Can Sweden cut the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest by up to one hour?
The 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool had the most extended runtime in Eurovision history, clocking in at 4 hours, 13 minutes, and 21 seconds.
In June, Swedish publication 'Aftonbladet' reported that SVT, the Swedish broadcaster, aims to cut the running time of Eurovision by up to an hour when they host the contest next year.
Is a longer running time even a problem?
In June, Eurovision released its annual Brand Impact Report with data stating that the Contest gained record engagement on social media and was the third-most familiar global event after the Olympics and the FIFA/football World Cup.
If hundreds of millions of pairs of eyeballs are glued to the screen, ratings are up in some key markets, and there are more ad breaks and more chances for broadcasters to cash in, why would a hosting broadcaster have the incentive to shorten the event?
According to Eurovision's new TV producer, Per Blankens, Eurovision "has everything to gain from being made shorter".
In an interview in 'Aftonbladet' with Per Blankens and Christer Björkman, they confirmed that shortening the Grand Final of Eurovision remains "high on the agenda". This was attributed to logistical reasons including the Contest finishing late for Central and Eastern European viewers:
"You have to have time to collect and compile all the public votes. But it will be late for those who live in the east and also for us who live in central Europe, so the program has everything to gain from being made shorter, but without shredding or just tearing it off."
Is SVT's goal realistic?
The last time a contest was at least half an hour shorter than Liverpool's 4 hours, 13 minutes and 21 second duration was Copenhagen 2014, clocking in at 3 hours, 34 minutes and 52 seconds.
The last time Eurovision was at least an hour shorter than the 2023 contest was when Helsinki hosted in 2007, 16 years ago. It had a total run time of 3 hours, 12 minutes and 17 seconds. This makes SVT's goal incredibly ambitious, to say the least.
To prove just how ambitious it is, if some of the shortest elements of a modern Eurovision were combined:
Rotterdam 2021's opening act (the shortest opening act since the introduction of the flag parade): 9 minutes and 53 seconds
Copenhagen 2014's songs (the shortest overall song length with 26 competing songs since Oslo 2010): 1 hour, 45 minutes and 19 seconds
Malmö 2013's interval act: 37 minutes and 40 seconds
Lisbon 2018's voting (the shortest voting segment since the voting format changed in 2016): 46 minutes and 1 second
And Copenhagen 2014's winner reprise: 9 minutes and 5 seconds
The total run time would be 3 hours, 27 minutes and 58 seconds, which is nearly 15 minutes shy of achieving SVT's goal.
So how did Eurovision get so long? What contributes to the event's bloated runtimes and what can host broadcasters do to shorten it?
We have broken down the contest and identified five reasons why Eurovision has become so incredibly long.
1. The opening act and flag parade
Each contest, before the first Eurovision entry competes for the crystal microphone, there is not only an opening act but also a flag parade introducing the finalists to the audience.
2015 had the second-longest runtime before the first Eurovision song competed that year. With no flag parade that year, the whopping opening runtime of 21 minutes and 23 seconds was based solely on the opening act, with a song dedicated to the theme of that year's contest, 'Building Bridges'. This may explain why there have been no songs since 2015 dedicated to Eurovision's official theme or slogan for that year.
The flag parade was introduced to Eurovision in 2016 when Sweden last hosted the contest. The BBC tried to combat the possibility of having a bloated running time by combining the opening acts with the flag parade, but it ended up having the opposite effect, with the show going for 20 minutes before the first competing act took to the stage.
While this may have been a more efficient way to fit performances from multiple Ukrainian Eurovision artists into a shorter time frame than having them perform their full songs as an opening or interval act, it is unlikely that the trend of combining the flag parade and the opening act/s will continue if SVT wishes to reduce the show's overall runtime.
2. The songs
Another steadily increasing trend is the average duration of each song, including set up, in the Contest. This is calculated by taking the duration of songs in each Eurovision final and dividing it by the number of participating entries.
The last time Malmö hosted Eurovision, in 2013, a song took 4 minutes and 8 seconds on average to set up and perform. In 2023, that time has increased by 21 seconds.
The increase in average song duration may be attributed to songs featuring more technically complex staging to set up and pack down.
Although elaborate stagings may be addressed by setting up performances during ad breaks, in recent years, more and more countries have brought more sophisticated sets, props, and staging to Eurovision, contributing to a "power creep" in the Contest and consequently, a heftier runtime
3. The interval acts
There has been a significant upward trend in the length of interval acts each year. When Malmö last hosted Eurovision in 2013, the interval act time clocked in at 37 minutes and 40 seconds.
