American Song Contest: An Impeccable Opportunity?

After years of false starts followed by an unprecedented wave of momentum, the EBU has seemingly established a substantial foothold on the American market. The crown jewel of this is the American Song Contest, an Eurovision spinoff naturally focused on the United States with representation from all 50 states, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia promised when it hits screens next year

That date is notable (and in stark contrast to the now-officially cancelled Eurovision Asia contest), especially since it comes with the attachment of one of American television’s premiere destinations: NBCUniversal. For perspective, its flagship NBC network is available to 277.8 million Americans (88.9 percent of American TV viewers).

While this is a really good sign for the imminent contest, the American Song Contest is by no means smooth sailing. There are a ton of questions about the format of the show (how artists and songs get selected, how will they get whittled down to the eventual grand final, how will voting work, where will it be shot, etc.) that frankly could take up thousands of words to try to answer, but the biggest potential hurdle standing in the way of the American Song Contest’s longterm prosperity is whether it can hook enough viewers to be worth NBC’s while financially. 

Honestly, that remains to be seen but NBCUniversal seems to already be doing the early ground work for a concerted promotional push closer to the contest’s first qualifying round. NBC is faced with the potential uphill battle of convincing Americans that this show is different from the many other music competition shows that have aired here (including at least three on NBC’s airwaves alone).

While Eurovision has aired here in the past (ViacomCBS-owned cable network Logo carried the show live from 2016-2018 before Netflix picked up the video on demand rights to the 2019 and eventually cancelled 2020 contests), Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (particularly strengthened by Husàvik’s Oscar nomination) was the biggest recent watershed moment for the contest’s concept in the American zeitgeist. 

NBC chose to ride that wave of momentum. Shortly after the EBU announced that the concept was heading to NBC, they made the follow-up announcement that NBCUniversal acquired the rights to broadcast Eurovision 2021 and 2022 on its Peacock streaming service. It’s a textbook example of a win-win situation: the EBU gets Eurovision on its largest platform yet in the United States (Peacock has 42 million sign-ups as of April, according to the Q1 2021 earnings report for NBC’s parent company Comcast) and NBCUniversal gets another piece of live entertainment to draw viewers into its burgeoning streaming service while laying the ground work for promoting the Eurovision/American Song Contest concept. 

A small aside: Logo technically had a broader reach in 2016 — an estimated 50 million homes in January 2016, according to Nielsen —  than Peacock, but Logo has a higher barrier to entry than Peacock does. To get Logo, you’d have to 1. Have a cable subscription and 2. Have a package (typically a higher tiered and specialized package than the most common ones) that includes the channel. This would significantly lower the likelihood of someone either finding out about Eurovision while watching Logo or someone finding out about Eurovision and subscribing to Logo to sample the contest.

In comparison, Peacock is free to watch most of its content (including Eurovision) and Comcast customers get access to the service’s Premium tier at no additional cost. Non-Comcast customers can sign-up for the free tier with little more than an email address, making the barrier to hearing about Eurovision and wanting to sample the show essentially non-existent.

While there are no official viewing figures from NBCUniversal on Eurovision 2021 available as of this writing, early indications suggest that the Eurovision idea did garner some attention at the very least. #Eurovision was in the top five trending topics on Twitter in the United States for the entirety of the Grand Final with approximately three million tweets sent, peaking at the top spot. Additionally, the contest garnered significant media coverage from outlets like The New York Times and NPR that effectively did NBC’s job of marketing that the contest was available on Peacock for them. Even US-based language app Duolingo got in on the act, alluding to Måneskin’s win as an explanation for a 56 percent increase in users learning Italian since their win.

There’s no way of knowing what convinced them to dedicate resources to covering the contest but being able to point readers/listeners to a legal way to watch the contest certainly doesn’t hurt. 

Lastly, there’s something to be said for the American Song Contest’s overall potential. 

It could unite a nation that’s still healing from a divisive presidential election and months of racial unrest around a show that uses music as a common denominator regardless of different preferences in genres. In that regard, it’s very similar to Eurovision’s original public service purpose of uniting an Europe torn apart by World War 2. 

“Love of music is universal and celebration of music in different genres and styles can transcend boundaries and unite people.”

Eurovision executive supervisor Martin Österdahl, as quoted in an early promotional website for the ASC concept

As a whole, live music has been particularly hard hit with the pandemic. Performers have felt the pinch, but their support staff has also faced similar if not worse effects from live gigs essentially being cancelled during the pandemic. The American Song Contest will be yet another opportunity for these individuals to get back to work in their professions. 

There is the possibility that all of this promise will be left as little more than reminders of what could’ve been but the American Song Contest is certainly an opportunity worth seizing.