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The Un-Universal Song Contest

It’s just over a month since we were toasting Conchita Wurst’s success in Copenhagen and there are already 19 countries signed up for Eurovision 2015. They are: Armenia, Austria (obviously), Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Cyprus, who return to the contest after a year out.

Unfortunately, Sony Music Norway have announced their departure from Melodi Grand Prix in a dispute over the unbundling of individual tracks on the official Eurovision compilation CD.

Ewan Spence at ESCInsight helpfully puts this in layman’s terms:

An unbundled CD allows a customer to buy just the tracks they want, including single tracks. For the 2014 Song Contest, the EBU’s agreement with Universal was altered to allow the compilation CD to be unbundled.

The EBU’s agreement with Universal means the record label can profit from another company’s artist.  Sony Music might also withdraw from Eurovision as a whole, which in turn, might lead to other labels protecting their interests as the dispute gathers momentum.

It’s worth reading Ewan’s detailed article in full by clicking here:

It seems the EBU have been caught off-guard by Sony’s announcement, yet it’s refreshing to read that Norwegian broadcaster, NRK, are in discussion with Eurovision HQ to overturn the ruling. NRK’s Stian Malme believes the new rule could “damage the National Finals in several countries.”

08-alcazae-57The likes of Melodifestivalen, Unser Song and Melodi Grand Prix are all under threat if Sony et al walk away from the contest. If played out for this year’s contest, we would have lost the likes of Basim (Sony), Carl Espen (Sony), Softengine (Sony), Molly Smitten-Downes (Warner) & Sanna Nielsen (Warner), to name but a few. Applying the same outcome to this year’s Melodifestivalen, the top-3 would have been scrubbed out, as both Ace Wilder and Alcazar would have joined Sanna Nielsen on the list of withdrawals.

Many complained about the standard of music at this year’s Contest; imagine the 60th Anniversary Contest in Austria without the likes of Sony and Warner Music entering acts?

I should also point out to one of our readers that Italy’s Arisa is signed to Warner, so that recent quote stating her interest in the Contest is unlikely to be realised unless the EBU come to an agreement with the other labels.

An unnamed EBU spokesperson says in ESCInsight’s piece: “The EBU claim non-exclusive unbundled sales rights for obvious reason.” Those obvious reasons are “…to provide a better service to the public, to download individual tracks right from the online compilation. We believe this also gives all artists a fair shot at having online chart success.”

Am I thinking what everyone else is thinking? This “providing a better service” and “having a fair shot a chart success” spiel is just PR patter. Surely the unbundled sales rights are a neat revenue stream for the EBU’s and Universal’s coffers?

I’m not disputing the commercial success of the compilation album. Nor am I sneering at the EBU or Universal making money from the process – it’s business. However, what I don’t like is the subtle suggestion of a back alley deal aimed at cashing in on other organisations’ work.

This year’s i-Tunes charts suggested the public were more than able to search and download their favourite tracks without the EBU’s assistance, so the “providing a better service” and “online chart success” arguments don’t quite hold up.

With various parties now investigating this story, I think it’s important to know the following:

  1. What percentage of revenue is taken by the EBU (and Universal) per single track download?
  2. How much revenue are the smaller record labels missing out on – by how much have sales decreased compared with previous years?
  3. What percentage of revenue do the original labels receive from the EBU’s unpackaged deal compared to their own branded release?
  4. Do the artists/writers earn different amounts depending on which single version is purchased?
  5. Who first suggested the unbundled deal and were other major labels notified?

If the EBU wish to continue with this arrangement, then I feel a greater share of the proceeds need diverting to the original labels, if indeed it is substantially different. Alternatively, maybe Universal should surrender their share (where necessary) on single downloads.

This isn’t a Unique arrangement:812CfDyj+YL._SL1417_

In the UK, there’s a long-established compilation album called Now That’s What I Call Music! which has existed since 1983. The brand has expanded to other nations and the series has amassed over 100 million album sales worldwide. The NOW! album is compiled and sold by Universal and Sony Music, however some Warner artists do enjoy exposure.  Clearly, each of the labels have financial agreements in place to protect their interests, and given this arrangement has existed for over 40 years, it demonstrates the big-3 record companies are capable of working together.

Therefore, in the case of the unbundled sales rights saga, might Sony’s stance be a case of sour grapes? Are they disappointed at missing out on the lucrative deal that Universal won?

As other record companies join Sony in voicing their discontent (surely Warner), might the EBU, with Universal, aim to replicate the NOW! Music arrangement and ensure a fair distribution of revenue?

What about individual National Final releases?

Melodifestivalen, Melodi Grand Prix (Norsk & Dansk) and even Belgium’s Eurosong published albums this year. Each of the respective national finals, in particular Melodifestivalen, will have featured a large range of artists from competing music labels. The Melodifestivalen album is published by M&L Records, which is jointly owned by Mariann Grammofon and Lionheart International. Mariann Grammofon is owned by Warner Music, and Lionheart is half-owned by Universal. So effectively, there appears to be an agreement in place for the fair distribution of Melodifestivalen’s music.

With Christer Bjorkman’s close affiliation with the EBU, maybe he is well positioned as a potential peacemaker in Eurovision’s unbundled row?

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About Gavster

ESCtips Owner   I’m a qualified designer and dedicate a lot of my free time to keeping the ESCtips show on the road. My family routes allow me to support the UK, Ireland and Italy.


  1. Most business disputes have two sides, but in this one, you may put me 100% behind Team Sony / Warner. From a business and ethical standpoint, the EBU’s position on this is indefensible. Major labels have NEVER licensed singles in the past, to the EBU or anyone else. To do so would have been bonkers. Why in the world would they be expected to do it for the ESC? They’re very lucky that no one withdrew from 2014 over this.

    The ESC Official CD is a compilation album, and should only be sold as such. It should not be used as a means to steal single sales revenue from the labels that signed these performers – not to mention the performers themselves!

    By the way, I’m posting from the USA, but I doubt the NOW albums are available unbundled. The ones over here certainly aren’t.

    • Thanks for sharing your opinion and I have to say I agree with your views.

      I just revisited Amazon and I can confirm that individual tracks can be downloaded from the Now! album.

  2. Great article Gav.This has the potential to cause a lot of trouble.Italy would not be in the contest now if it wasnt for the big labels.RAI needs the biggest artists to represent them so that the viewers tune in.They are trying to build up the audience.Im expecting a Warner artist to get the Italian ticket next year(they have the biggest/most contemporary acts at the moment).If its another Universal signed act then id start to smell something fishy between Universal and RAI(and the EBU?).
    The NOW music example is probably the solution to this like you said.

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