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The Impact of Technology and Traces of National Representation on Eurovision Stages

Following is the summary of my Masters Thesis, please download the full thesis via this link.

Eurovision Song Contest is an annual song competition that is organized by European Broadcasting Union, to bring European countries together and to contribute to peace. It is musical equivalent of Olympics and shows resemblances to World’s Fairs: the multinationality provides an opportunity for nations to perform their uniqueness, observable in different elements of its scenography. This thesis focuses on the design of the platform on which the performances takes place and tries to layout the multiple factors of change through years. In a way, Eurovision becomes a case study to examine, how different editions of the same product are effected by external events; such as technology, trends and producers’ vision.

The contest has the rule of assigning the hosts via victory, which means the victors of an edition bring the show to their homeland and their national broadcaster takes the responsibility of the next edition’s production. As a result, the participants, voting process and winner play an important part for scenography. The contest began with seven countries in 1956 and reached to fifty different participants by 2017 including former Yugoslavian and former Soviet Union nations and Australia. This geographical expansion resulted with a growth in the scale of the production and turned the contest into a national display for Eastern countries that are mostly neglected in international media. Televoting was also a milestone for this process as the voting extended from jury to strong diaspora. As a result, twenty six nations presented their approach to the contest so far.

Eurovision’s sixty two stages to date provides a visual database of design history, which makes the contest interesting for academic study. In this thesis, all these stages are analyzed, the elements that made them unique and stories behind them are noted. The limitation of having minimal number of academic studies on the subject is overcome with the help of news, documentaries and designer interviews. Three designers of eight stages in total, were interviewed personally: Michael Grogan, Servet Işık and Florian Wieder contributed with their side of the story. Afterwards a timetable, that is modeled after design road maps, is applied to see patterns and breakpoints as a visual chart which is used for further arguments.

The stages are considered to differ for cultural and technical reasons. The design objectives and the elements of technical evolution are analyzed and their impact on the set design is assessed as a resolution. The major concept that is unique to Eurovision, is national representation; the host nations might refer to a national discourse, they can use cultural heritage objects as a source of inspiration, homeland architecture can reflect on the stage and landscape is also featured as a method for national branding. Secondly, application of trends are observable as futuristic or globalist approaches were also be taken. Also, in some editions the contest’s brand identity is applied as the main theme. Lastly, versatility seems to be an important objective throughout the Eurovision history, as the performances on the same night are usually very diverse and needs to stand out visually as well as musically and the producers provide them analogue, lighting oriented or digital tools to adapt for their performances.

Even though there are several repeating themes in Eurovision, there is a significant difference between the first stage and the last, as a result of technical advancement of entertainment industry. These changes are grouped under broadcasting, audio, microphone, televoting, lighting and special effects in terms of their effects on the contest’s scenography.

The eighth chapter, focuses on the interviewed designers’ reflection and their insight on the sector and the contest are discussed and compared. The importance of the contest for their career, the brief they received and the way they chose to respond to it, the ways their work stood out from the others, the balance between the TV show and the concert aspects of the contest and the impact of technology were all examined by the professional set designers that have worked on at least one Eurovision stage before.

As a result, this study aims to position Eurovision’s physical existence in a context. Both technical and cultural events reflect on the annually recreated design of the ESC stage, and similar relations can be observed in any product line with periodic releases and multiple editions. That is the reason why, the contest is a case study. The created timeline could also be extended, to foresee the stages of the future.

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©2016 by Merve Karpov.