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2004/7– DIFFUSION online

Eurovision’s Golden Jubilee
Patrick Jaquin, Deputy Head of Communications, EBU

On 6 June Eurovision will celebrate its 50th anniversary!

On 6 June 1954 Montreux, nestling between vineyards and Lake Geneva, was the setting for the first Eurovision transmission: an outside broadcast of the Narcissus Festival and a parade of 25 floats covered with flowers, yodellers, singers and a dozen brass bands. This was followed by a 90-minute guided tour of the Vatican, which finished with a homily, in Latin, by Pope Pius XII, on the promises and the dangers of television, before he blessed the audience, urbi et orbi, in six languages.

In the next few days there was the Palio in Sienna, a party for refugee children in the Netherlands, an athletics meeting in Glasgow, a youth camp on the Rhine with the participation of Chancellor Adenauer, an agricultural fair in Denmark, a procession in the Grand’Place in Brussels, the Royal Navy parading past Queen Elizabeth, and a horse show in London.

Altogether, 18 programmes were broadcast during this first “European Television Season” of European programme exchanges, at the heart of which were the nine programmes exchanged for the World Football Cup. Watching these, people were glued to the “box” in homes and pubs and in front of shop windows.

“Lille Experiment”

Throughout these live broadcasts, engineers who had set up shop in the Lille town hall tower strove feverishly to prevent or repair network breakdowns. This control position gave its name to the operation: the “Lille Experiment”.

For everyone else it was Eurovision, a word invented by an English journalist, George Campey, who, in an article published in the London Evening Standard on 5 November 1951, had written concerning a BBC programme relayed by Dutch television: “Eurovision is a system of cooperation for the exchange of television programmes between the countries of Western Europe, including Britain”.

The impact of the Season was due not only to the programmes, some of which were not particularly striking, but rather to the intention to repeat the experiment. After all, the network that had been set up for the Season was of a more permanent nature than the circuits patched together for the coronation of Elizabeth II.

However, it was the coronation ceremony that released television from the straitjacket of different standards. It was then it became European, with thousands of French, Belgian, Dutch, German and, of course, British viewers witnessing - for the first time in history in such great numbers - the crowning of a sovereign.

After the first Season of exchanges in 1954, nothing could stop the tidal wave of Eurovision. Europe wanted to turn its back on the war, people were starting to travel again, to cross borders, to trade. International exchanges were the order of the day, and television reflected this new atmosphere.

The heads of Eurovision had set two key engines in motion: the main lines of international exchanges and the pooling of technical facilities. At the same time an ident was adopted: a starburst emblem accompanied by the opening ritornello from Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum.

People who had not thought of it before were considering buying their own set.

Pivotal date

To try and establish when the idea of Eurovision first germinated, we can go back to 8 September 1953. On that day in Lime Grove, in a meeting room of the London television centre, for the first time delegates from Europe’s television nations got together and decided to organize the European Television Season in the summer of 1954.

It was then planned that each country should supply a programme to be relayed live in all the other participating countries.

The committee

At the meeting of the Administrative Council held in Monte Carlo in November, Marcel Bezençon (SSR) explained the reasons that had prompted the study group to request, unanimously, that a “television committee” be set up. As the delegates were not convinced of the usefulness of such a committee, the discussion dragged on and on. In the end, the Council proposed the setting up of a programme committee, which would be accepted by the General Assembly providing that the new committee concentrated mainly on television. 

While planning for the Eurovision Summer Season in June continued, Marcel Bezençon - together with the help of René McCall of the BBC and Wladimir Porché of RTF - now started to prepare the Programme Committee for action.

In February 1954, at the first meeting of the Programme Committee, it was decided that the Committee’s Bureau should be run by the eight representatives of the organizations in the television countries (RTB/BRT/Belgium, DR/Denmark, RTF/France, ARD/Germany, RAI/Italy, NTS/Netherlands, SSR/Switzerland, and BBC/United Kingdom). Two working parties were established, one for the broadcasting of films on television (GTV/1) under Sergio Pugliese (RAI), and the other for live broadcasts (GTV/2), chaired by Jean d’Arcy. A planning group, chaired by Edouard Haas (SSR), had been added to GTV/2.


The first stumbling block the Programme Committee came up against was a concept for planning the programmes. At a television forum in Sandpoort (Netherlands) comprising television journalists from eight European countries, only a few topics likely to be of international interest were found; the British journalists merely suggested “Another Coronation”.

