Eurovision Song Contest

Big Five’s Golden Ticket to the Final: Time for a change?

, by Isabella Lüdeke, Martina Bianco, Martyna Rejczak

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Big Five's Golden Ticket to the Final: Time for a change?
Nemo performs “The Code” for Switzerland at the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 in Malmö Arena. Photo: EBU/Alma Bengtsson

“Croatia is the winner with the highest score from the public. Croatia or Switzerland… are you ready? Here we go. Switzerland from the public you have received 226 points. The winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2024…it is Switzerland”

In theory, Eurovision seeems like a perfect platform for so-called healthy rivarly. Countries from Europe and beyond compete with each other by sending their representative. Sometimes the artist to appear on the show is chosen during national selections, sometimes the country’s responsible simply proposes the person. It is not the end. Selected artists perfom in the semi-finals and only the highest-scored ones qualify to the final.

This year, 37 countries participated in the contest, but only 26 advanced to the Grand Final that took place on the 11th of May. However, 5 of these 26 countries had a secure place to perform on a big night and did not need to compete in either semi-final. These lucky ones are the members of so-called Big Five.

Eurovision in a nutshell

A huge concert hall, amazing technical effects, live music, artists from all over Europe and beyond, not to forget an estimated 100-600 million spectators each year. ESC is the largest international festival of popular music and has undoubtedly been called a success. Established in 1956 it has been evolving since then and became a symbol of „unity in diversity”. Besides that, ESC supports values such as universality, equality, and inclusivity.

The ESC is based on the renowned Sanremo Music Festival taking place in Italy. The first contest took place in Swiss resort of Lugano and was a radio show although there were a few cameras installed to stream it for those who had a television set at that time. The participants were: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Hop to the Grand Final

The rule of the ‘Big Five’ was established in 2000 granting Spain, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom (Italy returned in 2011) automatic qualification to the Eurovision Song Contest final, regardless of their performance in the preceding year, thus eliminating concerns about relegation or the need to compete in a semi-final round. Being the biggest financial contributors they have a ‘privilege’ in hopping straight to the final.

Why was the rule created? There were many small reasons for it. In 1974, Italy faced a significant setback when its entry, titled “Sì"”(Yes), was withheld from broadcast by the national broadcaster, RAI. This move was prompted by concerns that the song’s title could sway public opinion ahead of a national referendum on divorce legislation. Consequently, Italy did not air the live broadcast of Eurovision that year, airing it only after the referendum had concluded to avoid any potential interference. German song of 1996 ‘Planet of Blue’ was the one knocked out of the contest causing Germany to relegate their broadcast to a smaller broadcaster. Thus, the rule is inevitably connected with the economic sphere. Have Germany not qualified to the Grand Final, millions of viewers wouldn’t have appeared in front of the TV on the big final night. As Ben Robertson a journalist for ESC Insights wrote: “Sponsors to the Eurovision Song Contest wanted to be seen attached to the primetime broadcast in the biggest markets of Western Europe”.

Time for a change?

The Rule of the Big Five has been critisised. It is the official reason why Turkey has left in 2018. Also the Netherlands and Russia (when still in the game) have complained that even if it seems they are paying less they paid more based on the numbers of their inhabitants.

In September last year the Swedish radio commentator for Eurovision Carolina Norén underlined the need for a fair competition in ESC: “I think you should take away the Big Five. Let just the winner be qualified directly to the final and let everybody compete in the same way through the Semi Finals to the Final”. Adding to that, Ben Robertson believes that, “if we were ever going to make such a daring move, there may be no better time than the present”. This year may be significant for the future debate on this topic because it is the first time the countries of the Big Five presented their performances during semi-finals (but did not compete!).

Firstly, let’s look into the “biggest financial contributors” title. The EBU operates on a system where each full member is assigned a points value based on factors like audience reach and utilization of Eurovision content, such as news and sports broadcasts. This points system likely influences the variation in participation fees among members. Last year Germany payed around 473 000 euros to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) while Spain contributed by around 347 700 euros (source here). On the other hand, Greece paid around 150 000 euros, Romania – 180 000 and Ireland 105 000. Taking into account that Germany’s population is around 8,5 times larger than Greece Germany paid only 3 times more than Greece. Thus, the “biggest contribution” is not as high as it seems.

Secondly, the rule of the Big Five perpetuates old stereotypes that ‘Europe only takes place in the West’ or that newer members do not matter as much as the old ones. Thirdly, nowadays there are more ways of gaining the audience and sponsorship for instance via social media channels such as Instagram, TikTok etc.

What does the youth think about it?

“The German broadcasting union is the richest on the planet, because Germans are forced by law to pay almost 20€ per month (!!!) per household for it. More than for their Netflix! Maybe the responsible ones would pay more effort to choose a better song, if they would have to compete in the semi-finals” - says Katherina from Germany.

“I think it is weird and maybe a bit unfair. But it is also not so important maybe. Especially if they are the biggest financial contributors. Also if their song is bad, they do not win anyways” – says Anna from Austria.

“It is so right to meme on one of them every year because of this” – added Pavel from Slovakia.

“Although it is unfair to other countries, that is now the only way to sponsor Eurovision. If there is an alternative to get money for eurovision, then yes they shouldn’t be allowed this privilege. But until that alternative is created, they should have this privilege since they’re the reason why eurovision can happen” – stresses Žygimantas from Lithuania.

“It seems a little arbitrary and I believe arriving in the final round should be merit based, and not based on the size of the country or their financial contribution. It also gives less space for smaller and underrepresented countries” – says Valentin from France.

Question of fairness

The rule of the Big Five is only one of the problems with “unfairness” of the contest. There is an ongoing debate about the fairness of the voting process which is claimed to contain political elements. Studies that have been conducted on this topic suggest that countries from the same ‘clusters’ would vote for each other more frequently. The other argument for ‘unbiased’ voting was giving points to culturally similar countries or so-called ‘patriotic voting’.

This article is part of the project "Newsroom Europe" which trains young Europeans from three EU Member States (Belgium, Germany and Hungary) in critical and open-minded media reporting and on the functioning of European decision-making. The project is carried out jointly by the Europäische Akademie Berlin e.V., the Center for Independent Journalism, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, and is also co-financed by the European Union. is media partner of the project.

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