7 ways Eurovision has changed over the years

Map of EuropeYes, it’s Eurovision 2016 this weekend –a feast of ‘douze points’, tacky costumes and unfathomable voting decisions which it seems Britain’s entrants never win any more.  

Still every year we watch it: an average of 6.6 million viewers on BBC1 last year, part of an estimated 197 million viewers in 40 countries worldwide.

But for those of us who’ve been watching Eurovision since childhood and the days of Abba, Bucks Fizz and Terry Wogan, like most things in life it’s gone through a whole lot of generational changes in the past 30 years.

1. The number of participants – By 1987 the number of countries taking part had reached 22, which was unofficially set as the limit. However, the fall of the Berlin Wall two years later, and the subsequent break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, quickly led to a massive rise in entrants peaking in 2018 with 43 countries. And that’s before Australia were invited to take part last year!

2. The Eurovision weekend – With the huge, sudden rise in entries came the need for a prequalifying round in 1993, with relegation and promotion (though not for the big TV markets like Britain and Germany, of course). Eventually, to maximise local interest across the continent semi-finals were introduced in 2004, gradually taking Eurovision to not just a three-hour Saturday night show but a long weekend lasting four or five days.

3. Voting rule changes – The old ‘closed jury’ system was replaced by results from televoting in 1998 – however after mounting criticism regarding ‘voting blocs’ from countries with strong cultural links, this was altered to a 50-50 split between televoting and a jury panel in 2009. And this year a new system is introduced that separates the two, giving jury results first and adding televoting results at the end of the show.

4. Singing in English – You’ll be aware that most countries, from Ukraine to Greece, sing in perfectly-accented English. It wasn’t always like this – it was only in 1999 that rules set up in 1977, that insisted each country sing in an official native language, were relaxed.

5. Britain’s fortunes – Bucks Fizz! Cliff! Lulu! Britain’s five wins and 15 runners-up finishes are ancient history I’m afraid. Since 1981, Britain’s entry has only won once – 1997, with Katrina and the Waves – and has consistently ended in the lower placings with three bottom-place finishes since then. The nadir came in 2003 when Jemini (“Cry Baby”) finished last with ‘nil points’,

6. ‘Luxembourg, deux points’ – With double the number of countries giving their results, something had to give or else the evening’s show would go on forever. So in 2004 the practice of judges giving scores in French as well as English was dropped. Two years later, only the names of the top three scorers (8, 10 and 12 points) were read out, the other scorers being listed on screen – a style that continues to this day.

7. The end of live music – TV footage of Abba and all those past legends always began with a cutaway to the orchestra and the smiling conductor – that disappeared in 1999 with the option of backing tracks, with live music itself being axed entirely in 2004. Now all performers are forbidden from playing their instruments live, even if they want to!

The way we use money has changed a lot over the years too – we spoke to three families to find out how money, housing and work has changed through the Generations. Watch the video here.

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