BBC licence-fee payers contribute a significant sum each year to the running costs of the Eurovision Song Contest (which, increasingly usefully, guarantees us a place in the finals). The most recent figures – for 2012 – show the BBC paying £310,000 to the European Broadcast Union. By coincidence, this is around the same amount the EBU pays out to an independent Dutch company, Wow!Works, each year.
Wow!Works holds two contracts with the EBU. One, worth €120,000, is to provide “consultancy services”. The other, worth €312,955, is to provide “new media and communications services”.
And how did it acquire these contracts? No one knows. Wow!Works – which is run by Sietse Bakker, an official Eurovision employee – was just handed them. Neither contract has ever been subject to any sort of competitive tender and Eurovision officials have never been keen on explaining why.
Accusations of cronyism
However, it seems they have now decided that a bit of friendly competition might be just the tonic to put a stop to accusations of cronyism. On 16 October the EBU announced that it would be putting the contracts to run “supporting services” for the song contest itself and its lower-profile sister events out to tender. Announcing it on a Friday evening caught many people off-guard – but not Bakker, who within the hour declared on Facebook his intention to bid.
The four-week window in which the EBU would accept bids happened to clash almost exactly with one of the busiest times of the year for those working on Junior Eurovision, effectively ruling out many internal staff from applying.
What’s more, one clause in the terms and conditions made it appear more like a trawl for free ideas than a serious tender process: “The EBU shall be entitled to use (free from any payment or restriction) all ideas, concepts, proposals, recommendations or other materials.” And if bidders’ ideas did end up being stolen, they couldn’t even complain publicly, because another clause banned them from revealing that they had entered.
Kath Lockett, head of communications for Junior Eurovision, was quick to question the transparency of these arrangements, using the replies beneath Bakker’s Facebook post to ask some pointed questions. Did he, she inquired, ever intend to pay any of the volunteers who wrote the content for the website his company was paid €312,955 to run? And could he give any details as to where the ad revenue generated by the site’s two billion YouTube views ended up?
The result? Lockett’s posts were deleted within 15 minutes and she was fired, effective immediately.
Amid increasing press interest, and persistent comparisons to developments on a larger scale at Fifa, the EBU last week extended the deadline for the tender process until 18 December. Eurovision insiders do not, however, anticipate this causing too many problems for Sietse Bakker: his nickname is not “Sepp Bakker” for nothing.