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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
The price of Eurovision victory
Estonia win the 2001 Eurovision song contest
Estonia blew its entire tourism budget as a result of this win - but got it all back
For the winners of the Eurovision song contest there is always a hefty price tag to go with the award and fleeting fame - the obligation of hosting a complicated and costly event the year afterwards.

In the mid-1990s, when Ireland won the competition three times in a row, it was rumoured that broadcaster RTE was on the verge of being put out of business by the costs - a tall tale which even served to form the plot of an episode of Father Ted.

With this year's event in Istanbul involving a record number of countries taking part - as well as an additional semi-final - it would be expected that winning would be even more of a curse than a blessing.

However, RTE commissioning editor Kevin Lenihan told BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme that changes in how the event was funded had meant there was a much-reduced risk to broadcasters in smaller countries.

"The bigger broadcasters now really are the ones who are paying a bigger whack of the budget than heretofore, and the big four - Germany, the UK, France and Spain - carry a significant amount of the budget," he explained.

"I would imagine at this stage it is only about between a third and a half that the actual host broadcaster contributes.

"It's a big expensive show but probably, in relative terms, it's not as heavy a burden on the host broadcaster as it would have been 10 years ago."

Sponsorship deals

Mr Lenihan stressed that Eurovision now offered a number of different opportunities to rake in the cash that were not available before.

These included sponsorship and the new revolution of Eurovision - telephone voting.

James Fox

Technical companies also liked to associate themselves with Eurovision as it is "associated with steps forwards in terms of the quality of broadcasting in Europe," he added.

Certainly, Estonia thought so - the country ploughed its entire tourism budget into staging the 2002 contest, at a cost of US$26million, after Dave Benton and Tanel Padar's victory in 2001.

Estonia's is the smallest public broadcasting outift in Europe, with the smallest number of employees and smallest budget.

Although the country received help from Sweden in terms of rented equipment, the contest's executive producer, Juhan Paadam, states with some pride that "the content and the creative side was in Estonian hands."

"It's absolutely the biggest production in Estonian television ever," he added.

Apocryphal stories

He stressed that with the money recouped from participation fees, sponsorship and advertising and ticket sales, the event broke even.

"We have no debts after that, and no profits," he said.

RTE logo
RTE dismisses stories that Eurovision nearly sent it out of business
"But you must understand that for Estonian television and the Estonian nation, it was a huge challenge, and I think we proved to our colleagues and to people in Europe that Estonian television is professional television."

Mr Lenihan said that similarly, the benefits to Ireland in terms of tourism had outweighed the costs, and there was little real truth to fears over RTE's expenses during the 1990s.

One story suggested that the contest had resulted in the company's entire light entertainment budget being used up.

"These are wonderful stories, and they're apocryphal at this point, but for the most part they're completely untrue," he said.

"Our light entertainment department continued to produce the full range of programmes that it always produced."

And he added that there had been lots of support for Eurovision during this period - particularly as people looked at it as an opportunity to be shop window.

"A lot of companies at the time saw it as an opportunity to show a whole range of new technical innovations that were coming in," he said.

"So we actually did get a lot of support from these companies that didn't cost us an awful lot of money."

'Well-spent money'

Eurovision broadcasting executive Svantus Stockselias - one of the key organisers of the event - told The Music Biz that this interest was increasing with each year.

Cast of Father Ted
Father Ted "won" Ireland's entry to Eurovision with My Lovely Horse
"It's bigger than ever and it's better than ever," he said.

"It's amazing how a contest, a TV show, can last for 49 years - not too many contests you see on TV will last that long."

He stressed the new format, with its semi-final set-up, only increased the opportunity to make money.

"Putting up two shows in two nights gives a lot of quality TV entertainment to a broadcaster," he said.

"Most of them think it's well-spent money."

BBC News Online will be in Istanbul for the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, which is on BBC One from 2000 BST.


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