What is Eurovision?

The achievement of a community…

The European Television Community, usually abbreviated to “Eurovision”, represents an arrangement between the television services in the north, west and south of Europe, which decided to integrate their facilities in order to develop the international exchange of television programmes. The television services in question are all exploited by Members of the E.B.U., the permanent establishments of which undertake the coordination of these exchanges both on the technical and on the programme planes.

Many readers who are unfamiliar with the situation of television in Europe may wonder why it was so difficult in the beginning to organise these international television relays. The reason was a simple one: the lack of standardisation.

Towards 1953, when the question of the possibilities of exchanging television programmes began to be raised seriously, the television services in operation in Europe were in very different stages of development. In some countries, they were already serving virtually the whole of the national territory, whereas in others only the capital was served. Moreover, the services had often very different situations from the organisational point of view — some being Departments of State, whereas others were chartered corporations and others private enterprises. Again, in certain countries the television service owned and exploited its own studio centres, the outside-broadcast facilities, microwave or cable network and transmitting stations, whereas in other countries some or all of these facilities were provided by the Telecommunication Administration. To these complications had to be added various difficulties caused by the diversity of language. In addition, there were the differences in the technical transmission characteristics — systems using 405, 625 and 819 lines per picture were in use, but fortunately all the systems had a field frequency of 50 per second. At the beginning, too, there were significant differences in the technical equipment used for the radiolink networks, which made it difficult to connect them in tandem.

It is therefore not to be wondered at that it was far from easy to establish a Community in such unfavourable circumstances. What is perhaps more surprising is that it was not established with that precise aim in view and that it represented in no way a deliberate objective of the governments of the countries concerned. The European Television Community in fact developed quite gradually, and it began indeed in a very modest fashion.

It was rather a concourse of practical considerations, notably the wish of the programme planners to provide their audiences with live programmes originating in foreign countries, that gave rise to the first experiments, that excited all those who took part in them.

This installation at La Dôle (Switzerland) near the Franco-Swiss frontier, converts 819-line television signals to the 625-line standard, and vice-versa.

It was not difficult in effect — once the first exchanges had been effected — to persuade the various European television services of the benefits that they would obtain by linking their networks to the Eurovision Network, thereby assuring themselves of a supply of a wide variety of programmes, which they might, for technical or financial reasons, find it difficult to obtain otherwise. It should be mentioned that every television service established in Western Europe has joined the Community, as soon as it became technically possible to set up the necessary links.

However, the increase in the number of connected services posed the problem of coordinating the exchanges, on the international plane. As all the television services in the Community belonged to Members of the E.B.U., it was natural that they entrusted the task to the Union. It is true that at the beginning, the Union had none of the material facilities needed to undertake the task; it had neither the budget, nor the staff nor the equipment. Thanks to the help of the Members, which soon provided the money, the buildings, the equipment and the staff, Eurovision gradually developed.

…of great complexity

The problems that had to be solved, before Eurovision could function satisfactorily were rather formidable. First of all, it was necessary that in each participating country there should exist an adequate network of radio or cable links. This, of course, is a national problem inherent in the normal development of the television service. Then it was necessary to join these national networks together, but on different sides of the frontiers there are often different television standards, as already mentioned above. France, the French-speaking part of Belgium, Luxembourg and Monaco have pictures composed of 819 lines, the United Kingdom and part of Ireland have 405 lines, while the rest of Europe uses 625-line systems. Television pictures originating, say, in the United Kingdom cannot be reproduced directly on French receivers. The signals have first to be “converted”, that is to say, changed from 405 to 819 lines. Standards conversion, of which this is one example, is one of the important problems in planning Eurovision operations.

For large scale Eurovision actuality programmes, accomodation, has to be provided for many foreign commentators. Here, for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the B.B.C. installed facilities, each for some twenty commentators, at key-points along the processional route, with picture monitors to enable them to follow the progress of the events.

There are at present nine stations equipped for standards conversion: London, Manchester, Folkestone, Köln, Hornisgrinde (Germany), Paris, Milano, La Dôle (Switzerland) and Dublin, to say nothing of the special installations for converting between the American and the European standards, a practice that first became necessary to make it possible to broadcast in Europe tape-recorded television programmes of American origin and, more recently, for direct transatlantic relays using artificial Earth-satellites. The United States, with an area four or five times greater than that of Europe, has never had to face this problem, thanks to a single television standard and standardised equipment. Moreover, there, there are no frontier problems to be overcome. In Europe, as has been indicated, the international television circuits utilise the national networks of the countries that they cross. For example, a transmission from Belgium to Italy might he routed over circuits in Germany and Switzerland, and for the occasion of the relay, it would be necessary to rent the circuits required from the organisations that own them, and those organisations may — as in this example — not be the broadcasting authorities.

