The Eurovision hosting headache the BBC would face in 2023

On Friday morning the EBU released a statement outlining plans to start discussions with the BBC about potentially hosting the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in the United Kingdom. 

In what is generally being seen as an exciting moment among British Eurovision fans, this announcement couldn’t have come at a worse time for the BBC after it announced a raft of redundancies and extensive money-saving cuts to its broadcasting output less than a month ago. 

Why not Ukraine? 

There isn’t a need for granular detail about the reasons why Eurovision won’t be hosted anywhere in Ukraine next year. “The security and operational guarantees required for a broadcaster to host, organise and produce the Eurovision Song Contest under the ESC Rules cannot be fulfilled by UA:PBC,” the EBU statement concluded. 

As much as the Ukrainian government and broadcaster UA:PBC are both publicly disputing what the EBU has decided, the safety of civilians currently in Ukraine can’t be guaranteed so it would be impossible to guarantee the safety of thousands of Eurovision representatives, delegates and fans in the country in May next year. 

The BBC’s statement

Minutes after the EBU released its lengthy statement about the hosting of Eurovision 2023, the BBC released its own 34 word blink of a statement. “We have seen the announcement from the EBU. Clearly these aren’t a set of circumstances that anyone would want. Following their decision, we will of course discuss the BBC hosting the Eurovision Song Contest.”

This can be looked at in a number of ways. Maybe the BBC wants to be seen as not celebrating its right to host Eurovision at a time when another broadcaster, UA:PBC, has just been denied the same right. Another reason could be that it had nothing else to add to the EBU’s statement so it made little sense to say more. Perhaps the BBC was caught off guard by the EBU’s announcement and didn’t have its own draft ready, although this would be unlikely. 

One final potential and sad reality could be that the BBC is so reluctant to host Eurovision it decided to pour barely a drop of enthusiasm into its own statement so as to not build up any excitement and anticipation of Eurovision fans in the UK about the contest being hosted on British soil. 

Sam Ryder’s performance that secured second place at Eurovision in Turin

Unanswered questions

We’re in the early stages of preparations for Eurovision 2023 but the wheels are in motion. Lots of questions get asked at this time of year but this time the answers are a little less obvious. 

Which city hosts the contest is the food of Eurovision gossip every year and already there are more than ten cities in the UK that have made their intentions clear about hosting in 2023. London might be an obvious choice but the BBC is going through a phase of decentralisation from the country’s capital. It was announced in April that BBC Newsbeat would move its hub to Birmingham while the corporation’s Eurovision production moved to Salford in Greater Manchester for the first time this year. 

Manchester might make sense given the broadcaster’s Eurovision link to the area while Glasgow has been mooted as a potential host city. The latter is a rumour that has long been built on nothing but a fictional link to Eurovision through Netflix’s The Story of Fire Saga movie and the desire of those with an affiliation to Scotland’s second city. That said, on the face of it, Glasgow appears to have all the right qualities to host. 

SSE Hydro in Glasgow in The Story of Fire Saga | Image – Netflix

Further complexities arise when it comes to the visual brand identity of the contest. The EBU has already said one of its priorities for Eurovision is that Ukraine’s win will be “reflected in next year’s shows”. How much would the BBC want to sacrifice the UK’s national identity? 

Finding a compromise in the production of the three television shows next May might also be a stumbling block. Working with UA:PBC can’t be a desirable thought for BBC producers after the absolute debacle the Ukrainian broadcaster made of putting together Eurovision in 2017. Things got so bad that Swedish Eurovision superpower Christer Björkman was called in at the last minute to save the day and, ultimately, the contest. 

The real headache

Money. It doesn’t just make the world go round but it keeps Eurovision alive. 

The contest is funded through a number of different channels. Participation fees paid by every broadcaster make up about €6.2m of the budget while other revenue streams such as event ticket sales, merchandise sales and televoting top up the overall pot. The most significant contribution is made by the host broadcaster itself, however, with recent hosts coughing up between €10m and €20m. 

These sums of money are not amounts the BBC has behind the sofa. The corporation is funded by the licence fee; a £159 per household tax of sorts paid by every household in the country that watches television programmes on a TV or computer or that stream BBC shows on the iPlayer. Although the sum of all licence fees paid annually reaches £3.2bn, the corporation is cash strapped. 

Last month it announced its biggest and most consequential cost-cutting moves and redundancies in a generation, if not ever. In January it was announced the cost of the licence fee would not rise with inflation by 5.1% which meant the BBC had to make adjustments of £285m. This will result in – among other cuts – the loss of more than 1,000 jobs, two television channels being moved online only, a radio station closing and the merging of news channels. The BBC would be hard-pressed to justify stumping up millions of pounds for three television outputs within 12 months of announcing limitations to its services. 

As a result the BBC may have to rely on another revenue stream to fund the hosting of the contest; a grant from Boris Johnson’s Conservative government. Financial contributions from local or national governments are approved by the EBU but it’s a question of whether this would even be considered by the government itself. A Downing Street spokesperson told BBC Newsbeat’s Politics Editor Daniel Rosney that “we’re slightly getting ahead of ourselves in terms of the process” when asked about the government helping fund the event in 2023. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Ukraine deserves to host Eurovision

That obvious reluctance to commit to financial support shouldn’t come as a surprise. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries would likely have the final sign-off on whether the BBC receives treasury funds to support hosting the event and she has never been full of praise or support for the financially struggling corporation. In January she was the person who ultimately decided that the BBC would have its funding frozen for the next two years with the licence fee staying at £159. It would be an enormous u-turn for her to pledge government funds having already committed to a debilitating funding freeze. 

There is little to no chance of the BBC finding a few million in its own current budget to fund hosting Eurovision. The potential of the government funding the contest is probably equally as low. Whether it’s the BBC, the government or another party that blinks first, everyone involved needs to see the bigger picture and the ultimate benefits of hosting Eurovision in the UK.

Featured Image – EBU / Corinne Cumming

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