The technology of the Eurovision Song Contest

Image credit: eurovision

The first Eurovision Song Contest to be held in the UK in 25 years promises to be something special. A host of technologies are helping to put on the world’s biggest light entertainment broadcast, viewed by millions of people across the globe, and a milestone event for British broadcasting.

The Eurovision Song Contest has always been a mammoth undertaking, but this year’s event has been a feat like no other.

“We came to this four months later than would normally happen because of course while Ukraine won in 2022, it took some time to understand whether or not they would be in a position to host the contest,” says James O’Brien, executive in charge of production at BBC Studios. “Add to that the current economic climate, and the fact that the UK event industry is busier than ever, and you start to get a picture of how challenging it has been to even get out of the starting blocks.”

He continues: “As soon as we had our core production team at BBC Studios, the challenge was matching the scale and ambition of the show to the venue. As expected, though, the amazing team at the BBC, Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre, and our technical delivery team have brought it all together to deliver nine epic live shows.”

O’Brien will lead the team at BBC Studios responsible for the technical delivery of the live shows, along with all other technical elements in the venue itself. His experience with large-scale events, including the MTV Europe Music Awards, the London 2012 Olympics and the 2022 Commonwealth Games, means he knows what it takes to deliver an event of this stature.

In numbers

The Eurovision Song Contest 2022

  • Reached 161 million people
  • Generated an economic value of €702m in ad value
  • The 40 songs were streamed 544 million times
  • Forty per cent of song entries were in a language other than English The 2023 event is expected to achieve even bigger numbers.

“My role is to bring in a team of creatives, production experts and suppliers to design, plan and install the production elements for the Contest,” O’Brien explains. “This includes set, LED, lighting, automation, rigging, screens content, broadcast facilities as well as all of the back-of-house support areas including the dressing rooms and catering. I also look after support services such as security and cleaning.”

To meet the very short and intense timescales, O’Brien’s team rely on a digital replica of the Contest, which can be used for both troubleshooting and as a test bed for new ideas. “We have a team of CAD engineers who are constantly updating the model of the show to enable us to make almost instantaneous decisions when problems arise,” he says.

“Technology is the tool in this situation, but the skill and talent come from designers. Technology means we can be certain about the decisions that we are making. With Eurovision, we have 37 acts and a number of interval acts to put onto the stage. Each one has props, set pieces and lights. AutoCAD allows us to fully realise how each country wants to use the stage and to ascertain what’s achievable. I’m not sure it would be possible to stage the Contest to its current high level if it weren’t for this technology.”

UK’s representative

Mae Muller

Mae Muller co-wrote her Eurovision entry with Brit-nominated songwriter Lewis Thompson and Karen Poole, who has written for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Lily Allen and David Guetta, as well as being a founding member of Alisha’s Attic.

Muller has been writing her own music since the age of eight, and has since gone on to release two EPs, landed millions of views on YouTube and TikTok, has over two billion streams and supported British girl group Little Mix on their 2019 stadium tour. In 2021, Muller scored a top 10 US hit with platinum-selling single ‘Better Days’ with NEIKED and Polo G, which she performed on TV shows including ‘Jimmy Fallon’ and ‘The Voice US’. In 2022, Muller was nominated for MTV EMA and VMA awards, and 2023 will see the release of her forthcoming debut album.

No Eurovision Song Contest is complete without an impressive stage – and this year the responsibility for that goes to set designer Julio Himede. Himede has designed sets for many major events and TV shows including the 64th Annual Grammy Awards, the 2018-2021 MTV Video Music Awards, the 2016-2021 MTV EMAs, Disney’s ‘Beauty and The Beast: A 30th Celebration’ and the American Song Contest.

The stage design has been created on the principles of ‘togetherness, celebration and community’. “The architecture takes inspiration from a wide hug, opening its arms to Ukraine, the show’s performers and guests from across the world,” Himede said in an interview for the Eurovision Song Contest’s official website. “I focused on the cultural aspects and similarities between Ukraine, the UK and specifically Liverpool. From music, dance and art to architecture and poetry.”

From a technological point of view, the stage is complex. There’s more than 450 square metres of staging, another 220 square metres of independently moving and turning video screens, as well as over 700 video tiles integrated into the floor.