The problems mentioned so far relate to the transmission of the pictures. It is, indeed, not exaggerating to say that the most difficult problems that Eurovision has posed have been those relating to the transmission of the sound. It is necessary in general to transmit both the local sound (for example, the noise made by the crowd during a sports event) and the explanatory commentaries. The first-mentioned, the local or “international” sound, is of interest to all the participating services, and it is broadcast in all the countries where the pictures are broadcast. Each commentary, however, is broadcast in a more restricted area, according to the language in which it is given. For every one of the languages in which a commentary is required (there are at least fourteen languages spoken in Western Europe), there must be the same number of commentators and the same number of sound-programme circuits, each with its control circuits, all connecting to the stations in the countries using the particular languages, which immensely complicates the planning and operational tasks. For each programme, then, there are needed a vision circuit linking all the countries concerned, as must also the international-sound circuit, plus the several commentary circuits, to which must be added the control circuits running alongside the programme circuits and the coordination circuits linking the E.B.U. Centre, as will be described below, to key points on the network.

The foregoing details indicate the complexity of these relays and demonstrate the necessity of coordination on an international plane. It was recognised at the beginning that Eurovision would have to have its own “nerve centre” in order effectively to organise and direct the transmissions technically.

The tasks of the E.B.U.

Technical coordination

That task is undertaken at the International Technical Control Centre, usually known as the C.I.C.T., from the initials of its title in French. It is a branch of the E.B.U. Technical Centre, and it is located in the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) in Brussels, that being at present the highest building in the Belgian capital. It is some thirty metres below the station installed at the summit of the cupola, where the microwave relay links connecting Belgium with France, the Netherlands and Germany terminate.

The primary task of the C.I.C.T. is to supervise and switch the programmes coming from various origins, and thus corresponds closely with that of a Master Control Room.

On occasion, the C.I.C.T. has a more direct responsibility in the running of the transmissions, notably when they include successive contributions from different countries (for programmes of the European Roundabout type). A recent noteworthy operation in this category was the European programme sent to America on 23rd July, 1962, by way of the satellite “Telstar”.

The E.B.U.’s Eurovision C.I.C.T. in Brussels.

With direct connections to all key-points on the Eurovision Network, this Centre verifies the technical performances of all the vision and sound circuits in service. In the background are the picture monitors which display the pictures received from the various origins.

It is interesting to consider some figures indicating the recent scale of Eurovision operations. As on 1st July, 1962, there were eighteen television services operating in sixteen European countries connected to the Eurovision Network. The total length of the vision circuits was more than 70,000 kilometres, consisting of 12,000 kilometres of cable and 62,000 kilometres of microwave relays. This vast network comprised more than 1,400 television broadcasting stations serving more than twenty-eight million television receivers, representing a maximum audience of about one hundred million viewers. From the beginning of Eurovision operations in 1954, there have been more than 3,000 international television relays of sufficient importance or complication to justify the utilisation of the E.B.U. planning and coordination facilities.

Organisations participating in Eurovision

listed accorded to the date of first participation.

Connected to the Eurovision Network

BRTBelgische Radio en TelevisieBelgium
RTBRadiodiffusion-Télévision BelgeBelgium
DSRDanmarks RadioDenmark
RTFRadiodiffusion-Télévision FrançaiseFrance
ARDArbeitsgemeinschaft der Oeffenlich-Rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalen der Bundesrepublik DeutschlandGermany (F.R.)
RAIRadiotelevisione ItalianaItaly
NTSNederlandse Televisie StichtingNetherlands
SRGSchweizerische Rundspruch-GesellschaftSwitzerland
BBCBritish Broadcasting CorporationUnit. Kingdom
ORFOesterreichischer Rundfunk GmbHAustria
CLTCompagnie Luxembourgeoise de TélédiffusionLuxembourg
RMCRadio Monte-CarloMonaco
SRTSveriges RadioSweden
NRKNorsk RikskringkastingNorway
ITAIndependent Television AuthorityUnit. Kingdom
TVEDirección General de Radiodifusión y TelevisiónSpain
JRTJugoslovenska RadiotelevizijaYugoslavia
YLEOy. Yleisradio Ab.Finland