A decade later, the 2023 Contest's interval act time took 51 minutes and 46 seconds, with the record being held by the 2019 Contest's 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 10 seconds.
Upon first glance at the numbers, reducing the length of the interval acts appears to be a logical way to reduce Eurovision's show length, but why have there been more and more interval acts each year?
While hosting countries have competed with each other to see who can bring the most famous faces to their shores, the ballooning interval act running time may be explained by the next factor.
4. The voting
When the new voting format was introduced in 2016, it initially succeeded in cutting down the running time of the voting sequence by 8 minutes.
However, with changes being announced to the voting format including the televote scores being read from the lowest-scoring country with the jury to the jury winner instead of from lowest score to highest score, the time crept back up until it surpassed Vienna 2015's voting run time in Turin in 2022.
While Liverpool managed to shorten the voting runtime from the previous year by 6 minutes, will next year's hosts in Malmö seek to cut this figure down further?
5. The winner's reprise
From the end of the last voting results being announced to the final credits rolling across the screen, trends have been fairly consistent throughout the years. From 2014 to the present day, the post-voting segment of Eurovision took approximately 10 minutes, with the exception of 2023, which took 12 minutes.
Three of those minutes are devoted to the performance of the winning Eurovision song, with extra time taken for the winner to walk to the stage, victory speeches, and setting up the stage for the winner's reprise.
What about the number of finalists each year?
The 2015 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna had the most finalists in Eurovision history, with 27 entries vying for victory, yet with a total running time of just under 4 hours (3:58:45), with less than half (1:51:31) of it being taken up by the 27 competing songs, it has still managed to clock in at a shorter time than three of the last four Contests, two of which had 26 finalists, with the other contest (Turin 2022) only having 25 finalists.
How may a hosting broadcaster tackle this?
1. Imposing further restrictions on staging
One potential way to reduce the run time is by having restrictions on props and sets that can be brought to Eurovision. In recent years, we have seen Loreen's LED screens, Sam Ryder's Union-Jack-themed 'spaceship', and Saara Aalto's spinning wheel.
The prop-heavy, LED-free year of Lisbon's 2018 contest had the second-longest 'songs' portion of the contest at the time it was broadcast until the Turin and Liverpool contests both surpassed the then-record-holder Kyiv's 2017 contest.
Eurovision already has bans on logistically complicated staging elements such as large amounts of water or sand being used in a Eurovision performance. In turn, this may also benefit broadcasters with smaller budgets, leveling out the playing field.
By contrast, restrictions on props may affect viewers' enjoyment of Eurovision, but only time will tell if this turns out to be the case.
2. Opening the voting earlier
A hotly debated issue in the Eurovision fandom is when the voting lines should be open, and for how long.
In past contests, voters were able to vote for each song after it had been performed, instead of waiting until after all the songs were performed.
By removing extra voting time after the last competing song has been performed, this proposed voting format change could not only give a boost to acts that perform earlier in the running order but can also help shorten the length of the contest significantly.
3. Reducing the number of interval acts
A shorter voting window may also mean fewer opening acts, interval acts, or restrictions on how long a performer may perform during the interval.
For viewers of modern Eurovision, where interval acts often resemble a Superbowl half-time show, it can be difficult to believe that there were once Eurovision interval acts that took less than 10 minutes, or even less than 2 minutes.
Yet the 1960 interval act was a mere 1 minute and 27 seconds long - less than half the duration of a modern Eurovision song!
While returning to the 1960s is a drastic measure, Baku 2012's interval act (30:29) was less than half of Tel Aviv's (1:04:10), so the interval act could be a prudent way to reduce the Contest's duration without sacrificing any of the competition.
4. Other potential format changes
Since the Aftonbladet report in June, there has been speculation on format changes that could achieve SVT's goal of a shorter runtime for Eurovision, including a potential second chance round at the Contest.
Christer Björkman laughed the rumour off, though, and appeared to suggest that there wouldn’t be major changes next year:
"I don’t think that’s really what we’re aiming for. We have a format that is very good and alive and many of the big changes happened in 2013 and 2016 in tonality and with the voting. I don’t think a lot of adjustments are needed right now."
However, Björkman, who will be combining a return to Eurovision with work developing a version of the contest for South America, is focused on delivering a “tight broadcast”:
"What we have to work on is trying to make a tight broadcast, efficient good television that doesn’t take up too much time. That is our big goal."
Will the Swedes succeed? It is a very ambitious goal, but if anyone can reduce the time of the Eurovision Song Contest, the team behind the slick productions of Melodifestivalen and the 2016 Contest, are probably best placed to do it.
For continued updates on all the Eurovision news follow Aussievision on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Threads. All links at: https://linktr.ee/aussievisionnet