Why Eurovision is as relevant as ever


This post is part of the On the Move blog series, which brings you posts focusing on the intersection between migration and economics. These posts have been prepared by our Economic Analysis Unit.
This post discusses the relevance of Eurovision. While migration’s centre of gravity is shifting to the East, Australia’s ancestry is still dominated by Europeans.

Executives from the Australian broadcasting service SBS will have taken delight knowing the kitsch, culture and cheese that was last Sunday’s Eurovision broadcast was being actively consumed and celebrated by almost half a million Australians across the nation. Nonetheless, celebrations may have been slightly dampened by the knowledge that our newer migrants are unlikely to have shared this unique viewing experience.

The reason for this lies in the changing nature of migration to Australia. Back in the early 1980s, when Eurovision first graced Australian screens, new arrivals were a substantially different bunch than they are today.

In contrast to its dismal Eurovision results in recent years, the UK was at the top of the table, accounting for almost a third of new arrivals in 1981, and placing it well ahead of New Zealand and Vietnam, each with about one in ten new migrants. Although the post-war European migration boom was by then a long gone phenomenon, there were also some surprisingly strong showings from Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

Fast forward 30 years, and what is most remarkable is the emergence of China and India as major migrant source countries. Compared with 1981–82, both countries have experienced a twenty-fold increase in arrivals, with India going from just under 1500 arrivals in 1981–82 to more than 28 000 in 2011–12, while China went from fewer than 1400 to almost 27 000 new arrivals during the same period. To a lesser extent, the same story was repeated for the Philippines, with more than 13 000 new arrivals in 2011–12 compared with slightly more than 3000 in 1981–82.

Changes in the shares of new migrants, today versus the early 1980s

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Offsetting this are the many other countries that now contribute far fewer new migrants than they used to. Most notable of these is the UK, which has lost its long-standing dominance, and ranked fourth behind New Zealand, India and China as a source of new migrants in 2011–12. Poland, Germany and the Netherlands, which featured quite strongly 30 years ago, have dropped off the radar, while the changing composition of our Humanitarian Programme has meant we now receive far fewer Cambodian and Vietnamese migrants than we used to.

With migration’s centre of gravity shifting to the East, and with so many European countries contributing so little in terms of new migrants, the executives at SBS are faced with two difficult questions. Will Eurovision continue to appeal to a wider Australian audience? Should we shift our allegiances to the less catchy Asian Broadcasting Union Song Festival? The festival is an emerging player in the field of international singing contests, and its big plus is that it is open to Australian performers.
These are challenges for the future, requiring substantial planning, preparation, and dare I say, vision. For the time being at least, those in charge of marketing at SBS can rest easy, as most Australians still identify with a European ancestry. This means that for one night at least, millions of us can associate with, and appreciate the range of talent on display.

Australia’s top ten ancestries (2011 Census)

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As they say in the classics, it’s not over till the bearded lady sings!

In that respect, it was refreshing to see Austria’s Conchita Wurst defy her name and defy convention to end up being voted best on the night. So while much of the appeal of Eurovision comes from its resistance to current musical tastes, and a reluctance to progress beyond the styles of the ’70s, it still manages to capture the diversity and changing values of contemporary society.

Thirty years ago, if Conchita had attempted to perform, it would have sparked howls of outrage and profuse apologies from organisers; perhaps even bringing a premature end to the competition. In today’s more enlightened age, she raised little more than a wry smile, as she took to the stage to rise (like a phoenix) above intolerance and prejudice to punch out a memorable power ballad.

So on Sunday night when she was announced this year’s Eurovision winner, I am sure that there were many more than the 160 or so recent migrants from her corner of the world who would have been cheering her on.