Indirect participants

CBCCanadian Broadcasting CorporationCanada
ABCAmerican Broadcasting CompanyUnited States
CBSColumbia Broadcasting System, Inc.United States
NBCNational Broadcasting Company, Inc.United States
DFFDeutscher FernsehfunkE. Germany
MTMagyar TelevizioHungary
NHKNippon Hoso KyokaiJapan
TVPPolska TelewizjaPoland
RTPRadiotelevisao PortuguesaPortugal
CSTCeskoslovenska TelevizeCzechoslov.
TSSTelevidenie Sovietskoio SoiuzaU.S.S.R.

Coordination of the programme offers

In addition to the purely operational tasks, the permanent establishments of the Union undertake a considerable task of a secretarial nature in the course of the preparatory work for the relays.

The Administrative Office at Geneva collects all information about each programme offered for Eurovision, in conjunction with the appropriate departments of the various Services. It has to work out a precise timing for the operation, determine how many commentators’ positions have to be provided at the origin, for the several languages or language-groups, obtain agreement to pay any supplementary fees to be paid for the transmission and so on.

There are innumerable problems to be solved before a Eurovision programme can be transmitted, and the time available for solving them varies from a few hours to one or even several years (for example, for negotiating and planning transmissions of such importance as the Olympic Games).

Normally, the Administrative Office circulates the advance notices of transmissions two or three weeks in advance, and the Technical Centre in Brussels is included in this circulation. The Technical Centre then works out the technical details for the functioning of each relay and issues to all of the Services and Telecommunication Administrations concerned a synopsis of the technical arrangements. The Services then order the indicated facilities, except when it is possible to make use of the several circuits already permanently at the disposal of the Community.

Studies and planning

The foregoing indicates what might be termed the routine activities associated with Eurovision. However, these international television relays do not take place entirely at hazard. They are in most cases determined in advance by the Planning Group of the E.B.U. Programme Committee, whose meetings a representative of the Technical Centre attends. Furthermore, the technical problems posed by the proper development of the Eurovision Network, and by the specification and standardisation of their equipment, has been entrusted to two technical Working Parties — Working Parties L and M — which work in close collaboration with the Programme Committee. Finally, the Eurovision transmissions themselves inevitably now and again give rise to legal questions, which are dealt with by the E.B.U. Legal Committee as already mentioned.

Legal Clearance of Programmes

It would be asking for trouble if Eurovision programmes were not checked by a lawyer before they go on the air, to ensure that statutory or contractual rights are not infringed either at the sending or the receiving end. Accordingly, whenever programme offers have as their subject-matter anything more than mere news flashes produced by people on the permanent staff of the organisation offering the broadcast, they are “vetted” by the E.B.U. Legal Department before being forwarded to the other Members of the Eurovision “club”. This “vetting” presupposes a knowledge of the contracts on which the offer is based and of the law in force in the receiving countries on the part of the E.B.U. Legal Department. Any offers where the legal position is at all doubtful are temporarily held up for further inquiries until it can be definitely said that neither the original broadcast nor the relay are in breach of the law.

It also happens quite often that the contracts that make a Eurovision broadcast possible are negotiated by the E.B.U. administrative and legal staff themselves or with their assistance. This applies particularly to major sporting events, festivals and the like where an international contract is needed from the outset, especially as they may be held in a country where the E.B.U. does not have a Member.

One of the problems that are beginning to cause the E.B.U. serious concern is that of the growing amount of advertising that is visible in the field of the cameras whenever it becomes known that an event is to be broadcast internationally. While in many cases the advertising has been put up in the normal way long before the transmission, many hoardings, signs on the ground and other forms of publicity blossom out just as the cameramen start working. A complex “no advertising” clause has had to be worked out and the Administrative Council has had to recommend that it be used widely in all contracts relating to Eurovision transmission of sporting events, whether held in enclosed premises or on the public highway.

The legal worries, however, do not end once the broadcast has been made. There is always the danger that a broadcast may be commercially used by outsiders in contravention of the contracts, e.g. by showing it on a cinema screen to an audience that has paid for admission, by inserting all or part of it in a documentary or newsfilm or by otherwise distributing it to a paying clientele. Contractual precautions have had to be taken to guard against such misuse, and in order to prevent acts of piracy by outsiders that have no contracts with organisations taking part in Eurovision, it has been necessary to secure the passage of laws and even specific international conventions to make this kind of immaterial theft an offence.

