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Eurovision flags in the centre of Malmö, Sweden, the host city of Eurovision 2024

Eurovision Song Contest: 'It's the history of Europe through television'

Dave Goodman, Digital and Communications Manager of the European Broadcasting Union, believes that looking back at previous Eurovision Song Contests can give an insight into the evolution of Europe across the 20th and 21st centuries.

Image Credit: James Hall | Above: Eurovision flags in the centre of Malmö, Sweden, the host city of Eurovision 2024

Love it or hate it, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual celebration of music that is watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world. In 2024, the competition is returning to Malmö, Sweden, a fitting host city considering this year marks the 50th anniversary of ABBA’s iconic victory with 'Waterloo' in 1974.

Ahead of the historic occasion, Sky HISTORY spoke to Dave Goodman, Digital and Communications Manager of the European Broadcasting Union. Dave explained how the competition has evolved across the decades, what we can expect to see from the performances in 2024, and why the Eurovision Song Contest is more popular now than it has ever been before.

How did the Eurovision Song Contest start?

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) was formed in 1950 when television was still in its infancy. Around 1955, the EBU began planning a live broadcast, but their motivation was largely technical, not the dream of bringing Europe together (though that was clearly a secondary goal too). The EBU wanted to test out the technological boundaries of a live show and a simultaneous broadcast.

Along with the BBC, the EBU was involved in the transmission of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the first international live transmission. This time the EBU wanted to simulcast something in many countries at the same time.

The Eurovision Song Contest was inspired by the San Remo Music Festival in Italy, which had been running since the early 1950s and is still running now. It was agreed to produce a new Grand Prix de Eurovision in 1956 to broadcast internationally.

Seven countries took part in that first contest in Lugano, Switzerland with two songs each. Switzerland won and it really grew from there.

Over the next decade or so, the seven countries expanded up to 20. During the 60s and 70s, it became a huge broadcast television show in terms of audience as not everyone had a television for the earliest shows.

Now the show’s lighting, technology and cameras are always pushing the boundaries and that was the very aim of the first contest in 1956.

How does the Eurovision Archive cope with the backup of memorabilia and records that are continuously evolving and growing?

Right now we’re planning for the 70th anniversary [in 2026], so we’re trying to digitise our archive and make some of it available because there’s so much associated with the Eurovision Song Contest. We have a lot of paper, a lot of minutes and of course all the video archives. We’ve been collecting the best versions of each show, but there are two contests [1956 and 1964] that are missing video, which I’m hoping to find in the coming years. We have video or film of all the other contests which we use now on our social media and digital channels.

The history of Eurovision is important for us because we’re always building on that. What brings us forward every year is the heritage and the acts that have taken part. They’re an important part of telling the story of Europe as well. That’s what makes working on the event really fascinating because it’s the history of Europe through television.

You can see the changes in fashion, as well as the changes in what was going on in Europe at the time in terms of the countries that joined. We saw Turkey joining in the 1970s. Then, in the 1990s, when Yugoslavia broke up, the separate countries started participating. Russia, Hungary and all these countries that were formerly in the Eastern Bloc joined the EU and started competing.

We extended the invitation for Australia to join for the 60th anniversary in 2016. They had been showing the transmission from the BBC for many years and then sent commentators from 2009 onwards. They’ve stayed ever since because they’re enthusiastic participants.

How have the Eurovision Song Contest’s rules evolved to cope with all the new countries participating?

There were various rules that were introduced to relegate certain countries who’d come near the bottom and would then sit out the following year. But that became slightly unsustainable because we want the event to bring together as many countries as possible.

Then we had pre-selections which started in 1996 with an audio round of all the songs that wanted to compete. As part of that process, Germany was eliminated, so then new rules were introduced to make sure the countries with the biggest television audiences could remain in the competition. That’s how we ended up with the Big Five [Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom].

2004 was the first year we had a semi-final which allowed everybody to come and take part. Two semi-finals were introduced in 2008 and that’s really the format we’ve had ever since.

Through our digital channels, we see that the Song Contest is a worldwide phenomenon. It’s no longer just a Saturday night television show or just three live shows, it lives all year round through our digital channels. Some people might not have seen the show, but they’ll know the songs and they’ll have seen the clips. It’s now a global event. This year we’ve got people from 80 countries coming to Malmö to watch.

