Editorial: Internal or public selection?

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Sofi Marinova was the last representative of Bulgaria decided through classical national selection. Is it buried deeply in the past, or there are prospects for something new?

We are just one week after the excellent finish of our past Eurovision journey, and a lot of thoughts are popping out of our heads. Currently, we are taking the heat of the rolling preparations for Eurovision 2018 and maybe (just maybe) Junior Eurovision 2017. Planning things ahead is crucial if we want the bright days for Eurovision in Bulgaria to continue.

After two excellent results, a steady growth of the local market, new young additions to the fan base and overall very young structure of the viewership, things seem rosy. At least until the moment, we realise how big are the shoes we have to fill.

You know that we like to keep you updated and to create a discussion on various things, so this editorial we dedicate to the eternal discussion “national final” versus “internal selection”. What is the best option and under what kind of conditions can be working from a broadcaster’s point of view? Here are some insights.

If you’ve asked the management of BNT, let’s say, three years ago on what approach to Eurovision should be taken, the answer would’ve been very clear – “national final, X-factor-like reality show, something people can be voting. Look at Sweden, Denmark and so on. Think of something“. All that if it’s possible at an affordable price. Actually wrong – not just affordable. A low one! And indeed, a national final sounds like the obvious solution to maintain the interest. You have months of pre-selection, more songs to choose from, drama, discussions and so on. With the internal choice, we have only months of ridiculous teasing on Twitter, and that’s it. Because of these reasons, fans tend to like more the national finals. Because of being public, broadcasters also like the national finals as quite conveniently they can pass on the local audience the responsibility for the choice. The local flagmen of the democracy also receive their opportunity to shine brightly. That’s it. Case solved. In theory, everything works for the National Final until the financial managers receive the bill for that fancy thing and realise that if you want a televised national final working smoothly, you need to splash the cash.

IS IT ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, THOUGH?

Ok, let’s assume we have the money. It’s entirely possible to get them from sponsorship deals, cross-promotions, even additional public funding from local municipalities if the show moves away from the capital. Although difficult, the financial problem is solvable and is not a real obstacle. The possible format is also on the table and already developed. You can’t have many deviations from the core idea – some singers are singing a song and jury, and viewers choose the best (hopefully) among them. So, what’s the real issue then?

THE TRUST

After some past selections with a very liberal and loose approach to the rules, no one believes that a show like that could take place without any kind of…let’s say undesired influence. If there is an enormous obstacle, the trust is by far number one. None of the A-list names in the Bulgarian music landscape will be tempted to get involved, and that already brings down the chances of finding good sponsors. The big companies want to know the line-up as a pre-condition to be entering into negotiations without any guarantees for a successful end. And if you have a selection already running with all names been known, but at the same time, you are without a definite answer for the funding, that already sounds like an excellent recipe for disaster. Let’s add the significant production costs which have to be incurred in advance, and the picture with the timeline and what is first, what second on the to-do list, gets pretty complicated. That’s why the much easier solution is to choose someone and then to go on a hunt for sponsors – this time without including in the bill the costs of the production. Because of a reason we can’t really figure out, the internal choice does not create a big outrage in the local community. Yes, there are always some calls for more transparent approach, but nothing even close to the big scandals the past Bulgarian NF managed to produce.

THE LABELS

The music companies in Bulgaria generate most of their revenue not from music sells, but sponsorship deals. That means if they produce a song for a national selection together with a stage concept, and it’s not chosen, these will be most probably lost money for them. That would be a huge drama on a market which is not well-capitalized anyway. Going internal solves this because they have to send only demos. No contracts and binding arrangements with composers and production teams needed at the pre-selection stage.

THE INDUSTRY

To have a decent selection, it’s clear it can not be “democratic”, but over produced with every song and stage performance being considered by the producers. In some cases, to come up with competitive bids, we would need foreign assistance. The music industry in Bulgaria currently would struggle to produce ten songs on a European level. Yes, some will say that just one would be enough, but when you make a national selection, you have to be sure that whoever wins, will represent the country with dignity and success. Just one out of ten is 10%. Not quite promising. So, that’s not a way of thinking we need for a national selection. All or a great percentage should be good, competitive packages. Creating good, competitive packages requires investment, and there we go again – by selecting one, the rest are going to the recycle bin without big hopes (if any at all) for a better future on the narrow Bulgarian music market.

WHAT IS THE (POSSIBLE) SOLUTION?

The only way country like Bulgaria with a music industry not being among the leading ones even on local, Balkan level, is to seek a different route. A local contest may be created with the help of the state and local sponsors who don’t want a clear outcome but are ready to support the project as such. The budget of such a competition should also include the costs of creating the songs so that the labels are motivated to compete no matter the result. Even if this happens, most probably two or three years will be needed so that such a contest reaches the production and content values required for a decent national final for Eurovision. All other solutions will be a step back to something we already had in the previous years. A national final with low production quality and based on a hope that by chance someone competitive will apply. The truth is no matter how big in Bulgaria, all of our performers need significant efforts to reach a decent European level and that thing, for the time being, is achievable only through internal selection and focused work on a particular project.

Although the prospects for a televised national final in Bulgaria are very low for the near future, the opportunity is there. Our music landscape needs such a local competition, but it has to be professionally produced and supported with trust and passion by the industry. We still have a way to go until everyone embrace that idea. Or maybe, who knows, the prospect for something big and worthy may be not so far away…

Until that happens, you will rely on our Twitter account for some fun and drama during the national final season. It’s not much but still something and from the bottom of our hearts. To wrap things up, a National Selection should not be a tool for just transferring the responsibility to the viewers, but should be implemented after careful studies so that it can bring additional value to the local music industry. Otherwise it’s a pointless exercise which can lead to devastating results for the image of the contest in the country.

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