The Eurovision Song Contest - How to make it work using MSP

Eurovision logo surrounded by images of stereo speakers, microphones, piano keys, guitars, musical notes and other graphics

In a few days’ time, Israel will host the world’s longest running annual TV music competition, the Eurovision Song Contest. How do you go about successfully hosting a major event that will be screened live to nearly 200 million people across the world (remember that the ‘euro’ concept here extends as far as Australia due to the song contest’s popularity there)?

Perhaps this unusual annual event owes its success to it being organized around a set of principles that have much in common with the principles that underpin Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®*).

A strange thought I realize, but the Eurovision Song Contest is a bit of an unusual event!

One of the aspects of a programme is that it is a collection of related projects. This year, Eurovision has 41 different countries competing, each with their own range of projects to make that happen. There are also a number of projects around the hosting of the event in Israel, and so to view the whole event as a programme is quite logical.

The seven principles in MSP describe the characteristics of a successful programme. Let’s consider how three of those principles contribute to the success of Eurovision.

Learning from Experience

Eurovision 2019 will be the 64th time the event has taken place, so there are many years of lessons available to the team. However, the host country and venue change most years, so it is crucial that the organizers have the ability to learn from the experiences of others yet apply those lessons in an appropriate way.

Israel has hosted the event twice before, although the last time was 20 years’ ago and so any lessons from that event will need to be considered carefully to ensure their relevance to 2019. All programmes perform better when members of the team assume the attitude of being learners, and not insisting that, “this is the way we have always done it…”.

Envisioning and Communicating

Over the years that Eurovision has taken place, the vision has changed somewhat, and it has been important that this has been clearly communicated. Without the successful understanding of all the stakeholder groups and clear and consistent communications to those groups, it is unlikely that we would have seen the growth in countries taking part and viewers tuning in.

All television programmes need to understand their audience, and all successful programmes need to understand their stakeholders. If not, there will be confusion and a lack of engagement, putting the success of the venture at risk.

Two ways in which we can encourage engagement on a large scale are:

  • Be pragmatic and do not enforce a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the programme. What works in one country just will not work in another (the range of musical style in the event are testimony to that!).
  • Work in an engaging way that invites participation from as many stakeholders as possible. An example of this is that voting in Eurovision is now done jointly by juries from each country and members of the public, a change from the time when it was juries only. This has no doubt contributed to the increasing popularity of the event as it added a level of excitement.

Designing and delivering a coherent capability

A well-designed programme will be focused on the ‘big picture’ to ensure that what is being created – the capability – is delivered in a consistent and coherent manner.

True to this principle (and also ‘Learning from Experience’), the main stage at Eurovision 2019 is being designed by the same designer from the five previous years. This time the stage will look different again, but it will be consistent with the overall vision of the event.

The principles of MSP can, and should, be applied to every programme, as like any good principle, they are universal. It is therefore interesting to see those principles clearly at work in such a high-profile event as the Eurovision Song Contest.

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* Managing Successful Programmes is the best practice guidance from AXELOS that provides a structured framework and approach to programme management that can help organizations avoid common pitfalls and achieve their goals.

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