RTBF versus VRT at Eurovision - who comes out on top?
Today is Belgian National Day and to celebrate the country’s national day, we’re going to compare the nation’s two Eurovision broadcasters, the French-language broadcaster of Radio-télévision belge de la Communauté française (RTBF) and the Flemish broadcaster of Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie (VRT).
A question that some Eurovision fans might have is "Why does Belgium have two Eurovision broadcasters?"
For those of you who don’t know, Belgium is a country in which Dutch and French are both spoken evenly, and usually within their respective regions of Flanders and Wallonia. As such, the nation has two public broadcasters to cover both languages.
When it comes to the Eurovision Song Contest, the country alternates broadcasters each year. Since 2002, Flemish broadcaster VRT has taken even-numbered years while French-language broadcaster RTBF has taken the odd-numbered years.
However this will change next year because of the cancellation of Eurovision in 2020. After consultation between the two broadcasters it was agreed VRT would take part in 2021 to allow Hooverphonic the nation.
Selecting the Song
How do the Belgian broadcasters select their song to compete each year?
Flemish broadcaster VRT has a lengthy history of selecting their Eurovision entry by way of a national final. In fact, only four times in the broadcaster’s history have they instead opted for an internal selection – in 1985, 2010, 2018 and 2020.
The last time VRT went through a national final was in 2016, though, when Laura Tesoro won Eurosong 2016 with ‘What’s the Pressure’ (who went on to get 12 points from both the Australian Jury and Televote).
French-language broadcaster RTBF has been more varied, opting for an internal selection nine times.
The last time they held a national final was in 2013, where internally-selected artist Roberto Bellarosa sung three songs in 'Eurovision 2013: À vous de choisir la chanson!' (Eurovision 2013: It’s up to you to choose the song!)
Selection by national final:
VRT - 87% of the time
RTBF - 71% of the time
Which broadcaster is better at qualifying to the Grand Final at Eurovision?
Since the introduction of a semi final in 2004, Belgium has had six songs in the Grand Final, with each broadcaster being represented three times.
VRT’s Grand Final appearances come from Xandee’s ‘1 Life’, which qualified to the Grand Final on the back of Urban Trad’s second place ‘Sanomi’ in Riga in 2003, as the Top 10 nations automatically qualified the following year.
VRT’s two other qualifications come from Tom Dice’s ‘Me and My Guitar’, which won its semi final in 2010, and Laura Tesoro’s ‘What’s the Pressure’, which came third in its semi final in 2016.
RTBF’s first qualification to the Grand Final was in 2013 with Roberto Bellarosa’s ‘Love Kills’. This was then followed by two consecutive RTBF-represented qualifiers in Loïc Nottet’s ‘Rhythm Inside’ in 2015, which came second in its semi final, and Blanche’s ‘City Lights’, which came fourth in its semi final in 2017.
Qualification from a semi final:
VRT - 29%
RTBF - 38%
Semi Final Positions
What are the broadcaster’s average positions from their semifinals?
VRT’s two qualifying entries both did well in their semi finals coming first and third.
VRT also had two twelfth-place semifinalists in Kate Ryan’s ‘Je t’adore’ (‘I love you’) in 2006 and Sennek’s ‘A Matter of Time’ in 2018, along with a fourteenth and two seventeenths.
RTBF’s three qualifying entries were all top five finishes, coming second, fourth and fifth in their semi finals.
RTBF also had an eleventh-place semifinalist in Witloof Bay’s ‘With Love Baby’ in 2011, narrowly missing the required qualifying position. They also had a thirteenth-place semi finalist, a seventeenth-place semi finalist, as well as twenty-second position entry and a twenty-sixth position.
Average Semi Final Positions:
VRT - 10.9
RTBF - 12.5
Grand Final Positions
How do each of Belgium’s broadcasters do in the Grand Finals, though?
Since the introduction of a semi final in 2004, both VRT and RTBF have appeared in the Grand Final on three occasions.
