Playing With Numbers – Predictions for the 2015 Eurovision Semi Final contests

Adrian Kavanagh, 7th April 2015

As I used this model to successfully predict the Azerbaijan win at the 2011 contest and also Denmark’s win in 2013,  I am going to use this to tease out who the likely qualifiers will be now that we know the running order for the two 2014 Eurovision semi-finals. Those of you who have read The Eurovision Handbook 2013 (as well as the 2014 edition of this – sadly low purchase levels of this notwithstanding…) will know that I used this same model to (sort of!) successfully predict most of the qualifiers for the 2013 and 2014 final.

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In terms of working out who may win this year’s two Eurovision semi-finals/predicting which countries might qualify from these (and hopefully making a few bob in the process) various factors can be looked at, but the three most significant ones are

  • the song quality (which I use Eurovision betting odds as a means of trying to quantify this),
  • past voting histories (involving the different countries – the semi-finalists themselves and the three Big 5/Host countries drawn to vote in these – that will be voting in the different semi-finals)
  • position in the semi-final running order
  • performance quality (both in the show itself and the previous night’s dress rehearsal/jury final, which is the contest that the Eurovision juries get to vote on)

As only a crystal ball can predict the quality and impact of the different acts’ Eurovision performances at this stage, this analysis will just focus on past voting history, draw position and betting odds as a means of determining which countries are likely to do well in the two Eurovision semi-finals of 2015.

Betting odds: Ultimately the key determinants of success at a Eurovision contest relate to song quality, performance quality and the impact of a song/the manner in which a song is presented on the Eurovision stage. The factors relating to an act’s performance on the night cannot be quantified without the help of a crystal ball, as noted earlier. Song quality is also a factor that is hard to measure, but a variety of methods might be employed to determine rough estimates of this. Pre-contest internet polls could be used, but, as with the problems generally associated with online surveys, these do have their limitations. In general, these do favour the countries most beloved by the Eurovision fans – as for example, Sweden! The closest approximation of song quality can probably be offered in terms of contest betting odds. As punters will want a return on a financial investment, it makes sense that they will be backing (what they perceive to be) the best entries in the contest in order to get this return. In effect, as punters are putting “their money where their mouth is”, this is probably as good an approximation of song quality, or perceptions on this, as is available. The link between betting odds and song quality/impact is not in keeping with the principles of exact science, but betting odds do at least offers some means of quantifying song quality. A number of contest analysts would argue that betting odds often offer the most potent means of estimating likelihood of contest success, as evident in the number of recent contests that have been won by the pre-contest favourite. This also allows for the identification of highly tipped entries, such as this year’s entries from Slovenia and Estonia, whose likelihood of doing well in the competition would not be evident from a study of prior voting patterns for those countries. The means of transforming the Final betting odds into Eurovision points was to identify the bookie rankings of the different countries taking part in the each of the two different semi-finals – for this purpose, the rankings of the different countries taking part in the two semi-finals in terms of their overall chances of winning this year’s Eurovision were identified using the details provided on the Oddschecker website (as of 7th April 2015). Points were assigned to the countries occupying different rankings in the bookie odds based on the average number of points earned by countries finishing in that position in all Eurovision semi-final contests held since the introduction of the two semi-final system in 2008.

While song quality obviously matters, other factors – namely the impact of bloc/geographical voting (as measured in different countries’ past voting histories) and a country’s position in the contest running order – can impact on a country’s chances of doing well in a Eurovision contest and in relation to Eurovision semi-finals these factors – especially in marginal cases – can prove to be the difference between a country qualifying for a Eurovision Final, or missing out on this.

Past voting histories: During the televoting era, countries have shown a remarkable consistency in terms of the other countries that they vote for. This is probably most evident in the case of Greece and Cyprus’s tendency to award each other douze points in Eurovision contests, but similar trends can be observed for most other European contestants, including Ireland who showed a remarkable consistency during the “full-blown” televoting era in awarding its higher Eurovision points to Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and the United Kingdom, as well as Denmark and Sweden, especially from 2005 onwards. Such has been the consistency in Eurovision countries’ voting patterns during the 2000s that one can easily suggest the existence of different, geographically-based, voting blocs, which tend to award especially high numbers of points to certain countries (not necessarily always other bloc members) and from which bloc members can expect to attain their highest Eurovision points tallies.