The clearing of films and technical equipment through customs posts proved to be a source of problems, not to mention the performers. For instance, the BBC was planning to contribute its famous variety show Café Continental, presented by unionized performers who, because of the expected increase in the audience figures (close on three and a half million viewers), demanded an increase of 50% in their fee. A compromise was found: the matter would be settled by the EBU Administrative Council. On the other hand, there was no agreement in Denmark with the Tivoli artistes. The programme Rendezvous in Copenhagen was cancelled and replaced by a prize cattle show, eliciting this comment from Der Spiegel: “Thank God cows don’t belong to unions.”

Despite everything, the EBU was determined to make a success of the exchange season. The most reliable way of ensuring this was the planned coverage of the World Football Cup in Berne, for which Marcel Bezençon had negotiated the television rights with the Chairman of the Swiss Football Association, Mr Thomma. “How much are you offering?” asked the latter. “Nothing,” said Bezençon. “Are you joking?” Marcel Bezençon was not joking, but nonetheless he offered to make up any shortfall in gate money to a maximum of 10,000 francs.

Leaflets announcing the broadcasts and advertising television in general had been published in the various participating countries. In Germany, the price of television sets was falling significantly. Obviously the television industry also thought the time had come for a breakthrough.

The contest

Following the success of the Summer Season, Marcel Bezençon - together with the Committee’s Vice-Chairmen: Jean d’Arcy, director of French Television and René C. McCall, deputy director of BBC Television - was convinced that it was necessary to take a new initiative every year to promote television. 

At the end of January 1955, the EBU Programme Committee, meeting in Monte Carlo, approved two projects for further study: a European song contest and a Eurovision cup for amateur entertainers (Top Town programme); the latter, less convincing than the former, fell by the wayside.

Meeting in the Palazzo Corsini in Rome on 19 October 1955, and chaired by Sir Ian Jacob, director general of the BBC, the EBU General Assembly agreed to the organizing of a European Grand Prix - the Eurovision Song Contest - to be held, on a proposal of the Swiss delegation - in Lugano in the spring of 1956.

Representing Switzerland, Lys Assia won with Refrains: lyrics by Emile Gardaz and music by Geo Voumard.

With this contest, the EBU set out to really make its presence felt on the European level. Mission accomplished: the Eurovision Song Contest is coming up to its 49th edition in May 2004, to be held in Istanbul with the participation of 36 countries - a record figure - and is expected to attract 100 million viewers.


The Contest has had spin-offs in the form of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, the Eurovision Competition for Young Musicians, and the Eurovision Competition for Young Dancers, without forgetting the famous New Year Concert which will celebrate its 47th edition in 2005.

In 1998 the EBU Award was presented to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for its performances of this traditional concert.

In addition to the programmes produced expressly for Eurovision, we have gone from the unsteady and slightly blurred black-and-white pictures reserved for a privileged few to News Exchanges that reach over 350 million viewers. Extensive coverage of live events is offered via one of the most reliable communication networks of its kind that provides permanent coverage of Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region, together with ad hoc coverage of the African continent and the Pacific Rim. 

There are five different categories of News Exchange: news, sports news, youth news, regional exchanges and live events.


The coordination of sports and entertainment transmissions is one of Eurovision’s main activities. Eurovision’s success in this field is demonstrated by the number of broadcasters who turn to Eurovision for programme feeds for the Olympic Games, UEFA Champions League football matches, Formula 1 races, and ATP Tennis, to mention just a few.

From news to sport to special events, Eurovision is the strongest link in the content distribution chain.

Eurovision is the world's largest provider of international transmission services of live sports and news events and one of the most reliable communication networks of its kind.

From a simple start in 1954 allowing television stations in eight countries to share news reports over the newly-named “Eurovision” network, the News Exchanges today offer a platform over which more than 30,000 news items per year are exchanged between Eurovision participants. More than 100 items air daily on the News Exchanges, providing an invaluable supplement to broadcaster’s own news pro-duction capabilities.

Did the inventors of Eurovision see so far ahead? Ever modest, Marcel Bezençon said: “Eurovision, a simple idea that has succeeded” – and it has for 50 years!

Eurovision in figures

More than 100,000 transmissions in 2003. 
15,000 hours of sport and cultural events transmitted per year. 
30,000 individual news items exchanged. 
50 paths on five satellites. 
70 satellite gateways worldwide.
More than 700 digital decoders in operation. 
Over 300 television stations equipped with direct reception.

© EBU 2004
Latest update 22.07.2004