26 April 2014
It started with a “shout-out” from the hosts in Baku in 2012, then Malmo 2013 went a step further by providing a short video “Why Australia Loves Eurovision” during the interval of the first semi final about Australia’s “obsession” with Eurovision, and now Copenhagen 2014 will have as an interval act during semi final two, a live performance from Jessica Mauboy.
All this Australian progression leads to the obvious question: is it time for Australia to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest? The answer is a firm no.
1) Australia are not a member of the European Broadcasting Union and unlikely to ever be. That fundamental requirement for membership ends any legitimate chance.
2) The host broadcaster does NOT show ESC live, stacking all the shows to the weekend over 3 nights – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That means SF1 is seen 3 days late, SF2 two days late, and the final almost a day late. In 2014, it’s the same again, despite Mauboy’s appearance. The best “live” offering SBS will do is arrange live streaming into a Sydney museum showing only Mauboy’s performance in the wee hours of Friday morning. Seriously?
3) Even if ESC was broadcast live, the telecast would hit Australian TV screens between 3 and 6am in the morning when most people are sleep. Who will actually vote? The image presented in that video montage in Malmo of Australians fallen asleep on the couch during those wee hours was a lie.
4) ESC is not that popular. The host broadcaster of SBS is a minor government-owned channel of very small viewership that specialises in multi-cultural viewing. Day time is taken up mostly of foreign news shows in a myriad number of languages, while evenings it’s foreign TV series and films. Sport is typical European club football and major European cycling races and tours. ESC gained its niche in this country courtesy of its essential “Europeanness”. Until 2009, Australia took the British feed of Terry Wogan commentating, all except the one disastrous year of 2004 when the snorting Des Mangan was sent. Wogan had long worn out his welcome before his eventual retirement, providing a moment of serendipity for SBS to take more control of the broadcast.
With their own commentators, expanded input and support programming, ESC is now one of SBS’s “big events” of the year. Big for SBS. Barely moderate for the commercial channels, all of whom usually out-rate the Eurovision final on the Sunday evening that it’s shown here. The 2013 final was watched by 750,000 viewers from a population of 23mil for just a 13.8% TV share. For all 3 shows over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, the total audience was 2.93mil.
5) Cultural reasons, notably ESC is mostly regarded as an event to mock and induce laughter. It’s all about these silly Europeans in their silly costumes with some really tacky songs, and SBS promote and propagate this. Australian musicians are way too self conscious to ever be seen in such an arena, so mostly the competitors Australia would send would be amateurs – typically rejects from talent shows – needing any sort of publicity.
Be satisfied Mauboy is the choice for the interval act because she is one of the few successes from a talent show, coming second in the 2006 edition of “Idol” and enjoying reasonable commercial success since. Her reputation might have been a bit too good. Most important with Mauboy is that she has a great voice, provided she has a good pop song to sing. Some of her stuff is really horrible R&B, with too many effects on her voice making her sound whiny.
If it wasn’t Mauboy, next pick would have been Ricki-Lee Coulter, who finished seventh (somewhat a shock) in her Idol year of 2004 and seems to need media attention more. She also has a nice voice, is popular among the gay community and would have the potential to be a minor European success.
Even with the accomplished Mauboy performing at Eurovision, SBS has forgotten that she is there to represent Australia, not embarrass us. They are advertising her appearance solely based on gimmicks – appealing to “Euro-tragics” to post “ultimate wind machine selfies”, videos of silly dance moves, and advice to Mauboy about the sort of crazy costume that she should wear, all under the hash-tag of #JessUp (dress up, get it?)
This approach to Mauboy typifies the entire coverage. Since Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang took the commentary roles in 2009, they’ve mostly resorted to poking fun, cheering over the finales of songs, giggling incessantly and stating the obvious. Pang, who apparently is a comedian, never even heard of ESC before he was asked to commentate and still finds it a struggle to admit to liking any song. Zemiro, who has developed a strange fascination in wind machines, has at least progressed, built her knowledge bank, and provides great interviews. Unfortunately, SBS seems to be in a death spiral with their presentation objective: by trying to build an audience based on mockery and jokes, you promote the show as a mockery and a joke. No one will therefore ever take it seriously enough that it could grow to anywhere near a point that Australia would – or could – ever participate.