The impact of such “bloc voting” has been tempered in recent years by the reintroduction of a professional jury voting element as part of a 50-50 voting system involving televoting and jury votes. But given that televoting still accounts for half of the total votes being awarded by countries (although the changed rules dictating how televote and jury vote scores are combined to calculate a country’s overall Eurovision points has further diluted the impact of geographical voting) , the past voting histories of countries will give a strong indicator as to the destination of their Eurovision votes in the 2015 semi finals. This also suggests that some countries – due to an ability to score highly within one, or more, Eurovision voting blocs – will start the contest at somewhat of an advantage to countries such as France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, San Marino, Spain and Belgium, which have struggled to win Eurovision points over the past decade and half. As already noted, the change in the rules introduced at the 2013 contest as to how televotes and jury votes will be combined has blunted the impact of this bloc voting in a number of cases. For instance, low jury scores for Poland in the 2014 contest meant that they failed to win any Eurovision points from countries, such as Ireland, despite winning/ranking high in those countries’ televotes.

To analyse this, I calculated, and ranked, the average number of points awarded by all the countries voting in the semi-finals since the introduction of televoting in 1998 to the 33 different countries that are taking part in these two semi-finals, but only looking at the countries taking in the semi-final that the different countries will be voting in. This ranking is then used to determine the semi-finalists that the different voting countries are likely to award their 12 points, 10 points…and 1 point to in these semi-finals, based on past voting histories. Hence, in the case of Semi Final 2, the Irish 12 points is expected to go to Lithuania (with an average points tally of 7.67 from Ireland to Lithuanian acts since the introduction of televoting in 1998), the semi-finalist that has enjoyed the highest average support level from Ireland in recent Eurovision contests. The next highest ranked country, Latvia (6.08 points average), would be predicted to win 10 points from Ireland, followed by the next highest ranked country, Poland (5.62 points average), which would be predicted to win 8 points from Ireland, and so on. The predicted points’ destinations for all the other 19 voting countries in the Semi Final 2 are estimated in a similar manner (with a similar process used for the Semi Final 1 voting countries). As Australia has never taken part/voted in a Eurovision contest prior to 2015, there are no voting history details to apply here, so some standardising of these vote calculations was required to take account of this. These points are then combined to calculate the overall predicted point tallies for the semi-finalists based solely on the past voting histories of the countries voting in these different contests, as noted in an earlier post.    

Position in the Running Order: As discussed in greater detail elsewhere on this site, in The Eurovision Handbook 2013 and The Eurovision Handbook 2014, vote patterns for past contests suggest that a country’s position in the show running order will (in part) determine how well they do in that contest, with certain positions in the contest running order (generally positions later in the running order) being associated with a stronger likelihood of success/higher average points level as against other draw positions (generally those in the earlier part of the show). In most cases a good draw position does not offer an unsurpassable advantage and this can be balanced by the quality of the entries involved and strong/weak performances on the night(s) in question or indeed past voting histories. But, as discussed elsewhere, a good draw position has been shown to give a notable advantage to different acts in the past, all things being even. For the purpose of these predictions, the average number of points won from different draw positions in all of the Eurovision Semi Final contests (since the introduction of the two semi-final system) was calculated and these point levels assigned to the countries selected to perform in those positions at the May 19th and May 21st semi-finals. The impact that the running order can have on the entries in this year’s Eurovision semi-finals has been discussed in greater detail in an earlier post on this site.

