Brits think Eurovision is all politics

YouGov’s EuroTrack survey released today reveals that Brits are most cynical about the Eurovision Song Contest.

As if our MPs squabbling over Britain’s EU membership wasn’t enough, a poll has revealed that Brits are the most cynical about the Eurovision Song Contest.

A new survey released just a day before the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest final in Sweden, a pan-European YouGov poll has shown that Brits are most likely to say that some countries suffer unfairly from political voting, and don't have any real chance of winning the annual talent contest.

YouGov’s EuroTrack survey, which tracks public opinion in Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway, found that a monstrous 75% of Brits believe some countries don’t have a proper chance of winning Eurovision because of political voting by other competing nations.

Britain has won five times since the competition began in 1956, but has done particularly poorly since 1999 when the rule that songs must be performed in one of the official languages of the participating country was abandoned. It has only finished in the top ten twice since 1999, and last year’s entry, musical veteran Engelbert Humperdinck, ended second last in 25th place.

In the past it has been suggested that voters were reluctant to vote for Britain following the start of the war in Iraq in 2003. Indeed that very same year, Britain’s entry of male-female duo Jemini received a record 0 points. The pair admitted they had sung off-key but claimed they were unable to hear the backing track due to a technical fault. Performer Chris also claimed Terry Wogan had warned them before the contest that they would not get any points due to the Iraq War.

It is worth noting, however, that while the number of competing nations has increased over the years, the probability of Britain winning has naturally decreased. There were only seven countries represented when the competition started and in recent years there have been 26. Britain’s entry this year is veteran Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler, who will perform ‘Believe in Me’ tomorrow night at the final held in Malmö, Sweden.

Does Eurovision really unite Europe?

The Eurovision Song Contest was started after World War II with the aim of bringing European countries closer together around a programme of fun, light entertainment.

However, the YouGov EuroTrack survey shows that all of the countries surveyed, and especially Britain, are rather skeptical about Eurovision’s capacity to unite. The Swedes are most likely to see Eurovision as a unifying force, with a third (33%) saying it helps bring Europe closer together, whilst only 14% of Brits felt the same.

Commenting on the EuroTrack findings, YouGov Director of Political and Social Research Joe Twyman said: “We haven’t won Eurovision since 1997, and a more than decade-long losing streak has obviously had an impact on how people in Britain feel about it. While all of the countries we surveyed have some degree of cynicism about Eurovision, it’s interesting that the Swedes – who won last year – are most likely to say it helps bring Europe together. I think it’s reasonable to assume that were Bonnie Tyler to win, or even finish strongly, Brits might start to feel just a little more enthusiastic about Eurovision.”

Last year's Eurovision winner Loreen of Sweden. Does the contest really bring Europe together? (Getty Images)
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In the age of podcasts, the era of communal listening is over

Where once the nation would listen to radio events together, now, it is the booming podcast market that commands our attention

It’s a moment so celebrated that no TV drama about the Second World War is complete without it. At 11.15am on 3 September 1939, Neville Chamberlain made a live radio broadcast from Downing Street announcing that “this country is now at war with Germany”. A silence fell over the nation as people rushed to the wireless to hear him. The whole country was listening, but crucially, it was listening together.

Nearly eight decades later, it is difficult to imagine a communal audio event like that ever happening again. The arrival of the Walkman in 1979, since superseded by the iPod and then the smartphone, turned listening into a personal, solitary pastime. It was no longer necessary for families to get a radio on a hire-purchase arrangement and gather round it in the sitting room. The technology that delivers audio to us is now small and cheap enough for each of us to have one in our pocket (with headphones tangled around it, of course).

At the same time, the method of delivery changed, too. “Radio” ceased to indicate simply “programming transmitted by electromagnetic waves” in the late 1990s, when conventional radio stations began to make their output available on the internet. Online-only radio stations sprang up, streaming their shows directly to computers. Free from any regulation and with the internet as a free distribution platform, these early stations echoed the tone of pirate radio stations in the 1960s.

The idea of “audioblogging” – making short voice recordings available for download online – has been around since the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the word “podcasting” was coined by the technology journalist Ben Hammersley in an article for the Guardian. He was looking for a name for the “new boom in amateur radio” that the internet had enabled.

Thanks to technological advances, by the early 2000s, a podcaster could record a sound clip and upload it to his or her feed, and it would arrive automatically on the computer of anyone who had subscribed. Apple began to include podcasts as a default option on iPods; in 2008 iPhones offered a podcast app as standard. The market boomed.

Apple is notoriously reluctant to provide data on its products, but in 2013 it announced that there had been more than a billion podcast subscriptions through its iTunes store, which carried over 250,000 podcasts in 100 languages. In 2016, Edison Research released a study suggesting that 21 per cent of all Americans over the age of 12 had listened to at least one podcast in the past month – roughly 57 million people. Audiobooks, too, are booming in this new age of listening; the New York Times reported that
although publishing revenue in the US was down overall in the first quarter of 2016, digital audio sales had risen by 35.3 per cent.

The vast share of this listening will be solitary. This is because audio is a secondary medium. For all the talk about the rise of “second screening”, it isn’t really possible to do much more than idly scroll through Twitter on your phone as you watch television, but you can easily get things done while you listen to a podcast. Put on a pair of headphones, and you can go for a run or clean out the oven in the company of your favourite show. In this sense, the medium has been a game-changer for commuters and those doing repetitive or manual work: there’s no longer any need to put up with sniffling on the train or your boss’s obsession with Magic FM.

Though podcasts are an internet phenomenon, they have managed to remain free from the culture of trolling and abuse found elsewhere. It is difficult to make audio go viral, because it’s tricky to isolate a single moment from it in a form that can be easily shared. That also deters casual haters. You can’t just copy and paste something a host said into an insulting tweet.

Our new and solitary way of listening is reflected in the subjects that most podcasts cover. While there is the occasional mega-hit – the American true crime podcast Serial attracted 3.4 million downloads per episode in 2014, the year it launched – most shows exist in a niche. A few hundred listeners who share the host’s passion for pens or for music from antique phonographs can be enough to sustain a series over hundreds of episodes (there are real podcasts on both of these topics).

This is also where the commercial opportunity lies. It costs relatively little to produce even high-quality podcasts, compared to TV or conventional radio, yet they can ­attract very high advertising rates (thanks to the dedication of regular listeners and the trust they have in the host). The US is far ahead of the UK in this regard, and podcast advertising revenue there is expected to grow 25 per cent year on year, reaching half a billion dollars in 2020. Where this was once a hobby for internet enthusiasts, it is now big business, with venture capitalists investing in new networks and production companies. The US network Gimlet attracted $6m in funding in 2015. However, in the UK, the BBC crowds out smaller, independent operations (the trade-off is that it makes undeniably outstanding programmes).

There is even a movement to make listening a communal activity again. The same hipsters responsible for the resurgence of vinyl sales are organising “listening parties” at trendy venues with high-quality sound systems. Live shows have become an important source of revenue for podcasters. Eleanor McDowall, a producer at the Falling Tree radio production company, organises subtitled “screenings” for podcasts in languages other than English. I even have a friend who is part of a “podcast club”, run on the same lines as a monthly book group, with a group of people coming together to discuss one show on a regular schedule.

The next big technological breakthrough for audio will be when cars can support internet-based shows as easily as conventional radio. We might never again gather around the wireless, but our family holidays could be much improved by a podcast.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times