UK-based firm Creative Technology is providing the screens, including the LED floor. Meanwhile, digital technology from Eurovision partner Disguise will display stage marks in the LED flooring. “This will allow us to turn the stage around between countries in just 40 seconds,” says O’Brien.

This is just the start. Danish company Cue-Pilot – which was founded by internationally acclaimed director Per Zachariassen as a response to the need for precision and consistency in live broadcasts – will be providing an automated cueing system, which allows the delegations to script the cameras for their performance.

Then there’s the lighting. More than 1,500 metres of LED lights have been used by lighting designer Tim Routledge, a multi-award-winning lighting designer of BAFTA and Royal Television Society Awards. Routledge’s credits include high-profile live events and concerts such as Stormzy’s 2019 Glastonbury Festival set, Spice Girls’ ‘Spice World’ UK Stadium Tour and Beyonce’s ‘Formation’ World Tour. TV credits include ‘X Factor’, ‘Concert for Ukraine’, ‘Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony 2014’, ‘I Can See Your Voice’ and ‘Big Night of Musicals’.

As head of sound, BAFTA winner Robert Edwards will bring his Eurovision experience to the 2023 event as he was previously sound supervisor for the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon. Other credits include ‘The Masked Singer UK’, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, ‘X Factor’ and, more recently, Edwards mixed the world feeds for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Tokyo and Beijing and was also part of the host broadcaster team for the World Cup Coverage in Qatar.

“My role is to be responsible for all the sound associated with the radio and television broadcasts from Liverpool for the contest,” says Edwards. “I work for the BBC and Eurovision in making sure that the rules of the song contest are upheld, and that each country is treated equally and fairly. This involves organising all the sound coverage, making sure we plan effectively for any eventuality, but also to ensure the broadcasts all sound as good as possible. This also includes making sure the unique atmosphere of the event is shared by the hundreds of millions of live listeners and viewers.”

Edwards faces a huge amount of pressure in his role. “As far as is humanly possible, we have to ensure that we can cope with everything and anything within the live programmes,” he says. “We must ensure that we capture and deliver the best sound of the performances, the best sound of the music, and to provide a soundscape that engages the world.”

New technologies are enabling Edwards and the rest of the sound team to be more creative. “Fibre digital connections have largely replaced virtually all analogue copper circuits within broadcasting,” he explains. “The fibre bandwidth is phenomenal, and internet protocol (IP) working is part of the language of sound now. IP gives many more possibilities to control and shape the sound. All the speakers in the venue are fed via audio video bridging (AVB), microphones are fed via digital audio network through ethernet (Dante) – a combination of software, hardware and network protocols that deliver uncompressed, multi-channel, low-latency digital audio over a standard ethernet network.

“Playback devices feed via a multi-channel audio digital interface and graphics machines feed through a musical instrument digital interface,” Edwards continues. “The path is digital throughout. For some time, the Eurovision Song Contest has been mixed and delivered in surround 5.1, but we continue to embrace immersive formats for delivery of feeds to our research colleagues.”


The UK and Eurovision

The BBC has a rich history of Eurovision participation and has stepped in to host the Contest numerous times when the previous year’s winning broadcaster could not.

Liverpool 2023 will be the ninth time the Contest has taken place in the UK. To date, the UK has won the Eurovision Song Contest on five occasions and hosted the event on eight previous occasions: 1960, 1963, 1968 and 1977 in London, 1972 in Edinburgh, 1974 in Brighton, 1982 in Harrogate, and 1998 in Birmingham.

On top of this, the Contest stalwarts hold the record for finishing second, taking the runner-up spot an impressive (and perhaps frustrating) 16 times.

UK Eurovision winners

1967 Sandie Shaw – ‘Puppet On A String’

1969 Lulu – ‘Boom Bang-A-Bang’

1976 Brotherhood of Man – ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’

1981 Bucks Fizz – ‘Making Your Mind Up’

1997 Katrina and the Waves – ‘Love Shine A Light’

One of the most iconic parts of the Eurovision Song Contest is the voting process, the transmission of which is the responsibility of Lennard Bartlett, a project leader at Switzerland-based media services provider Eurovision Services.

