Although it has since been dogged by controversy about alleged voting blocks, the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest proved a huge rating hit across Europe.
The May 24 contest, held in Belgrade, Serbia, grabbed a TV audience of roughly 105 million viewers, up from 90 million in 2007, the European Broadcasting Union, organization of Eurovision, reported this week.
This year’s final, won by Russia’s Dima Bilan with the song “Believe,” attracted more than 6 million votes, while roughly 2 million votes were cast during the Eurovision semi-finals the prevous evening.
Veteran commentator Terry Wogan incited a wave of protests in Britain after he suggested on air that certain European regions were freezing-out the United Kingdom, and that the its latest poor result with Andy Abraham’s equal-last place-getter “Even If” was evidence that Eurovision was “no longer a music contest”.
Hundreds of reports and blogs on the voting block theme emerged in the following days, under such headlines as “Let’s scrap Eurovision” and “Should the U.K. enter Eurovision?” British Liberal Democrat member of parliament Richard Younger-Ross took matters further, branding the competition a “joke” and tabling a Commons motion, calling on the BBC to insist on changes to the voting system or withdraw from the contest.
The EBU has acknowledged the voting trends, but reiterated that its voting system was not flawed. “In 2008, we have identified a certain amount of neighbor voting between the Nordic countries, and between former Yugoslavian countries. But this did not help Russia,” the EBU said in a statement.
“Voting for your neighbour was not, and has never been the reason a song wins. The statistics prove that you can only win, if almost all countries vote for you.”
Bjorn Erichsen, director of Eurovision, put things in a slightly different perspective. In an interview broadcast on World Radio Geneva, he said, “We cannot be out there in the living rooms controlling, saying to people, you must not vote for a country close to you. Russia has been there for 15 years without winning, there were not voting problems in 15 years. Now they’ve won and (Brits) are suddenly saying, hey their neighbors are voting for them.”
The EBU contracted Deutsche Teleko, and specialized German company Digame to handle and control its system, which gathered votes from 43 countries. Accounting giant Price Waterhouse is auditing the voting system and the result. The EBU, naturally, insists its televoting system is fraud-proof.