Swedish pop group Abba performing the song Waterloo during the Eurovision song contest in 1974
Swedish pop group Abba performing the song Waterloo during the Eurovision song contest in 1974 © AFP

It rocketed Swedish band Abba to international fame in 1974 and in 2014 created a star of a different kind in Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian transvestite. The Eurovision Song Contest, in which European countries fight it out to promote national pop songs, is the most visible manifestation of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the alliance of Europe’s public service broadcasters.

But with advances in digital technology and the globalisation of broadcasting, the EBU is beginning to value management education as much as it does songs and sequins. It established its training centre, The Eurovision Academy in Switzerland 15 years ago, when many broadcasters from central and eastern Europe entered the alliance. Now the academy has the specific brief of teaching the EBU’s 73 members in 56 countries about security, technology and leadership, according to Nathalie Labourdette, the academy’s head.

After three years of development, Ms Labourdette and her team appointed Iese Business School from Spain and UCLA Anderson from the US to jointly teach a leadership development programme for the first time to broadcasting bosses from across Europe.

What was the main objective?

Strategy in a digital world was the first plank of the programme. In the US digital companies such as Facebook, Google and Netflix are moving rapidly into broadcasting, says Petr Dvorak, chief executive of Czech Television and a course participant. “We expect similar competition in Europe in 12 to 18 months.”

Understanding the draw of these digital companies is critical if Europe’s public broadcasters are to attract younger viewers, believes Kip Meyer, head of custom partnerships in the US for Iese. “Most of their audience is under the age of five or over the age of 50.”

How to implement the changes needed to address these issues was the second aim of the programme, says
Mr Meyer, a task that is rarely easy, he adds. “How do they change their
organisations when in a lot of cases the organisation does not think it is necessary?”

How did the programme work?

Iese and UCLA Anderson designed the programme – which finished a week ago – with the Eurovision Academy, which then marketed the programme to the participating broadcasters.

The three-week programme was delivered over several months with the first week taught in Barcelona, the second in Los Angeles and the third on Iese’s campus in New York.

Each week built on the previous one. “The UCLA week gave them the opportunity to take some of the basic skills they had learnt in Barcelona and think about them differently,” says Kelly Bean, who is the associate dean of executive education at UCLA.

What did the participants learn?

For Mr Dvorak there were three striking lessons. First, that the screen has moved to tablets, phones and computers. Second that all the big digital players are involved in content delivery, and finally that younger consumers want content on demand.

Participants were also encouraged to build on their personal skills, says Ms Bean. “Because many of them were journalists, they ask amazing questions. That’s a real skill,” she says. “They are also great storytellers. Again, that is something that we are always trying to teach [executives].”

What happens next?

One unplanned benefits that many of the participants will work together in future, says Mr Dvorak. Initially this will be in developing their digital strategies, but some are looking at co-production of content. “It’s not very easy because every TV network is a little bit different.”

Iese and UCLA are redesigning the programme for next year, and will formalise the elements that have been particularly successful. Pared back will be business basics such as finance and marketing, and more coaching and personal development will be included.

Mr Dvorak is already putting together a budget for two people, one in programming the other in marketing, to attend the programme next year.

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