VRT came twenty-second in in 2004, sixth in 2010, and tenth in 2016.
RTBF came twelfth in 2013, and fourth in both 2015 and 2017.
This gives VRT an average grand final position of 12.7and RTBF an average Grand Final position of 6.7 since the introduction of the semifinals.
Once we include contests prior to the introduction of the semi finals, VRT has twenty-six appearances, while RTBF has twenty-five appearances (not including their two entries into the inaugural contest in 1956, as they don’t have official positions beside a thirteen-way tie for second place).
Overall Grand Final Average Position
VRT - 13.6
RTBF - 9.5
Top 10 Positions
How many times has each broadcaster make the Top 10?
Belgium has a strong record when it comes to Top 10 finishes, with 24 overall.
Flemish broadcaster VRT has had eight Top 10 finishes throughout its history of participating in the contest.
Its best placing at the contest is sixth place, a record it has achieved twice in its history, once in 1959 with Bob Benny’s ‘Hou toch van mij’ (‘Love me anyway’), and then again in 2010 with Tom Dice’s ‘Me and My Guitar’.
French-language broadcaster RTBF has been more successful, with sixteen Top 10 finishes in the contest.
RTBF also holds Belgium’s only win, with Sandra Kim’s 1986 win in Bergen with ‘J’aime la vie’ (‘I love life’).
Top 10 places
VRT - 8
RTBF - 16
How many points has each broadcaster earned for Belgium?
VRT has earned a total of 833 points in Grand Finals for Belgium. Their highest scoring entry is Laura Tesoro’s ‘What’s the Pressure’, which gained 181 points in 2016.
Meanwhile, RTBF has earned a total of 1,670 points. Their highest scoring entry is Blanche’s ‘City Lights’, which gained 363 points in 2017.
When it comes to the semi finals, however, the broadcasters switch positions. VRT has earned 661 points in the semi finals, compared to RTBF’s 556 points.
Total Grand Final Points
VRT - 833
RTBF - 1,670
Are all VRT Eurovision entries in Dutch and all RTBF Eurovision entries in French?
Back when Eurovision had its national language rule, the vast majority of VRT Eurovision entries were sung in Dutch, while RTBF Eurovision entries were sung in French. But, when the rules were lifted, the languages used in the songs changed as well.
RTBF has been somewhat less diverse with its language composition than its Flemish counterpart at language composition over the years. A whopping 75% of their entries have been sung in French, while 21.87% of their entries have been sung in English.
Despite the fact that three quarters of RTBF’s entries have been sung in French, the last time they sent a song in the language was in 2005, with Nuno Resende’s ‘Le grand soir’.
RTBF has also sent a song in an imaginary language in 2003 (representing 3.13% of their entries) with Urban Trad’s ‘Sanomi’.
VRT has had more English language entries than their French language broadcast counterpart. In fact, 35.48% of their entries have been sung solely in English. However, VRT’s most common language so far has been Dutch, with 54.84% of their entries being sung in the national language.
Although more than half of VRT’s Eurovision entries have been in Dutch, the last time they sent an entry in the language was in 1996, with Lisa del Bo’s ‘Liefde is een kaartspel’. VRT has also sent two Dutch-English bilingual hybrid songs and a song in an imaginary language five years after RTBF did with Ishtar’s ‘O Julissi’, but to decidedly worse results.
So who comes out on top?
Well each broadcaster has brought its own type of success to the contest, but it is the French language RTBF who has a superior overall record.
With a better qualification record, better average Grand Final positions, more points, more Top 10s and most importantly one victory all go to RTBF.
Congratulations to the broadcaster and Happy Belgian Day to all Eurovision fans, wherever in Belgium you are from!
(Note: RTBF has previously been known as RTB and INR, and VRT has previously been known as BRTN, BRT and NIR at the Eurovision Song Contest, but to keep things simple, we used current day acronyms.)