Whatever you might believe or whatever you might want the Eurovision Song Contest to be, we’ve all grown up with it. We’re all connected in that way through this event, which makes it fascinating. Every year, new audiences and young children are discovering Eurovision for the first time, just as we and our parents did. That’s what makes this event so special, it appeals to all generations. It connects us in a way that other cultural events don’t.

Television in the 2020s is a particularly fragmented thing in terms of streaming. We don’t necessarily watch event television together, apart from sports. This show still brings millions of people together, at the same time to watch television, and that is a really special thing in this era.

It’s the 50th anniversary of ABBA winning the contest in Brighton. What influence do you think that ABBA has had on the Eurovision Song Contest as a whole?

ABBA are arguably the biggest success story in terms of those who have won the Song Contest. Although there are others, like Céline Dion for example, ABBA say themselves that they really capitalised on Eurovision providing an international platform that didn’t exist anywhere else at the time. It was particularly difficult to break out of a country like Sweden, but now pop music is dominated by Swedish songwriters. So if you look at the impact ABBA had on Swedish music, they opened the door for Swedish musicians in a way that no one had done before that.

Winning Eurovision for ABBA obviously catapulted them internationally and also allowed everyone who followed to be taken seriously, especially if they came from a smaller European country at a time when the United Kingdom and the United States were dominating music. We had winners before who had very successful careers, but ABBA were the start of something truly global and showed the rest of Europe what Eurovision can do for your career.

If you look at the success story of Måneskin a few years ago, they were really big in Italy but became huge after winning Eurovision. Even Rosa Linn, Armenia’s entry in 2022, I think came 20th in the grand final, but then became a huge success on TikTok. So again, the connection with digital is really important now because people are consuming music through those platforms.

Why are Sweden keeping the UK’s Eurovision slogan for 2024?

We’ve had different slogans every year since 2002 and it’s always been the host broadcaster’s responsibility to come up with it. Now we’re looking at the Eurovision Song Contest as a brand because it’s so much bigger than just a television show.

We felt that the slogan the BBC came up with, ‘United By Music’, is exactly what the Song Contest is all about. This is what unites us. We might live in different countries, speak different languages and have different opinions on things, but we are all united by music. This show, these songs, bring us together.

What should viewers expect from Sweden when they host for a seventh time?

Sweden have won the Eurovision Song Contest seven times which makes them equal record holders with Ireland as the most successful nation. Loreen [who won in 2023] is also a record holder because she is the first woman to have won twice.

We’re going to see three incredible shows in Malmö this year and with the ABBA anniversary, it’s extra special that we’ve found ourselves in Sweden for this particular contest.

I think what the Swedes bring is humour and fun, and they want to celebrate the history of the competition. They understand that Eurovision is a crazy carnival of staging and costume, and that’s what everyone loves, but the music is still at the heart of it and that’s what they’re going to celebrate.

The language rule has changed over the years, but since 1999 you can sing in any language. What we’ve seen in recent years and what we’ll see this year is that people are confident singing in their own language. You don’t have to sing in English. It just shows the diversity of Europe and Australia, that even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you can still connect with the music.

We’re always looking at the format and making it more exciting. We had the rest of the world vote for the first time last year and now we’re extending that voting window this year so you can vote, anywhere outside of the participating countries, for 24 hours before the show. This is to allow people who know the songs, who’ve watched them on our channels, to be able to cast their vote when they’re still awake during the day in their own territories.

Also, for the first time the Big Five will be singling live in the semi-finals between the competing songs, which we felt was really important. We’re always thinking about how to make the Song Contest more exciting and fairer. Having the Big Five perform gives them a chance to be on the stage twice, the same as the qualifying countries, and also allows the audience can see them live before Saturday. So, by the time the rest of the world can start voting on Friday, everybody will have been on that stage.

The semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 will be held in Malmö, Sweden on 7th and 9th May, with the Grand Final taking place on 11th May. Viewers in the UK can watch the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. You can also find out more about the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 on the official Eurovision website -