The Eurovision programmes

Some figures

The importance of the task of the C.I.C.T. and the other E.B.U. departments concerned with international television relays may be judged from the fact that, in 1961, 679 television programmes were exchanged in the form of Eurovision, representing 606 hours of programme at the origin. These programmes came from twenty-nine television sendees, notably 132 programmes offered by the Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, 111 by the Radiotelevisione Italiana, 103 by the British Broadcasting Corporation, 77 by the Schweizerische Rundspruch Gesellschaft and 70 by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

There were 3,528 participations in these relays, representing globally 2,657 hours of programme. The most frequent participators were the Belgische Radio en Televisie (403 programmes), the Radiodiffusion-Télévision Belge (387), the Nederlandse Televisie Stichting (332), the Arbeitsgemeinschaft (300), the Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (284), the Radiotelevisione Italiana (251), the Schweizerische Rundspruch Gesellschaft (222) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (198).

It will be noted that in 1955, the first full year of Eurovision activities, there were relayed 115 hours of programme, the programmes being relayed by nine television services.

Of course, all of the Eurovision programmes are not relayed by all the services that constitute the Community. Each service retains full liberty to accept or refuse the programmes that are offered. On an average, five or six of them participate in any given transmission. The participation depends on the interest that the programme has for viewers in the countries in question and, of course, on the exigencies of the different programme structures and timetables. However, the introduction of television tape recording has eased matters a little in this respect.

The statistics given above are those for programmes offered for Eurovision and therefore available to be relayed by all the members of the Community. These constitute in fact only a fraction of the “live” television relays taking place between Members of the E.B.U.

Very frequent exchanges are taking place between the services that use the same language, especially in the field of dramatic and documentary pieces, for example, between Western Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland, between the Netherlands and the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, between France, the rest of Belgium, the French-speaking part of Switzerland and Luxembourg, as well as between the Scandinavian countries. Such relays total several hundreds of programmes per year. But that is not all. There is another type of transmissions that has to be taken into account, the so-called “unilateral” transmissions. By this description is meant, for example, a programme transmitted from Italy for the exclusive use of the 🇬🇧 B.B.C. Such a programme would be produced uniquely for British viewers, would make use of the 🇮🇹 R.A.I’s installations (but without being broadcast in Italy) and would be routed over the Eurovision Network, most probably for inclusion in a 🇬🇧 B.B.C. actuality, interview or commentary programme.

The various categories of relays illustrate the multiple aspects of Eurovision.

Types of Eurovision programmes 6 June 1954 – 31 Dec. 1961.

Total number of Eurovision programmes at point of origin 6 June 1954 – 31 Dec. 1961.

European Picture Book

What does Eurovision in fact give the European viewer? Is its role appreciated for its every-day offerings or for the occasional, extremely complicated programmes?

This photograph of a television camera set up on the battlements of Mont Saint-Michel (France) will be no surprise for the thousands of viewers who, thanks to Eurovision, watched the outside-broadcast effected there by the R.T.F. at Christmas, 1958.

The Eurovision symbol, a starburst with the letters of the name around

It can certainly be said that, of all the developments achieved by European television since the war, Eurovision has been the most striking and the most popular. Whenever the Eurovision symbol appears on the screen and the signature tune, Charpentier’s Te Deum, is heard, the viewer knows that he is going to see something out of the ordinary, and he accepts with pleasure the invitation that it implies, to participate in the greater and the lesser events of the life of Europe. A royal wedding, a princess’s visit, musical and sporting competitions, religious ceremonies, major political conferences, the travels of statesmen and, also, disasters, each has its place among these pictures for an immense audience. Apart from these different aspects of topicality, there are the great musical events, from Aix-en-Provence, Salzburg, Paris, Vienna, München and elsewhere, whereby the whole of Europe shares the heritage of a common civilisation. It is true that, before the war, sound broadcasting had already done much in this field, but it had the disadvantage of lacking the visual presence that brings the attentive viewer certain details steeped in local colour. Eurovision has certainly contributed to the upsweep of television in Europe, and sales of receivers, thanks to Eurovision, regularly rise suddenly just before the more important transmissions.

A glance at the statistics of Eurovision programmes since 1954 (see above) will show that sport holds a large place, corresponding to about 50% of the programmes transmitted. Sporting events lend themselves admirably to television, because their instantaneity catches the attention of the viewer and because there is a natural tendency to follow the national teams.

