Is Eurovision worth the cost?

This morning I jumped onto BBC Radio Wales to discuss the costs and benefits of the Eurovision song contest to the UK. 

Back in 2013 Dr Eamonn Butler wrote a great blog piece on the cost of the contest to the UK. In it he detailed the payments that the BBC makes to the European Broadcasting Union that hosts the contest: £279,805 in 2009, and £283,190 in 2010, £310,000 in 2012. What does this buy us? Well it buys the BBC the right to show the programme and it buys us a guaranteed place in the final. 

It doesn’t buy us the cost of the BBC’s production though. So I thought I’d update that a bit with some more figures, to give a better picture of what we spend and for you to decide if we’re getting bang for our buck. 

The benefits are obvious of course, so I’m going to focus on the costs. 

While the beeb isn’t keen to be open on how much it spends on Eurovision coverage, we can get an idea based on the spends the BBC is open about elsewhere. 

In their commissioned tariffs structure the BBC says the Premium Entertainment (including ‘one-off specials’ broadcast on flagship national TV networks like BBC 1) price per hour the BBC expects a show to cost is between £400,000-£750,000. 

Eurovision isn’t just a one-off on one day. As any die-hard fan will let you know it’s many months in the making and the actual contest is a week-long phenomenon, with two semi-finals broadcast live and then the Saturday final. The semis last around 2-3 hours and the final has been known to go beyond 4. In the UK we also have the BBC’s ‘You Decide’, run live on BBC 1 and BBC Radio 2. So we’re looking at a potential spend of between £4m and £7.5m on top of the payments made to the EBU (if any rogue BBC journalist wants to drop me the true figure, my DMs are open). 

And of course there’s the salary of our superstar presenters. One who earns £900,000 per annum direct from the BBC (not to mention his fees for his regular show on the beeb), another who earns £250,000-£300,000 and two that earn through producing companies for this one-off so don’t show up in the superstar earnings breakdowns. 

This year’s first semi final saw UK just half a million watching the first semi-final, just over that amount last night for the second semi. Tomorrow is the final and based on audience figures being up for the semis we might expect it to beat last year’s 6.73m who turned in (which was about 36.6% of the Saturday night audience). This year’s contestant picking show had fewer than 1m viewers. The final in particular is a pretty substantial number – comparable regular annual events are the Voice (5.7m) or the X Factor Final (4.4m) with the FA Cup getting over 9m. This is of course nothing compared to the audience share for the final in Sweden (70%) or Iceland (98%)

Eurovision costs are borne by Licence Fee payers and the EBU has been pretty vocal about its support for the system. We are, as you might expect, slightly less keen on a fee that makes up 10% of our criminal cases and which crowds out private competitors

The good thing is we’re not likely to win the contest any time soon. When Azerbaijan hosted the contest in 2012 they spent £48m on it and got just £7m back in tourism revenues, Copenhagen in 2014 spent £36m and got £13m back. It’s better if you do it on the cheap, Malmo spent £17m and got an estimated £16m back. Last year’s hosts Kiev ended up spending around £30m, it destroyed plans to reform the state broadcaster into a private one and took up nearly a quarter of its annual budget. 

I’m not going to say whether Eurovision is worth it (I have spent a lot of this week listening to the songs on repeat via my private subscription to Spotify, or watching videos supported by adverts on YouTube) but we should know how much our publicly funded broadcasters spend on events in our name and perhaps we should be more open to private broadcasters taking up the reins.