Combining the voting bloc/history patterns with the impact of draw position and the betting odd weightings (and giving the bookie odd rankings a 50% weighting), the following result would be predicted for Semi Final 1:

Odds Running Order History Total
RUSSIA 117 72 127 108
ESTONIA 158 70 39 106
FINLAND 140 67 43 97
ARMENIA 95 54 113 89
GREECE 67 85 123 86
ROMANIA 75 94 87 83
ALBANIA 80 94 53 77
BELGIUM 106 37 57 76
SERBIA 47 69 107 68
GEORGIA 43 114 54 63
BELARUS 63 55 53 58
DENMARK 37 91 62 57
THE NETHERLANDS 32 71 66 50
HUNGARY 25 71 74 49
FYR MACEDONIA 53 54 32 48
MOLDOVA 21 64 71 44

In this semi-final, the advantage accorded to countries such as Armenia, Greece and Serbia by past voting histories is outstripped by the higher rankings accorded to Estonia and Finland in the bookie odds, though this analysis suggests that all five of these countries would be likely qualifiers. Given their high ranking amongst the bookies and their strong position in relation to past voting trends/histories, Russia, is predicted to just edge out victory in this semi-final, but Estonia – by virtue of their higher ranking in terms of bookie odds – would be predicted to run Russia very close in this regard. On these figures Russia, Estonia, Finland, Armenia, Greece, Romania, Albania, Belgium, Serbia and Georgia are predicted to fill the ten semi-final qualification positions. If any of these predicted qualifiers should miss 0ut – and being mindful of the narrow margin separating these from the countries falling just outside these Top 10 qualification berths – then Belarus and Denmark would seem to be the most likely countries to replace them, with The Netherlands, Hungary and FYR Macedonia also in contention. While Moldova does not by any means seem to be wholly out of contention, this would seem to be the country that has the least chance of qualifying out of this semi-final, based on this analysis. (It is interesting to note that 2013 contest winners, Denmark, are predicted to suffer the “curse of last year’s hosts” here in terms of missing out on qualification, but there is no doubt that Denmark is not helped by the fact that so many countries from the Viking/Baltic bloc are voting in the other semi-final. The song is pants also…) The fact that Australia will be voting in this semi-final could prove crucial in a tight contest for the final qualification slots – a high score from the Australian televote/jury vote (most notably the much desired douze points) could prove to be the difference between qualifying, or not. Of course, if any of the countries ranked in the 11th-17th positions in this analysis were to receive especially high scores from the voting juries (a factor this model cannot take account of) then this would push these countries into strong contention for a position as one of the qualifiers from this semi-final.   

Combining the voting bloc/history patterns with the impact of draw position and the betting odd weightings (and giving the bookie odd rankings a 50% weighting), the following result would be predicted for Semi Final 2:

Odds Running Order History Total
SWEDEN 164 90 161 145
NORWAY 121 84 123 112
AZERBAIJAN 109 55 143 104
SLOVENIA 144 93 16 99
ICELAND 98 71 96 91
LATVIA 83 70 102 84
MALTA 70 66 98 76
CYPRUS 78 71 53 70
ISRAEL 65 68 75 68
POLAND 39 112 66 64
LITHUANIA 55 63 74 62
IRELAND 49 53 72 56
SWITZERLAND 33 93 60 55
MONTENEGRO 45 70 17 44
PORTUGAL 17 69 36 35
SAN MARINO 22 36 29 27
CZECH REPUBLIC 26 53 0 26

In this semi-final, there is a clear winner – with Sweden scoring highly as the best ranked country based on bookie odds, but also being the country that enjoys the strongest advantage coming in to this semi-final due to past voting history trends, especially given the high proportion of Viking/Baltic Bloc countries taking part/voting in this semi-final (including Ireland, the United Kingdom and Malta, as well as countries such as Iceland, Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania). There is a clear margin between Sweden and Norway and Azerbaijan but these other two countries are also seen to be well clear of the counties occupying the next three berths based on these model predictions, namely Slovenia, Iceland and Latvia. The final four countries that would be qualifying for the final based on these model predictions would be Malta, Cyprus, Israel and Poland. But the margin separating these from the predicted non-qualifiers is rather slight and hence these could not be taken to be nailed on qualifiers. Lithuania, Ireland and Switzerland, as well as Montenegro, would be the likeliest to benefit if one, or more, of these countries were to fall out of the qualification positions, with Portugal, San Marino and the Czech Republic facing the biggest struggle in terms of qualifying from this semi-final, based on this analysis. The fact that Australia will be voting in this semi-final could prove crucial in a tight contest for the final qualification slots – a high score from the Australian televote/jury vote (most notably the much desired douze points) could prove to be the difference between qualifying, or not. Of course, if any of the countries ranked in the 11th-17th positions in this analysis were to receive especially high scores from the voting juries (a factor this model cannot take account of) then this would push these countries into strong contention for a position as one of the qualifiers from this semi-final.

