The Geography of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest

Adrian Kavanagh, 29th October 2015

Looking ahead to Ireland’s debut at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Sofia (Bulgaria) on 21st November 2015, this post offers a brief review of the contest’s history, while specifically drawing out the geographical dimensions of this. This finds that the membership of the contest has been much more fluid than for the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest, with the contest becoming increasingly dominated by Former Soviet states over the 2005-2013 period after having been more dominated by Western states in the first two years of its existence (2003 and 2004). Wins for Malta (2013) and Italy (2014), as well as debuts at the contest for a number of more western states (such as Slovenia, San Marino, Ireland, Australia* and Italy) over the last three years, have seen a growing western reorientation in recent years. Despite this more recent trend, the Former Soviet states of Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Russia and Ukraine are shown to have dominated the contest – especially over the past decade. The post also looks at voting patterns at the contest and finds that the geographical (“friends and neighbours” and “diaspora”) voting trends associated with (senior) Eurovision are also evident at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Finally, the geography of support for Irish acts at the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest is discussed, as a means of teasing out potential support patterns for the Irish act at November’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest. 

This year sees Ireland take part in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in that contest’s history. This contest is open to artists aged between 10 and 15 (initially the lower age limit was 8) and recognises the fact that a lower age limit of 16 has been in place for the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest since 1990 (a response to concerns over the young ages of the French and Israeli contestants at the 1989 contest). The format of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest is largely similar to that of its senior counterpart, although there are some interesting differences. A national language rule is in place for Junior Eurovision – despite the national language have been relaxed for the senior contest in 1999 – and this requires acts to perform at least 75% of their songs in one of their state’s national languages.

The tradition of hosting the contest in the country that has won it in the previous year has not been as evident as in the case of the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest. Indeed, the previous year’s winners tended not to host the contest up until 2011, when Armenia became the first contest winners to host the following year’s contest. Since then, first refusal on the hosting of the contest has been offered to the previous year’s winners and both Ukraine (2013) and Malta (2014) have hosted the contest in the year after they won it, but wins for Georgia (in 2011) and Italy (in 2014) were not followed by the hosting of the contest. This year, the contest will be hosted in Sofia by Bulgaria, who finished in second place in 2014 (although they won the televote in 2014), as Italy turned down the opportunity to host this year’s contest.

To date, no acts at Junior Eurovision has finished with the dreaded nils points, with Croatia’s 2014 entry Game Over coming the closest to this. After a number of countries finished with low points tallies at the 2004 contest, the EBU has since then automatically awarded all contestants 12 points each at the start of the voting sequence to ensure no act does attain the dreaded nils points distinction. As such, finishing with 12 points is effectively the equivalent of a nils points finish and a one point award from San Marino was required to prevent Croatia achieving this in 2014.

Participation at Junior Eurovision has tended to much more fluid than participation at the (senior) Eurovision has been, with only two countries – Belarus and The Netherlands – having participated at each contest since the first Junior Eurovision took place in Copenhagen on 15th November 2003 (see Figure 1 below). The first few years of the contest tended to be more dominated by Western European countries (with the first three finals also all taking place in the Western states of Denmark, Norway and Belgium) but a distinct change in the contest membership was evident over the 2005 and 2006 contests, with a number of Western states, such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark and Norway, withdrawing at the same time as a number of Former Soviet states were participating in the contest for the first time. Some other Western states, such as Germany, Iceland, Austria, Monaco, Andorra, Finland and Luxembourg, have never participated in the contest, while France participated in the contest on only one occasion. The Viking Bloc, which has dominated the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest in recent years, is largely invisible in Junior Eurovision. Both Denmark and Norway withdrew from the contest in 2006, while Iceland and Finland have never entered the contest. Sweden has contested most of the Junior Eurovision contests (although the Swedes will be absent from this year’s contest). But while Sweden has won the Eurovision Contest on six occasions, they have never won Junior Eurovision with Molly Sandén’s third place finish in Bucharest in 2006 representing that country’s best ever performance at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.

Figure 1: Number of participations at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest by state between 2003 and 2015

Figure 1: Number of participations at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest by state between 2003 and 2015

From 2005/2006 onwards, the contest tended to be dominated by the more Eastern states and especially by the Former Soviet states, with Former Soviet states winning the contest on each occasion between 2005 and 2013, with the sole exception of the win by The Netherlands in 2009. The trend up to 2013 was for the contest to become more and more dominated by the Former Soviet states, as contest membership declined from a high of 18 countries at the 2004 contest to just 12 countries at the 2012 and 2013 contests. (Estonia is the only Former Soviet state that takes part in Eurovision but has yet to debut at the Junior contest, although the other two Baltic states – Latvia and Lithunania – have only taken part in a few contests and have not participated in recent Junior Eurovisions. Despite their successes in (senior) Eurovision between 2008 and 2013, Azerbaijan have only taken part (with little in the way of success ensuing) in two contests.) In the 2012 contest, for instance, Former Soviet states accounted for 7 of the 12 contestants at the Amsterdam Final and filled the Top 4 positions in that contest with Belgium proving to be the highest ranked of the other states (in 5th position). The last two contests have seen a reversal of this trend. Malta returned to the contest in 2013 after a two-year absence, while Western states such as San Marino, Slovenia, Italy and Ireland made their debuts (or will be making their debuts) at the contest over the 2013-2015 period. 2015, of course, sees the debut of Ireland – the country that has won the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest on the most (7) occasions – but also Australia, mirroring the inclusion of that country in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. The inclusion of Australia as a participant in the Vienna contest was justified as a one-off to mark the contest’s 60th Anniversary, but the inclusion of Australia in the Junior contest may suggest that the country’s active participation in Eurovision will be more long-term than was initially suggested. This year’s contest also sees a strong presence by Former Yugoslav and other Balkan states, such as Slovenia, Montenegro, FYR Macedonia, Serbia, