Take note marketers: Eurovision is bigger than Beyoncé

Conchita Wurst winning Eurovision

From ice skaters and tribal dancers to Velcro skirts and bearded women – if there’s a gimmick to be had chances are Eurovision’s already tried it, but as the contest enters its 60th year perhaps its biggest surprise yet is just how big it really is.

Over the coming weeks The Drum will look under the skin of the Eurovision machine to discover what makes it tick, how it’s adapting to the changing face of media, how marketers across Europe are leveraging the contest, and how social media is giving the often lambasted show a new lease of life.

Eurovision enjoys a mixed reputation within the UK, but despite naysayers, stereotypes and dismal recent performances, half of the UK TV audience diligently tunes in to watch it every year. Believe it or not the contest is in fact Europe’s most popular TV show, attracting 195 million viewers in 2014 including an impressive 89 per cent market share in host country Denmark.

This number is even more striking considering that only 103 million viewers tuned in to watch back in 2012, and 170 million in 2013 – far from fading into history, the show has in fact grown 90 per cent in just two years. Over on YouTube, content from the show has now been watched over 200m times, a glimpse of how interest is beginning to extend well beyond the live show itself too.

One of the powerful forces driving the contest back firmly into the mainstream is social media. The frequently off beat, unexpected or altogether awful performances are perfect fodder for witty Twitter commentary, and others seeing the conversation are quickly drawn in to watch. Eurovision isn’t just Europe’s most watched show, it’s also its most Tweeted with 3.76 million mentions in 2013 and 5.4 million in 2014. Facebook hasn’t made any numbers public but if other shows are anything to go by we can assume that many times this number of people will have discussed it there too.

On the night itself, #Eurovision sits at the top of the trending topics, whilst many of the key performances trend in their own right. A certain bearded Conchita Wurst led the charge last year, driving up to 47,000 tweets per minute as she was beamed across Europe, including into countries like Russia with a well-publicised conservative agenda.

Unfortunately Twitter activity does not guarantee success; the second most tweeted performance in 2014 was the French ‘Moustache’ entry which ended up last. With two months to go until this year’s show, it’s already starting to make the headlines – not least with the April fools-esque announcement that Australia will compete this year.

You’d probably struggle to name many Eurovision winners since Abba and Bucks Fizz, and the show is certainly no longer a guaranteed route to success, though the 2012 winning track ‘Euphoria’ became a club and chart hit across Europe. Last year’s Austrian winner Conchita has however done her bit to raise the profile of the show with multiple appearances on popular talk shows and even a global sponsorship deal, endorsing drone-maker Parrot’s line of headphones.

The most concrete evidence of her success though came when Google featured her in its 2014 Year In Search review – highlighting how in the middle of May/June she was searched for more frequently than either Beyoncé or Lady Gaga.

This year the BBC quietly revealed Electro Velvet and the track ‘Still in Love With You’ as the UK entry in a brief presentation shown only through the red button service, but whilst the days of a big local selection may be behind us, the Beeb is still hosting the official Europe-wide 60th anniversary concert at the end of the month.

Whilst entry into the contest is seen as something of a cursed proposition on these shores, in many other parts of Europe it maintains a real prestige – the biggest TV show in Sweden is a multi-week X Factor style singing competition called Melodifestivalen, where the contestants are some of the country’s biggest local stars and the prize is to compete on the Eurovision stage.

Jerry Daykin is The Drum’s semi-official Eurovision correspondent. A fan since Gina G entered for the UK, he has travelled to the live final three times. He does have a day job in which he advises some of the world’s largest brands on how to invest their digital and traditional media, championing a drive to apply proven marketing science and #DigitalSense to the former.

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