News items, which represented up till 1956 less than 10% of the programmes transmitted, have since then risen steadily, to attain in 1961 a figure of about 30% of the programmes. There is no doubt that Eurovision is destined to play an essential role in the field of visual information. This is confirmed by the daily utilisation of the Eurovision Network for exchanges of news items between the television services. The items are offered and transmitted over the Network on the same day, at a fixed time every day. They are recorded by the receiving services for use in their evening news bulletins. This function of rapidly sharing news items among Members’ television services is very appropriate to the nature of television and could, if properly planned, become one of the most evident justifications of Eurovision.

One might well be astonished that variety and drama only account for a very small percentage (5 – 10%) of the programmes transmitted, but Eurovision lias certainly its linguistic limitations, and the transmission of theatrical pieces suffers accordingly. A televised play can be relayed only to countries having the same language and, because of this, several Eurovision services have tackled the problem in a different fashion. They have jointly commissioned a well-known playwright to write an original play to be broadcast, in the appropriate language for each country, more or less simultaneously in each country. The series is entitled “The Largest Theatre in the World”, and the first of the plays, “Heart to Heart”, written for Eurovision by Terence Rattigan, is to be broadcast in December, 1962. Plays by Diego Fabbri, Georges Simenon, René Clair and others are scheduled for the future.

Music and ballet, because of their spectacular and universal appeal, contribute to the popularity of certain programmes. This is particularly the case of the Eurovision Song Contest, which is a kind of European popular-song championship, and which is every year a very popular event with viewers. It is a competition between the composers of the sixteen Eurovision countries, in each of which a jury votes to select the winning song. Another popular annual programme in this category is the Christmas Carol programme, which is an international event thanks to the children’s choirs of several countries participating. The final item consists of a carol in which each successive verse is sung in a different country.

Less spectacular perhaps than the live programmes relayed over the Eurovision Network are the organised film exchanges between the Eurovision television services. The use of film has evident advantages over live transmission when the subject matter has no special topicality and can thus find and follow its own particular rhythm. Early on, series of films on subjects such as the “Great Rivers of Europe” and “Small Towns” were undertaken, each participating service producing its own film and distributing copies to the other services, receiving their films in exchange or for a purely symbolic fee. Later, within the framework of two special series entitled “International Agricultural Magazine” and “Children’s International Magazine”, several Members and Associate Members exchanged films devoted to agriculture and youth. In exchange for one film contributed by it, each Member can receive twelve films on the subject from all parts of the world, which enables each service to produce a filmed magazine programme according to its tastes and needs.

Perspectives for the future

Towards a permanent network

The increase in the number of television programme exchanges and particularly of short-notice transmissions has led the Members that participate in Eurovision to consider whether it would not be more practical in the long run and probably more economic (if the number of relays were sufficiently high) to lease by the year, for Eurovision transmissions, the more important circuits used for transmitting the vision and sound, rather than to continue to pay for them by the minute. This idea has been under study by a mixed committee of technical, programme and legal experts, which recommended the putting into effect of such a network in due course. The first stage of the scheme, comprising a network of sound and control circuits, was put into effect on 1st January, 1962, and it is being used both for Eurovision traffic and also for relays between Members’ sound-broadcasting services. The achievement of such a scheme presents numerous technical and financial problems and involves negotiations that are both laborious and complicated. It has made it necessary to expand the technical equipment of the C.I.C.T. and to increase the staff so as to be able to man the Centre up till midnight every day. A later stage will comprise the leasing of a permanent vision network, which would have immense advantages for Eurovision.

Intercontinental television

In a shrinking world, should Eurovision become a shrunk entity? Instead of the notion of programme exchanges between countries the idea will soon be exchanges between parts of continents or between continents.

In 1961, programme exchanges between Eurovision and Intervision began, that is to say, between Western and Eastern Europe. It is now possible to broadcast in Western Europe, programmes coming from Eastern Europe, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, the most spectacular and most recent development is the link established between the Members of the European Television Community and the American Associate Members by the satellite “Telstar”. On 23rd July, 1962, this link enabled about 100 million viewers in Europe and about the same number in North America to see programmes sent from America to Europe and from Europe to America rebroadcast by more than two thousand transmitting stations in the two continents. It is true that Telstar is only an experimental satellite, having a limited life, and it is necessary to await the launching of further satellites before they can be used for regular transatlantic communications.