“For me, the biggest challenge is delivering live signals from 37 voting countries to be switched sequentially into the grand final,” Bartlett says. “There’s no other show that attempts something like that. It’s a feat of technical infrastructure and coordination to make it go smoothly.”

For each country, Bartlett and his team secure a main and backup signal using multiple transportation methods – satellite, fibre and video over IP (VoIP).

“We also use the latest satellite encryption and modulation standards to secure the transmissions, as well as our in-house Flex VoIP,” Bartlett says.

Eurovision Services’ Flex solution provides a means of transmission in places where traditional broadcast fibre isn’t available or would be prohibitively expensive. The product takes up very little space and the dashboard provides an easy interface so that connections can be managed directly from a laptop.

Every year, the technology Bartlett uses is improved to ensure increased security. This year is no exception. “Every year we reassess technology we are using and measures we need to take to mitigate threats to signal security,” he says. “We try to stay one step ahead by using technology to combat potential cyber-security threats that we face.”

Brotherhood of Man performing at Eurovision

Brotherhood of Man performing at Eurovision

Image credit: Alamy

Another much-loved part of the Eurovision Song Contest is the short-form postcards which precede each country’s live performance.

London-based television production company Windfall Films has been commissioned to make this year’s postcards, which will represent the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest slogan: ‘United by Music’. The new slogan demonstrates the unique partnership between the United Kingdom, Ukraine and host city Liverpool to bring the Eurovision Song Contest to audiences across the globe and the power of music to bring communities together. It also reflects the very origins of the Contest, developed to bring Europe closer together through a shared television experience across different countries.

Windfall Films will use innovative techniques to showcase each Eurovision entry as well as linking the UK and Ukraine. “We have been commissioned to create the 37 postcards, showcasing each country and their artist ahead of their live performances,” says Windfall Films’ head of production Maria French.

This isn’t straightforward. “Including the UK, Ukraine and each Eurovision country in a 48-second postcard is ambitious and challenging, but made even more so by filming in a warzone, directing crews remotely, using 360° cameras and doing it all 37 times over,” French explains.

Technology is making the process easier. “The ability to communicate so freely, with emails, WhatsApp, phone calls using VoIP technology and video calls has made sharing the creative and learning about each country and their artist so much easier than it might have been,” French says. “Technology is threaded throughout the postcards’ production, from initial points of contact to remote direction on shoots, to upload and footage transfer from location, to the edit without time being spent shipping drives and hoping that they don’t get delayed in customs.”

This year’s postcards rely heavily on the latest 360° cameras, which are now small enough to mount on normal drones. “With this technology we can gather a completely different kind of footage and manipulate it in a completely new way in post-production,” French says.

“Using these cameras allows us to borrow the language of exciting transitions and techniques used in social media and bring them to a broadcast format.”

By bringing all these experts and technologies together, O’Brien is confident that this year’s Eurovision Song Contest will be better than ever before. “All of the people and companies involved bring innovation to the Contest and allow it to evolve each year,” he says. “Having worked on the Olympic and Commonwealth Games before, it’s mind blowing to think that the Eurovision Song Contest happens every single year and each year it’s bigger and better than the year before.

“We are so proud to be hosting the contest on behalf of Ukraine this year, and we really look forward to delivering a set of shows that are truly ‘United by Music’.”

Eurovision Song Contest

United By Music

The theme for the 67th Eurovision Song Contest includes the slogan ‘United By Music’.

The new slogan demonstrates the unique partnership between the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Host City Liverpool to bring the Eurovision Song Contest to audiences across the globe and the incredible power of music to bring communities together.

Designed through a creative partnership between creative company Superunion in the United Kingdom and Ukrainian creative studio Starlight Creative, the new brand was inspired by the Ukrainian and United Kingdom flags.

The colourful electrocardiogram effect produces a string of hearts, each one responsive to rhythm and sound, to illustrate the collective beating heart of all Eurovision contestants and viewers alike.

“The 2023 Eurovision Song Contest will be a truly special event and the creative look is a big part of creating that magic,” said Martin Green CBE, the BBC’s managing director of Eurovision Song Contest 2023. “This year’s identity sums up perfectly the amazing partnerships across the Contest and more importantly the power of music to bring people together across the world.”

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