Recorded rather late on the night before the Grand Final of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2017, Ewan, Lisa, Richard, and Luke consider the impressive performances of the Jury Final and what you should watch out for during the live show.
…and there’s not a bus in sight during this cast…
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Tbilisi, Sunday 26th November
Ewan Spence, Lisa-Jayne Lewis, Luke Giles, and Richard Taylor review the Jury Final of JESC 2017 and preview the Grand Final in today’s coverage of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2017.
Remember to stay up to date with all the results from Junior Eurovision by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcast for our daily podcasts. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
The final technical rehearsals have taken place, with only the dress rehearsals of the show for our performers to have their final moments on the stage. We look back at the latest tweaks of nine countries, as well as interview Australia’s new host, and crash into Georgia’s Pop Idol franchise to meet a former Song Contest singer.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Tbilisi, Saturday 25th November
Ewan Spence, Lisa-Jayne Lewis, and Brent Davison recap the final rehearsals, talk to more of the stars, and gatecrash Georgia’s Pop Idol in today’s coverage of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2017. Read more on the Eurovision Song Contest and Junior Eurovision from ESC Insight at www.escinsight.com.
Remember to stay up to date with all the Junior Eurovision news by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcast for our daily podcasts. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
Back in the 100% televote era of the main Contest, it was clear that relying entirely on public voting to produce a Eurovision winner had the potential to result in eye-catching but not always high quality winners, and that diasporic and cultural sympathies gave the appearance of neighbourly voting out of step with song quality. But how would a 50% jury/televote split work for a modern TV audience used to being in total control? Let’s test it at Junior!
In the 2008 edition of JESC, the 50/50 voting split was trialled before being rolled out for the 2009 edition of the adult contest. The voting scheme for JESC has been tweaked and altered over the years – the custom of giving a douze points to every competing nation at the start of the voting sequence started in 2005, the mixed age juries have variously been supplemented by a kids jury since 2012, pop experts including Jedward and latterly and with varying success, an online vote.
None of the more exotic changes to the voting system have as yet come to the main contest, but with increased interest in app and online voting in the various national finals, and in reality entertainment TV worldwide, it’s possible that the EBU will keep experimenting at Junior until a solution can be found that produces exciting, trustworthy and nationally-isolatable results.
The Green Room in the Venue
One of the joyous parts of the modern Song Contest is seeing artists reacting and celebrating in the Green Room during the broadcast. The first Eurovision show to try this was JESC 2005 in Hasselt, Belgium. The contestants were seated in a single area in front of the main audience, allowing the children to hang out during the performances and celebrate together during the voting. Pictured below is the Green Room area from the 2008 edition of JESC in Cyprus, showing all the performers together during a lull in proceedings.
This innovation came to adult Eurovision in Oslo 2010, where the delegations were housed in large matte black partial cylinders, which separated them visibly from the crowd. The in-venue Green Room designs have developed over the years, moving more towards the open, unifying area favoured by Junior, while still allowing delegations to have their own (potentially politically necessary) space.
The Flag Ceremony
The first Junior Eurovision Olympic style flag ceremony, which introduces the performers along with their national colours at the beginning of the broadcast, happened in 2004 and became a regular part of the format, allowing the audience welcome the children to the arena and helping viewers to strengthen the association of each performer with their home countries.
This came to the main contest in 2013, where the performers paraded across the representation of the Öresund Bridge suspended across the venue, accompanied by hosts carrying flags. In later years, we’ve seen exciting interpretations of the flag ceremony, with flags projected across a catwalk show and as splashes of CGI mist.
And some JESC innovations that haven’t been or won’t be successful at ESC…
The joint song that works so well for the kids somehow didn’t take off when they tried it with the deeply awkward last chorus of Emmelie de Forest’s Rainmaker at Copenhagen 2014.
Hashtags in official slogans. An attempt to catch the social media zeitgeist that will probably look dated more quickly than you’d expect.
Awarding prizes to the 2nd and 3rd placed acts. At the main contest, a podium position is nice, but if your delegation’s goal was to win and host the contest, a trophy and a certificate isn’t much of a consolation to your broadcaster and your national tourism promotional body.
Backing vocals on the backing track. At Junior, where the pressure of performance can be expected to take its toll on young voices, there is a bit more leeway for support from the backing track. But at the main contest, we recognise that we award points for superlative vocal performances and expect that to be carried through from the lead vocalist to the supporting vocals. Recent developments perhaps suggest that there may however, be a loophole.
The online voting process for JESC2017 is underway. EBU says it’s confident in a valid result in which every person votes twice maximum. However, several journalists, including the ESCDaily investigative team, have found relatively easy ways to cast multiple votes from the same device.
