Italian state broadcaster RAI’s president Marinella Soldi, who is a former CEO of Discovery Networks Southern Europe, has a longstanding rapport with the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s the show on which she remembers first seeing ABBA, one of her favorite pop bands, “with their white flares.”
Soldi more recently was mesmerized by Måneskin and the swagger of the Italian glam-rock band, which by triumphing last year at Eurovision, against all odds, caused RAI to be host broadcaster of the 2022 edition of this massive event.
In a rare interview, Soldi talked about the politically heated lead-up to this year’s contest and the European Broadcasting Union’s decision to ban Russia from competing at Eurovision after the country’s invasion of Ukraine. She also noted that, though the war is causing pain and suffering in Europe and throughout the world, Eurovision’s audience still has a “fundamental human right” to joy.
Do you think banning Russia was the right decision?
It’s so hard to know what the right answer is, but I think it must stay non-political. And the decisions that were taken were taken with plenty of ponderation and great timing. And that’s why they are not part of this event.
Simply put: how big of a deal is this year’s Eurovision for RAI?
Massive! For all sorts of reasons. They say that winning the Eurovision contest is a poisoned chalice, because on the one hand you celebrate; on the other you think: ‘that’s us next year, having to organize it!’ It’s massive, but fortunately the Sanremo Festival is a great school. We are an EBU case study as to how this year Sanremo managed to attract its highest ratings in 23 years. But of course doing it in an arena, involving 40 delegations coming in, and in a new location. It’s a big deal from that perspective.
Of course, it’s the first Eurovision being held fully in-person without limitations since the pandemic struck.
Yes, there is this zeitgeist around it. We first experienced this at Sanremo. That is the whole notion of actually being able to hug people, dance with people and just be around people. It’s like lifting the lid off a pressure cooker. There is this great need for this! Possibly because it’s so international, it also has a travel element to it. It’s also people coming from all over. And being able to arrive from all over. Suddenly we are back to hearing that Babel of languages that makes one sigh with relief and say, “Ok, maybe we are going back to normal.”
Before last year’s Måneskin victory, how big was Eurovision in Italy? My impression is that local enthusiasm was quite muted. What types of ratings are you expecting for the show in Italy this year?
For me Eurovision is an absolute “must-see.” But in Italy, Sanremo has way outshined it. It hasn’t been so central. But everything changed last year with Måneskin. It’s not just the victory of Italy. It’s Måneskin themselves and the incredible success and exposure that they’ve had. From a focus perspective it positions RAI as more inclusive to the younger generation. Without a doubt that is a challenge for all public service broadcasters.
Do you expect the ratings in Italy to be better than they were last year?
Yes, we had had a 25% audience share last year, which was its highest ever…Of course it will peak during the Måneskin performance.