Assessing the Eurovision press accreditation debate

Eurovision press centre in Kyiv, 2017 | Image credit – Andres Putting

Over the past few days it has emerged that long-established and well-respected fan sites have been denied press accreditation – or had their usual press pass numbers reduced – for this May’s Eurovision Song Contest in Turin. Whether you’re involved in fan media or not it’s easy to see the frustration this must cause.

However, there’s a different, more brand-focussed perspective to all of this.

Fan sites are the lifeblood of the Eurovision community all year round. Be it writing daily news stories about upcoming national selections, providing viewing figures for those shows or reviewing recent album releases by Eurovision alumni, they’re an invaluable source for fans of the contest to stay up-to-date with the competition and singers they love dearly. I’m not one for pouring over the numbers of people who tuned in to watch week two of Slovenia’s EMA Freš but I know people who are.

What is most admirable about those who produce written, visual or audio content for fan sites is that they do it in their spare time for no financial gain. They’re volunteers. They give up their time because they want to provide insight and content for fans. These people keep the spirit of Eurovision alive when little to nothing in the world of the contest is happening.

But it’s when everything in the world of the contest is happening that these sites come into their own. During the Eurovision fortnight each May fan sites produce live blogs, YouTube livestreams, daily podcasts and more all from the press room at the venue. Fans are nourished with the news, views and interviews with artists that they crave.

In two months’ time when Eurovision rehearsals will be underway, things will be slightly different.

The Eurovision Song Contest is a brand. Brands need exposure. Exposure is gained through clicks, views, newspaper circulation and readership. If the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) wants to have as many eyes on the contest in May as possible it is natural for it to grant more press access to Europe’s biggest daily newspapers and entertainment websites. That is not to do a disservice to fan sites but they simply can’t compete with the audiences of the Aftonbladets and The Guardians of the world.

Consumers of Eurovision fan media will tune in to watch the contest in May. 53-year-old Pernilla in Sweden who thumbs a copy of Aftonbladet on the bus home from work won’t necessarily watch. But if she reads a story in May 12, 2022’s copy of Sweden’s most-read daily newspaper about Cornelia Jakobs written from the press room in Turin, that might just make her switch on SVT1 at 9.00pm to see how her country’s representative gets on. And for every Pernilla in Sweden there’s a Mathias in Austria, a Mirijam in Serbia and a Claire in Australia. The EBU depends on these potential viewers to tune in.

Influencers from outside the world of Eurovision are another key resource for the EBU. Their reach could be crucial to bring in a new, younger audience to the contest in May. From a television viewership point of view it’s worth having people with massive social media following covering the event and encouraging their fans to watch, even if their knowledge and genuine enthusiasm for Eurovision is significantly limited compared to volunteers from fan sites.

Admittedly international press and influencers don’t cover rehearsals in the same way Eurovision fan sites do, but they do a job that needs to be done.

The EBU has not made a public statement about the lack of press passes being handed out to those involved with fan sites this year, or if national press and influencers will be given more liberties, but Eurovision’s Communications Lead Dave Goodman said on Twitter that his team will be “creating more engaging & exclusive content than ever before”. The use of the word ‘exclusive’ might suggest that Eurovision’s digital platforms will have a monopoly on some interviews, footage and access and thus deprive other media outlets of potential content.

Who knows? The press centre might just be small this year.

It’s healthy to question the decisions made by the EBU and seek answers to those questions, but criticising the organisation and its flagship competition without full knowledge of the rationale can be damaging and counterproductive to both the author of that criticism and Eurovision itself.

Press accreditation isn’t a god-given right, contrary to what some of those who are aggrieved might seem to suggest. Their absence from the press room really is welcome. The absence of those who genuinely and selflessly dedicate their free time without thinking about an ultimate payoff is less welcome.

The reasons behind what has unfolded over recent days remain to be seen and the potential ramifications won’t be known until the press centre opens in May. In the meantime it’s well worth the volunteers of fan sites to continue their preparations for Eurovision and continue to do what they do for the love and joy of it because their enthusiastic contribution to Eurovision is invaluable whether they’re on site or not.

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