Yesterday at the EBU press conference, Jon Ola Sand explained to ESCDaily’s chief editor Steef van Gorkum the true meaning of the online voting process. “You can vote once before the show and then you can vote again during the show. The voting is free. There are security measurements in place, for example, you have to prove that you are not a robot. And every person can vote twice.”
Casting a duplicate vote at JESC2017
After this press conference, the ESCDaily investigative team went on to try the online voting system. When the website opens, it immediately opens in your own language. Indicating that EBU has some way of recognizing where people are voting from. After this, you are obliged to watch a recap of all the performances first. Without watching this, you cannot vote. And when you minimalize the tab where the recap is on, it automatically pauses and does not continue until you open it again.
So far so good. After the recap, you get to a portal where you can watch all 16 performances on Youtube (but you do not have to). Here, you can also select the 3, 4 or 5 countries that you want to vote for. After this, the page redirects you to the message stating you’ve already voted.
However, here’s where it gets tricky: as soon as you clear your browser history, or even so much as open another browser, you are allowed to go through the process again. Our team prepared to try and crack incredibly difficult security codes to see if casting a duplicate vote was possible. But as it turns out, it is not difficult at all.
EBU: confidence in a fair result
A spokesperson of EBU released the following statement: “The EBU has worked with our technical partners to ensure that the platform can deliver a fair and valid result.” EBU then confirmed to ESCDaily that even after our inquiries about double voting through clearing browser history, they are still confident that they can deliver a fair result in which every person can vote twice maximum (once before the show and once during the show). However, they did not want to go into details about the methods through which they can ensure this.
EBU’s reaction to the matter suggests that they have security measures in place which they are not willing to discuss. As it is clear that duplicate votes can in fact be cast, the only way through which a fair and valid result could be achieved is if votes were discarded afterwards. Therefore, everything currently points in the direction of IP-address blocking.
However, the question is whether this is a safe and feasible method to do this. Several professional internet experts have told ESC Daily that “using only IP-addresses to validate votes is an outdated practice. This method has not been an industry standard for years.”
EBU seems extremely confident that they have their security in place. And it is almost impossible to imagine that rigging the system is indeed so easy as our research team has done today. What the exact reason is for EBU’s confidence in a fair and valid result, however, remains a secret to this moment. While we as journalists have an interest in getting to the bottom of this, EBU benefits from security through obscurity. As long as the security system and its potential flaws are unknown, the system cannot be rigged.
We will have to wait until after the contest, when EBU will release the voting data. EBU’s Chief Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand told Ewan Spence from ESCInsight at the press conference last night that EBU will be “as transparant as we can be.”
Especially if online voting is the future for the adult contest as well, it will be important to analyze the results of JESC 2017 very closely.
Be sure you tune in to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest this Sunday, because according to our chief editor at the scene, “it could be a wonderful moment for Australia” at Eurovision. He says in our special podcast about the contest in Tbilisi.
“Everyone who watches and follows ESC Daily should follow this edition of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Even if you normally don’t watch it, because it could really be such a wonderful moment. Australia’s first Junior Eurovision Song Contest victory,” Steef looks ahead with excitement. Listen to our full podcast below:
Malta and Belarus are lso in it, to win it
However, it is hard to say whether the online voting system will help Australia’s chances, or not. “The jury will probably go for Australia, given it’s strong vocals and flawless performance. But Malta or Belarus might do better overall in both voting systems.”
Ireland arrived rather late to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2015. For 2017 the Irish entry will again be in Irish (the preferred term for the language is Irish rather than Gaelic).
Which might be a decision that seems to be something of a paradox. After all, Ireland’s only Eurovision Song Contest Irish language entry (Ceol an Ghrá, the Music of Love, Sandy Jones 1972) was one of the worst performing Irish entries (15th place) in the first three decades of Ireland’s participation. Yet, rather than RTÉ sending an entry to the Junior Eurovision it was left to the Irish language public broadcaster TG4 (“tee gee KA her”) to fly the tricolor, with entries performed mostly or entirely in Irish.
Réalta na mara – Aimee Banks (Source: Youtube/Junior Eurovision Song Contest)
To some, the question was “why give up the advantage of performing in English?” After all, the national language rule in the main Song Contest very much favoured Ireland (and the UK and Malta) in the jury era. Between 1965 and 1998 Ireland sent 32 songs in English. Of these, only three finished outside the top 10 (including Ceol an Ghrá): seven of these entries were victorious. Only three UK entries over this same period finished outside the top 10, producing five winners; of Malta’s first 15 English language entries after returning to the Contest in 1992, all but three finished in the top 10.
