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May 21, 2015

60 years of Eurovision in 8 tech-aways

The contest introduced colour TV, intercontinental voting systems and uses the world's largest LED displays.


The Eurovision Song Contest is a special occasion where countries like Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and many more come together under the same roof.

The contest, originally created to unite Europe after the war, also started as a technological experiment. On May 24 1956, Switzerland hosted and won the first edition, which was mainly broadcast on radio. TV footage of the event has been lost, apart from the winning entry.

Today, nearly 200 million viewers in Europe watch the show live every year. CBR has put together this ‘making your mind up’ list in the run up of this weekend’s extravaganza.

Why? Because it’s Eurovision.

1. European Broadcasting Union

Underestimated, the EBU is the most technological aspect of the contest itself.

The organisation was founded in 1950 and includes 72 public media outlets in Europe, Asia and North Africa.

After discussions for the ESC started in 1955, with the first edition in 1956, the EBU has been behind several advancements in the radio and TV industries.

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The organisation has helped with the development of AES3, an AES/EBU digital audio interface, and was involved in the development of serial and parallel interfaces for digital video.

The EBU also started the Radio Data System used on FM broadcasting, which has become an international standard of the International Electrotechnical Commission.

The association, a member of the European P2P-Next project, also played a major role in the development of the radio data system (RDS), digital audio broadcasting (DAB), digital video broadcasting (DVB) and high-definition TV (HDTV).

2. Colour TV

Probably the greatest revolution of television after the invention of the technology itself, was the introduction of colour footage.

The first ever contest to be broadcasted in colour was produced by the BBC, live from the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1968. This followed the first ever colour broadcast in the UK which was in 1967 during Wimbledon’s Championship.

But for some countries, like Ireland, Eurovision was the first time they saw a colour television broadcast. Hosted by RTE in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, Eurovison 1971 was the nation’s first colour broadcast.

On March 31 1979, it was time for Israeli IBA to use the contest as a transistor to colour transmissions.

3. Telecommunications

The EBU introduced televoting in 1997, giving it a real push the following year. The breakthrough has allowed televoting to be used in competitions like The X Factor, Idol and Britains Got Talent.

The need to bring together results from different countries across the continent has led to the development of new solutions to analyse the data from these phone calls and text messages.

In 2009, a record of 10,680,682 televotes were received, with no further numbers being revealed since then.

Svante Stockselius, former Executive Supervisor of the ESC said at the time: "Those who question the reliability of the outcome are often amazed when they see how much effort we put in securing a reliable outcome.

"If you organise a competition of this magnitude, you better assure the results are correct."

This year, with the special participation of Australia, Eurovision will push the televoting boundaries to include the Aussies’ votes.

4. Cameras

This year’s edition in Wiener Stadthalle arena, Viena, includes 29 cameras, a record for the contest itself.

In 2009, Karsten Jacobsen, a cameraman involved in the production, received the Award for Excellence by Guild of Television Cameramen Worldwide for a shoot that had no consideration for health and safety.

Jacobsen drove a segway, which he sprinted down the main aisle of the arena in Moscow, reaching the stage, jumping out of the vehicle and carrying on filming the Belarusian entry, all while also holding the latest HD camera attached to his body.

Years before, in 1977, BBC’s camera operators and technicians involved in the production were on strike postponing the contest originally scheduled for April 2 to May 7.

Eventually, UK hopefuls Lynsey De Paul and Mike Moran managed to sing "Rock Bottom" at Wembley Conference Centre and finished second.

5. Lights & LED

Long gone are the days when the venue was decorated with flowers and curtains, typical of a theatre or opera house.

It took until 2004 for the adoption of LED technology to feature in the arenas hosting Eurovision around Europe.

When Russia hosted the contest for the first time in 2009, they built the heaviest (450 tonnes) and widest stage – measuring 100m. The Russians also spent the highest amount on show production ($44m).

The amount of LED panels used on set surprised the industry. Designed by New York-based set designer John Casey, the creation used 30% of all the world’s LED panels available at the time.

In 2014, Denmark set a new record for the number of lights used. To design the "Diamond" shaped stage, the Dannish used over 3,000 lights, more than 2000 light-cues and LED panels spanned over 1200 m2.

Kasper Lange, light designer told that year: "This is by far the biggest lighting production ever in Denmark and one of the biggest in the world."

6. Holograms

Holograms made their Eurovision debut in 2014, when the Romanian contestant started the performance projecting herself as a hologram.

From Denmark’s Copenhagen, Paula Seling was superimposed on screen by the holographic effect that lasted 30 seconds.

She appeared on the right side of the stage, showing up moments later on the left side to join her song partner Ovi while performing "Miracle".

Holographic TV is something under development and according to Holo-TV, 3D ‘holographic’ displays will be made available in mobile phones and TVs by 2016.

7. Energy

To power ‘Europe’s Favourite Show’ takes a lot of electricity. In 2011, Germany organised the event in Düsseldorf Arena, a second division football stadium in the Bundesliga.

The event, which had a satellite inspired stage, was powered off the regular grid by eight independent generators.

In total, they produced a combined output of 6 megawatts, enough to power a town. 35 kilometres of cables were also used to transport and distribute energy across the arena.

8. Nil Point!

Technology doesn’t always work as expected on the night, as in 1962 when the Netherlands were singing their entry "Katinka" and the duo De Spelbrekers were left in the dark for some seconds.

Today a power outage would not occur while the event is being broadcasted. Every edition has a set of generators to keep the show running.

As a last resource, if power is lost for good, producers will used pre-recorded footage from the dress rehearsals to keep Europe entertained.

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