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Interview: Bjørn Erichsen leaves EBU (part 2/2)

07 January 2010 at 18:41 CET

The TV department of the EBU is doing a lot more than organising the Eurovision Family of Events, in cooperation with committed EBU Members. What happened with those activities under your leadership?

Bjørn Erichsen: "We have over 20 people here at the television department in Geneva, coordinating some 75 co-productions. We coordinate the Eurovision Young Musicians competition, the broadcast of the New Years Concert in Vienna, documentaries, childrens programs and much, much more. The Eurovision Song Contest is only one of them, but it is the jewel in the crown!"

Amongst EBU Members, you are said to have a bit of a Robin Hood status, as you have been very committed to particularly new, small EBU Members from developing countries, rather than the big broadcasters from ‘old Europe'. What has been your motive to do so?


Bjørn Erichsen: "Despite the difficult circumstances at times, the big public service broadcasters are relatively well financed by a variety of sources, such as commercials, license fees or a combination of those two. I like that the EBU's work is based on solidarity, whereas the strong should help the weak. That's why I always paid extra attention to the smaller broadcasters in, mainly, eastern Europe. Apart from the small public service broadcasters, some of the bigger ones in eastern Europe also have a long way to go in the transition from being state channels to actual public service broadcasters. In Russia and Ukraine for example, where the respective EBU Members will have to develop themselves as critical, modern, strong players in their democracies."

You committed a large part of your career to public service television. You've seen the introduction and rise of commercial broadcasters, and the struggle of public service TV that suddenly faced competition. How can public television survive under the main challenges of today, and particularly the financial crisis and the quickly changing media consumption patterns of an upcoming generation?


Bjørn Erichsen: "Let's not forget that the commercial broadcasters are also in deep trouble, as they totally depend on income from commercials. On the other hand, research shows that television consumption is stable. Youngsters between 12 and 25 actually seem to watch more television than before. This, combined with their increasing consumption of internet services, leaves an opportunity for public service broadcasters to let television and the internet integrate. These days, a strong brand is defined by its cross-medial efforts."

"All media are regulated in most countries, both commercial as well as public. But there is a different purpose behind each of them. The commercial logic is that programmes are there to bring viewers from one commercial break to the next. The purpose is profit. In public service broadcasting, the programs are the purpose. But we do need both, so they can automatically regulate each other."


You are going back to Denmark early next year. Without doubt, you will bring home a lot of memories. Can you share one of your most remarkable memories of your time in office with us?"


Bjørn Erichsen: "I am honestly disappointed that we never managed to get the Italians back in. RAI is one of our founding members! In my opinion, RAI is behaving stupid. We invited them for eight consecutive years. I wonder who the game spoiler at RAI is, and I would like to hear the real explanation. I've never heard an argument why not to join the Eurovision Song Contest that actually makes sense."

"But overall, I have good memories. I remember having a meeting in early 2005 in Kyiv. The NTU management left as the old government left. They still planned on hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, but they were way behind. I told a young guy, who was about to be appointed as Executive Producer, that I wanted a meeting with their newly elected president Yushenko to tell him we wanted to pull out. The next day, we sat around the table with half of the incoming government. Just 10 days after the election, I told the president of Ukraine we wanted to pull out. We gave them five days to make up their minds and find a solution. Yushenko asked for three more days, on which we compromised. The newly elected president felt the importance of the contest and they worked hard to get it done. But they managed!"

You often spoke about the vision of having a World Song Contest. Where do we stand on that?


Bjørn Erichsen: "We started offering the format to broadcasters in other parts of the world two years ago. It will happen one day, but it will take time. In the next two years, we expect the format to make it to millions of television sets in several parts of the world. To the colleagues I leave behind, I'd like to say; move forward!"

If you could leave only one small note to your successor in the upper drawer of your desk, what would it say? 


Bjørn Erichsen: "It's about doing the right thing at the right time. Some things are good, but not at the good time. Take care of your timing."

You are not retiring. What is Bjørn Erichsen going to do next?


Bjørn Erichsen: "Bjørn Erichsen is going to be director in his own life. I am looking forward to the joy of being able to say ‘yes thank you' or ‘no thank you', because I can decide for myself. I am looking forward to that."

The team would like to thank Bjørn Erichsen for his time and for his lasting commitment to the EBU and the Eurovision Song Contest. Bjørn, we wish you all the best in the future! As the hosts of the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest said... 

Your job is done

there is nothing more to say

Goodbye, we'll meet again

some sunny day!