Since 1999, when entries could be in any language, most delegations have opted for English…and the fortunes of all three Anglophone countries have waned. Junior Eurovision has the national language rule (60% national language; 40% another language), so Ireland could send entries in English or Irish or a combination of both. There are two particularly good reasons why they have opted for gaelige (Irish) over béarla (English). One is historic; another is aspirational. Then there is the question of how to select an entry.
The Irish language pre- and post-colonisation
Before the 1800s, Irish was the majority language of Ireland despite being Great Britain’s longest held colony: in most of the country, most aspects Irish day-to-day life were conducted in Irish. Several things conspired against the language in the 19th century. First, when National Schools were introduced in the 1830s, all subjects were to be taught in English, a policy in place for the next four decades. Irish re-appeared as a subject in national schools in 1871, but it was not the primary medium (viz. language) of instruction.
Prevalence of Irish as mother tongue – 1871 (Source: Wikimedia)
Second, in the 1840s the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór, the great hunger) led to the death of one million and the emigration of another million across Ireland. The famine disproportionately impacted the West of Ireland, where Irish speakers were more concentrated: many Irish speakers died or emigrated during and subsequent to the famine. Most went to the United States, Canada, England, Australia or New Zealand where English was the majority language, giving further impetus to English language instruction in Ireland: Both domestically and across the diaspora, Irish was being rapidly supplanted by English.
Efforts accelerated to reinvigorate Irish towards the end of the 19th century, when concurrent social movements focused on an Irish linguistic and cultural renaissance, and Irish independence, were interwoven. Yet by the beginning of the 20th century, Irish remained the quotidian language in relatively geographically isolated regions of Ireland. The political changes of the first half of the 20th century—rebellion, ostensive home rule, a bitter civil war and independence for much of Ireland—moved control of language and cultural policy to Dublin. Re-establishment of Irish as the national language was an early policy priorities.
Language policy in Ireland today seeks a balance between pragmatism and idealism. The Republic of Ireland defines Irish as the national and first official language of Ireland, with English a second official language. English remains the primary language in most people’s day-to-day lives in much of the country. Today there are around 75,000 native speakers of Irish; however, many more—over 1.7 million—speak Irish as a second language. This is unsurprising: Irish is a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools where English is the medium of instruction.
In the Gaeltacht areas, where Irish remains the quotidian language, it is the reverse: except for teaching English, subjects are taught in Irish. As well, in several regions of the country anglophone parents have the option of sending their children to schools where Irish is the medium of instruction. Compulsory Irish in English medium schools, preservation of the Gaeltachts, and Irish medium schools are all policies designed to strengthen the Irish language.
Gaeltacht areas where Irish remains the quotidian language today (Source: Wikimedia)
Public Irish language media are another strategy. Television network TG4 has broadcast since 1996, offering a range of Irish language programmes, including both local productions and dubbed versions of international television and films.
SpongeBob Squarepants theme song as gaelige (Source: YouTube/King balor)
TG4 reaches almost 60 per cent of Irish households, but its ratings share is a meagre two per cent. TG4 also tends to do quite a lot with relatively low funding: for example: TG4’s core staff is only 80 persons, most of whom work out of their primary studios in the Connemara Gaeltacht in County Galway. Their 2017 budget was almost €33 million, of which €20 million is for original programming of all types (current affairs, drama, light entertainment). (Mostly) English language broadcaster RTÉ’s annual budget for 2015 was €320 million. Bear in mind there is no other television broadcaster that produces original content almost exclusively in Irish besides TG4. If TG4 does not produce (or commission) it, for the most part it does not exist.
So TG4 has an unique mandate to promote the Irish language through television. With RTÉ struggling to resource an annual entry to the main Eurovision, there was perhaps little interest in the Junior event at the English language network. For TG4, however, Junior’s language rule—which in practice means only a Maltese entry will be English—puts the Irish language on a more even footing, competition-wise.
The next question for TG4 was: how to select a high quality entry, as inexpensively as possible, in order to promote the use of Irish.
Selecting an entry as gaelige
For this third Irish Junior Eurovision entry, a jury of previous Irish Eurovision artists reviewed all open submissions. A total of 32 songs were assigned to one of four semi-final heats. Each week the jury selects a top two to compete in a sing-off, after which the jury picks a finalist. In previous years these four finalists were joined by two wildcard entries selected by the jurors: for 2017 this was not the case.
The jury for the live shows includes two permanent judges:
Fiachna Ó Braonáin – A founding member of Irish band HotHouse Flowers, several of whose members met at Coláiste Eoin, an Irish medium school in Dublin. HotHouse Flowers were the interval act at the 1981 Eurovision held in Dublin.
