Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has dramatically reduced its formerly flamboyant run-up to the Eurovision Song Contest, known as “Melodi Grand Prix.” Instead of touring the country over a series of weekends, all three semi-finals were to be broadcast live from Oslo this weekend. The final will be held next weekend, with the winner bound for Eurovision itself in Copenhagen in May.
In paring back on the travel and extravagance of rigging up and down for big live productions from north to south, NRK claims to be saving at least NOK 7 million. Ticket sales for the semi-finals in Oslo have been slow, though, with newspaper Aftenposten reporting on Friday that more than a thousands seats were unsold at the show’s venue, Folketeatret, which can accommodate just over 1,000 people at each of the three shows.
The final will be held in the Oslo Spektrum Arena next Saturday, where there’s also quite a lot of seats still available. It can hold thousands more than Folketeatret, but only around 3,000 tickets had been sold as of late this week.
Organizers at NRK claimed they weren’t worried about a lack of enthusiasm among those who do turn up, though, and expected strong TV ratings as usual. They admit the turnout is much lower than in places like Bodø and Sarpsborg, where Melodi Grand Prix was mounted earlier and was a very big deal when it rolled into relatively small towns.
“It’s clear we see a difference in Oslo, where there already are so many other things to do, and other concerts on offer,” Stian Malme, NRK’s project leader for the Eurovision run-up, told Aftenposten. Around 4,000 people bought tickets when Melodi Grand Prix was held in Bodø in 2009, for example, and there have been similar sold-out shows in Ørlandet and Larvik.
NRK was nonetheless working hard to hype the performers, who must sing a new song that later will compete against other new songs from almost every country in Europe and in other nations tied to the European Broadcasting Union. They already have been through some outdoor trials, singing their songs on a stage set up at Egertorget in Oslo after first being unveiled in late January.
The 15 songs and their performers were selected for the semi-finals by a jury of music professionals set up by NRK. They went through a total of more than 600 entries and settled on songs described by some critics as “sugar-sweet pop,” some rock and electro-pop. Performers include Linnea Dale, formerly of Donkeyboy, and the rock group El Cuero, which warmed up for Neil Young last year. Another singer is Elisabeth Carew, sister of former football pro John Carew.
NRK has also cut out the use of an external producer, Eyeworks Dinamo, and done the whole job itself, to save money. Dinamo was predictably disappointed, and claimed other former host cities were, too. Not all, though, with Sarpsborg ending up with a deficit after hosting what’s often called the “Eurovision circus” in 2011. The City of Fredrikstad was asked to take it over but turned it down.
“It’s sad if we’ve lost the ‘whole country’ feeling,” Charlo Halvorsen, head of entertainment at NRK and husband of former Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen, told Aftenposten. He said NRK simply felt a need to “renew” Melodi Grand Prix, “and landed on this solution.”
Norway’s winning entry to the actual Eurovision Song Contest, being held in Copenhagen this year since Denmark won last year’s contest, is due to take part in the second semi-final on Thursday evening May 8. The Eurovision final will be aired Saturday May 10.