international.

Similar competition that still exist include:

  • Sopot International Song Festival (1961—1980, 1984-1998, 2005-09, 2012-Present), held in Sopot, Poland, annually.
  • östersjöfestivalen also called Baltic Song Contest (1967-Present), held annually in Karlshamn, Sweden.
  • Caribbean Song Festival (1984—Present), held annually between members of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union.
  • Junior Eurovision Song Contest (2003-Present), for European artists under the age of 16.
  • Bundesvision Song Contest (2005-Present), held annually between the 16 states of Germany since 2005.
  • Our Sound (2012-Present), Asia-Pacific version

Similar competitions that no longer exist include:

  • Castlebar Song Contest (1966—1986, 1988), held annually in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland.
  • Yamaha Music Festival, also called World Popular Song Festival (1970-1987, 1989), held in Tokyo, Japan annually.
  • OTI Festival (1972-1998, 2000), competed and hosted by the Hispanic countries of Europe, South and North America. Countries could only sing in Spanish and Portuguese.
  • Intervision Song Contest (1977-1980), held by the Eastern Bloc countries of Europe.
  • MGP Nordic (2002, 2006-2009), for artists under the age of 16 in the Scandinavian and Nordic countries.
  • World Oriental Music Festival (2005), includes participants from Europe and Asia.

In autumn 2005, the EBU organised a special programme to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the contest. The show, entitled Congratulations (after Cliff Richard's entry for the United Kingdom in 1968) was held in Copenhagen, and featured many artists from the last 50 years of the contest. A telephone vote was held to determine the most popular Eurovision song of all-time, which was won by ABBA's " Waterloo" (winner, Sweden 1974).

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