This analysis suggests that Ireland will narrowly miss out on qualifying for the final, with the main problem here having to do with a particularly unfavourable position in the contest running order, although the bookie odds rankings would also have Ireland falling outside the qualification positions. Against that, Molly Sterling’s “Playing With Numbers” may prove to be a song that appeals more to the voting juries than Ireland’s entries in 2012, 2013 and 2014 did. And there is always the prospect that the Australia televote/jury vote could prove to be especially favourable to Ireland. It is also worth noting that ballad style entries from Ireland, such as “Playing With Numbers”, have in the past proven to attract more votes than more uptempo entries have from countries taking part/voting in Ireland’s semi-final, such as Switzerland, Norway and Israel. But there is no doubt that the awful second position in the running order (at the start of a run of seven ballad-style) entries does pose a major challenge for Molly Sterling in this semi-final. 

So to conclude, this study offers a prediction as to how the 33 countries participating in the two semi-finals may fare in these. Due to a lack of a functioning crystal ball, this analysis cannot assess the impact of a vital element of Eurovision success or failure, namely the quality and impact of the performance on the Eurovision stage. A stage act that packs a strong impact and a strong vocal performance on the jury show/public show nights can push previously unfavoured acts into contention, but a weak live performances can in turn nix the prospects of contest favourites. And the growing influence being accorded to the voting juries, arising from changed rules on how each country’s televote and jury vote rankings are to be combined, is another aspect that may further skew this picture, as noted earlier. This is a very long-winded way of saying that if you decide to bet on the Final results based on this study and you make a few bob, then that’s great and mine’s a red lemonade (with the fizz taken out – the bubbles go to my head). On the other hand, if your bet goes horribly wrong, then you’ll probably find me in deepest Antarctica… 😮

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3 Responses to “Playing With Numbers – Predictions for the 2015 Eurovision Semi Final contests”

  1. 2015 Eurovision Final results estimate: Sweden? Russia? Azerbaijan? Italy? Who Knows? | Adrian Kavanagh's Blog Says:

    […] win at the 2011 contest  and Denmark win in 2013, while this same model correctly identified 17 of the 20 qualifiers from this year’s semi finals. Now that we know the running order for the 2015 Eurovision Final I am going to use this to try and […]

  2. Sunshine or Darkness? – Predictions for the 2016 Eurovision Semi Final contests | Adrian Kavanagh's Blog Says:

    […] As I used this model to successfully predict the Azerbaijan win at the 2011 contest,  Denmark’s win in 2013 and Sweden’s win in 2015,  I am going to use this to tease out who the likely qualifiers will be now that we know the running order for the two 2016 Eurovision semi-finals. Those of you who have read The Eurovision Handbook 2013 (as well as the 2014 edition of this – sadly low purchase levels of this notwithstanding…) will know that I used this same model to (sort of!) successfully predict most of the qualifiers for the 2013 and 2014 finals. This same model also succeeded in predicting most of the semi-final qualifiers in the 2015 contest. […]

  3. Dying to Try or Trying to Qualify?: Estimates for the 2017 Eurovision Semi Final contests | Adrian Kavanagh's Blog Says:

    […] of!) successfully predict most of the qualifiers for the 2013 and 2014 finals. This same model also succeeded in predicting most of the semi-final qualifiers in the 2015 contest. It was not as successful last year, however; in part because of the growing clout/impact of the […]

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