Bláthnaid Treacy – Formerly a child actor on Glenroe, a soap opera that ran on Anglophone broadcaster RTÉ for two decades, Bláthnaid’s experience as a young performer is well suited to providing honest, age-appropriate feedback to Junior Eurovision aspirants.
Treacy and Ó Braonáin are fluent Irish speakers; both grew up in Dublin rather than in one of the Gaeltachts.
Host Eoghan McDermott and guest juror Niamh Kavanagh (Source: Flickr/TG4)
Artists who have represented Ireland at the main Eurovision act have been guest judges each week. Their levels of Irish fluency varied widely. For the 2017 semi-finals the guest judges have included:
Brendan Murray, the 2017 Irish Eurovision representative, who did not qualify for Grand Final. He is from County Galway, but not the Gaeltacht part. His had little Irish.
Dustin the Turkey represented Ireland in 2008. His Irish is surprisingly serviceable, but it’s entirely possible “he” was reading his Irish comments, which uou can do that when you’re a puppet.
Jedward represented Ireland twice, in 2011 and 2012. They also had little Irish.
Brian Kennedy delivered Irelands first semi-final era top ten result with in 2006. His Irish is rather good for a second language learner.
Niamh Kavanagh won the 1993 Eurovision and represented Ireland again in 2010. For a second language learner her Irish is serviceable.
Linda Martin, winner of the 1992 Contest, will be the guest judge for the Grand Final. Based on her appearances in 2016, she also does not have much Irish.
Eoghan McDermott returns as host of the 2017 selection. He is a fluent Irish speaker and does an excellent job making the young artists comfortable speaking as much Irish as each can, while switching subtly to English whenever appropriate.
Overall, perhaps two thirds of each broadcast is conducted in Irish. TG4’s approach is a reasonable one, given the resourcing with which they have to work. The show aims to draw in young persons, either Irish speakers or Irish language learner.
There remains one perplexing aspect of the selection.
The TG4 selection was conducted in September, with the results embargoed until each episode (four semi-finals followed by the final) is broadcast on Sundays. The semi-finals began being shown five weeks before the 2017 Junior Eurovision broadcast from Tblisi. That timetables TG4’s final to air on 19 November, one week before the Tblisi show. Perfect.
Except that the official CD was available for purchase or streaming on 10 November—two days before the last semi-final would air and almost 10 days before the Final itself. Unsurprisingly, before the last semi-final was broadcast, media began reporting that the winner of the first semi-final, Muireann McDonnell, would be representing Ireland with Súile Glasa (Green Eyes):
This sort of spoiler cannot facilitate a strong audience share for the Irish Junior Eurovision final. Momentum…lost.
There is another concern: none of the Irish Junior Eurovision selection show are live broadcasts. Muireann’s will go from performing to a studio audience of several dozen to a live television broadcast of several million. That is a daunting prospect for any young performer. Perhaps TG4 can get Muireann some live TV time on its own or RTÉ’s programming before Tblisi?
Brice ar bhríce (Brick by Brick)
TG4 has done a great number of things well already, in terms of its selection process. The show is tied in with the main Contest. TG4 has leveraged higher profile Irish Eurovision artists to contribute to the selection itself. And the broadcasts are anchored by three fluent Irish speakers as host and judges. There is relatively little other Irish language light entertainment programming that targets this same age group.
Brice ar bhríce – (Brick by brick). Not a bad metaphor forTG4’s approach (Source: YouTube/Junior Eurovision)
Has TG4’s approach produced strong entries for the Junior Eurovision? We can probably say yes. Each year’s selection has featured a number of songs that would have represented the country well. If we look at Ireland’s (admittedly brief) foray into the Junior Eurovision, their results have improved incrementally. In 2015 Aimee Banks took Réalta na mara to 12th place: Zena Donnelly’s Brice ar bhrice squeaked into the top then last year. Donnelly’s song was performed in both Irish and English, though the extent to which this contributed to the improved result cannot be determined.
Is TG4’s involvement with the Junior Eurovision helping consolidate Irish as the national language? That is a more difficult case to make. But each year so far has exposed the youth of Ireland to 32 songs in Irish—many of which are contemporary pop music of the sort that is age appropriate. There is nothing else on Irish television that brings new Irish language music to the fore. That seems self evident.
While the resource constraints are substantive, TG4 could rather easily improve the scheduling: dilemma: begin the broadcasts of the tape recorded semi-finals two weeks earlier, so the CD release does not produce spoilers. If it is not cost prohibitive, do a condensed one hour live final on TG4. If not feasible, get the anointed act some other opportunities to perform their entry on live television.