I have seen the future of live event broadcasting and it’s beautiful

On midday Saturday over Memorial Day Weekend, a rather inconspicuous timeslot for a momentous non-sport broadcast, the Eurovision Song Contest Final was taking place in Vienna, Austria. For those of you who have never encountered the Eurovision, it’s the longest running annual song competition, in which many European countries send a representative to sing a 3 minute song. After the singing is over, every country votes and assigns points to the first 10 places. Points are tallied and a winner is crowned to much fanfare.

In the past this contest had less than 20 countries participating and the entire event took place during one evening and broadcast to all of Europe. In this century, the number of participating countries has grown to over 40 (this year including Australia for the first time. Australia!) and semifinals are required to make the final broadcast a somewhat reasonable length. This year, 27 countries participated in the final broadcast, truly stretching the meaning of the word “reasonable.” Finally, lest you minimize the significance of the Eurovision, I’ll have you know that ABBA and Celine Dion launched their career with wins in 1974 and 1988 respectively. Today it has more drama and camp than actual musical talent but it’s still a lot of fun to watch.

Yet, here in the US it’s still a non-event and that is, perhaps, the reason it was so easy to watch: no one was fighting over the broadcasting rights. Not only was it easy to watch, the entire production offered a glimpse into what the future of live event broadcasting could look like if cable companies, sports leagues and broadcast networks could resolve their licensing differences. Here’s what the various components of my Eurovision experience looked like:

  1. Slovenia, first participant in the Eurovision finals, on YouTube with very few viewers

    Slovenia, first participant in the Eurovision finals, on YouTube with very few viewers

    A live, HD, commercial-free broadcast on YouTube. This might be because there were no pre-timed commercial breaks or maybe because it was produced by the European Broadcasting Union, an alliance of public broadcasting entities of the various countries. The broadcast was just available, live, on YouTube. It was that easy.

  2. A Chromecast to easily stream the show on a large-screen TV instead of my phone (the pyrotechnics on the Eurovision stage look extremely limited on my 5” screen.) I love the Chromecast and think it is the easiest way to stream content to a TV because it works seamlessly with many Android video apps. YouTube, of course, is no exception.
  3. Lyrics view of the eventual winner of the Eurovision, Måns Zelmerlöw of Sweden.

    Lyrics view of the eventual winner of the Eurovision, Måns Zelmerlöw of Sweden.

    The accompanying Eurovision app was really well done. During the singing part of the competition the app provided info on each country’s artist, their Eurovision history, and the song lyrics. There was also a link to buy the song and a reminder to vote. The app also had links to a merchandise store, text and logo layers to add to photos (and hopefully share) and live updates. During the voting period of the event, viewers could vote via the app, though this was only for residents of participating countries. During the results phase, the app was constantly updated with each country’s point allocation and the running point tally. Post-broadcast users can still access the songs and all event information.

Overall, the only missing component, in my opinion, was inclusion of the commentary on social media. That said, official hashtags were provided throughout the broadcast so it was easy to follow the conversation on Twitter. The app and broadcast provided possibly the best implementation I have seen so far of a two-screen live-broadcast experience. I can only imagine what would happen if big sporting events such as the Champion’s League Final, the World Cup Final and the Super Bowl were broadcast live online, free or for a one-time fee, to anywhere in the world, and had a great supporting app.

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