Behind the Scenes at Univision 2024 By Rosie Willoughby

On 23rd March, the fourth annual Univision Song Contest was hosted at the University of Surrey’s Stag Hill campus. Bringing together students from the Film Production and Broadcast Engineering degree, StagTV and Surrey Stage Crew, this competition airs live from University Hall and the TV studio. I was lucky enough to go behind-the-scenes at the 2024 Final, and watch the excitement unfold over the course of the 85-minute broadcast.

There’s an immense amount of work put into the production; for the March Final, planning starts in September. For third-year students on the Film Production degree, who need to complete a creative project as part of their course, Univision has become an outside opportunity that they can incorporate into their coursework. From my observation, it looks like a brilliant opportunity to enhance professional skills - on the largest student-run production in the UK.

Behind the camera

Inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest, representatives from five universities took part to showcase their talents: Rhirhi from ACM, Jamie Bland and AKA Reckless from BIMM Music Institute, The 705 from Leeds Conservatoire, On the other side of the unknown from the University of Exeter, and Katie Martin for the University of Surrey.

I arrived at the gallery with thirty minutes to spare before the show began. Connected to the sounds, lighting and vision control rooms as well as the TV studio, there was an air of controlled chaos as students bustled through to set up the broadcast. Connected through fibre optic cables to University Hall, where the live show was taking place, it was a complex operation, involving (sometimes not so) hushed discussions over headsets.

Professional grade equipment has been donated to the TV studio, which opened in January 2022, and has since become a staple for university broadcasts such as Surrey Decides and the Vice-Chancellor’s Awards. With thirteen cameras, autocues and software such as CuePilot and Rundown Creator, which is used in professional broadcasting, working on Univision offers real experience to boost students' entry into the industry.

Inside the gallery

In the thirty seconds before the broadcast goes live on YouTube, the room descends into silence and hurried directions, preparing for the next hour and a half of quick decisions and concentration. It becomes calm, with a thrill of urgency beneath the surface.

Opening the show, there is a brief segment featuring the five university acts, followed by a pre-recorded VT of Steve the Stag making his way through Guildford train station, having received gifts from each of the competitors: a narrative that leads into the introductory VTs of each act before their performances. Alys, the winner of Univision 2021, opens with her song ‘The Other Woman’ as the acts are introduced to the audience. In the rehearsals, the team identified the optimum camera shots to use in the live show, which they adjusted with a moments’ notice in response to the movements of the performers and lighting effects.

Univision Winner 2021, Alys, singing at the Final in 2024

Over the next 85 minutes, a million potential hiccups are rectified by the quick thinking of those in the gallery. When the behind-the-scenes VT doesn’t play as expected, the presenters are able to play it off by quickly moving on to the live studio interval show.

It’s an ambitious production: a live broadcast occurring on two opposite sides of campus, seven musical performances, interviews, a game show and a dance performance by the award-winning KISS Society. While I watched the show unfold from the gallery, I could feel the passion and effort that has been put in by every person in the room.

Inside the gallery

It’s safe to say that in the current political climate, the arts are being sidelined more and more each day. From ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber’ to English local authorities spending 43% less in real terms on arts councils between 2009 and 2020, it is devastating to see the damage that is being done to media and the arts.

Univision is the advert for the government and local authorities; the proof and the promise that the future of the industry is in safe hands with these students; as long as they are given the chance. The new TV studio and donated equipment enables productions like this one to take place. In one show, Univision showcases the music scene of five universities across the country, as well as offering professional experience in broadcasting, production and as stage crew.

Univision is the advert for the government and local authorities; the proof and the promise that the future of the industry is in safe hands with these students...
Univision 2024 winner, the University of Surrey's Katie Martin

There’s so much pride in the students and their facilities, and when the broadcast ended, the gallery exploded in cheers like they had just landed a man on the moon.

The Univision team, 2024

Here at The Stag, we’re so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the production, and for the photography from the event.

To find out more information about Univision, find their website, here; and watch this year's Final on YouTube, here.