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What Is Eurovision?

by Scott Kacsmar
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What Is Eurovision

The Eurovision Song Contest, commonly referred to as just Eurovision, is an international song contest. Countries submit their best choice for an original song and a competition is held to determine the winner.

With roots going back to the 1950s, Eurovision has been an international success in promoting diversity and sounds from other cultures, and it has also been controversial for political reasons and a target of mockery at times.

With the 68th edition of Eurovision about to be held in 2024, we have prepared a guide for its history and tradition before heading to the online sportsbooks to bet on this year’s winner.

The Origins of Eurovision

Television was largely an invention of the 1950s. Since very few networks existed at the time, they needed to find creative ways to get people to invest in a TV set and watch their programming, especially any live programming.

British journalist George Campey was the first person to coin the phrase “Eurovision” when he referred to a BBC program that was relayed by Dutch television, creating an international broadcasting situation that could benefit multiple countries at once.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) launched a committee in January 1955 to find other ways to create broadcasting opportunities across different countries. The idea for a live song competition came up that year from the mind of Italian broadcasting manager Sergio Pugliese, who was influenced by the Italian Sanremo Music Festival, which was started in 1951.

However, this needed more of an international flavor to work. The plan was set in motion and the first Eurovision contest was held in 1956 in Switzerland. A total of 7 European countries entered:

  • Belgium
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland

Each country had 2 song entries, the only time in contest history where multiple songs were entered by countries. Host city Switzerland ended up winning the first Eurovision for the song “Refrain” by Lys Assia.

The winner was selected by a jury of 2 jurors from each country. Each song received between 1 and 10 points from each juror with the winner having the most points.

However, despite being broadcast on TV and radio in 10 countries, there is no known video footage of the event outside of an independent archiver having a video of the performance of the winning song “Reprise.” Most of the broadcast has audio still available.

Eurovision Contest Improvements

It may have been a rough start in 1956, but the contest was to become an annual event, and improvements in format and the addition of many more countries were about to come.

Technology also has helped improve Eurovision and its popularity over the years. It began broadcasting in color in 1968, by satellite broadcasts in 1985 and streaming was available in 2000. The move to widescreen began in 2005, high-definition was in 2007 and ultra high-definition was first used in 2022.

The format has also improved greatly. Starting in 1958, the winning country hosts the next Eurovision contest, a tradition that exists to this day.

Starting with 7 European countries in 1956, expansion for more inclusivity has been a goal for Eurovision. By the 1960s, there were 16 to 18 countries competing each year, including non-European countries. In the 1970s and 1980s, countries in Western Asia and North Africa started entering as well.

The only communist/socialist country to ever enter was Yugoslavia. But after the Cold War ended in the late 80s and early 90s, countries from Central and Eastern Europe showed interest in competing for the first time.

To compensate for this expansion of countries, in 2004, the contest was changed to a multi-program event instead of a single night. Starting in 2008, a 2nd semi-final was added to the competition.

A total of 52 countries have participated at least once in a Eurovision contest with the record for one year being 43 countries, set in 2008, then tied in 2011 and 2018. With this growth in worldwide popularity, Eurovision is one of the most-watched non-sporting events in the world on an annual basis, and it is one of the longest running TV programs in history going back to 1956.

Due to COVID-19, no contest was held in 2020. Still, it has been held every other year since 1956.

Show Format

In recent years, the Eurovision contest begins with a “Flag Parade” and an opening ceremony similar to that of the Olympic Games where each country is introduced and a theme or identity is established for that year’s contest.

As for the competition itself, all contestants do a live performance of their original song. Initially, it was only single singers. Duos were added a year later, and then in 1971, groups were permitted to perform, but you can have no more than 6 people on stage for a performance. Animals cannot be used and every person must be at least 16 years old as per a rule change in 1990. No performer can compete for more than 1 country in a given year.

Viewers can then vote for their favorite performances – but not their own country – by using telephone, SMS and the Eurovision app. The fan vote accounts for 50% of the final score with a jury of music industry professionals from each country accounting for the other 50%.

It must be said that there is a political nature to the contest as allies and enemies sometimes are accused of voting accordingly to their political interests rather than the merits of the song itself. There is also often controversy with the inclusion of Israel, including the 2024 Eurovision contest where Israel’s song was accepted but only after a lyrical rewriter as it referenced the October 7, 2023 attack from Hamas.

Still, once the votes are tallied, in the semi-finals, the top 10 countries are announced in random order. In the final round, a country’s representative is called upon to announce their jury’s points. The results of the public vote are announced by the presenters as well.

A trophy is awarded to the winning country and their performers, who then sing the song one more time.

Which Countries Have Won the Most?

Just like the Olympics are bragging rights for a country in athletics, the Eurovision Song Contest gives bragging rights for the music from these countries.

Of the 52 countries to have entered at least 1 competition, 25 of them have still not won. The following list shows the most wins at Eurovision:

  • Sweden: 7
  • Ireland: 7
  • France: 5
  • Luxembourg: 5
  • United Kingdom: 5
  • Netherlands: 5

The United Kingdom has been a heck of a bridesmaid with 16 runner-up finishes, by far the most in that category.

As for which country has scored the worst at Eurovision, Norway has finished dead last 11 times, including 4 contests where they received 0 points. Guess the country known for Norwegian Death Metal is not sending its best.

Who Are the Most Famous Singers to Win at Eurovision?

Winning a big contest like Eurovision can be a boost to one’s career, and we have seen some high-profile examples of this as a few superstars got their big break from success at Eurovision.

In 1974, Swedish pop group ABBA won at Eurovision for “Waterloo” before going on to great success with a song like “Dancing Queen” and many others that inspired Mamma Mia! as a stage musical and film franchise. In 2005, “Waterloo” was selected as the best song in Eurovision history to celebrate 50 years of the competition.

Even though she’s from Canada, Céline Dion rose to international fame when she won the 1988 Eurovision contest, representing Switzerland, with the song “Ne partez pas sans moi.”

In more recent years, Swedish singer Loreen has won twice at Eurovision for “Euphoria” (2012) and “Tattoo” (2023). The only other person to win as a 2-time performer at Eurovision was Ireland’s Johnny Logan, who also won a record 3rd time as a songwriter for 1992’s “Why Me?” sung by Linda Martin.

A total of 8 musicians have won multiple times at Eurovision as a songwriter, performer or both.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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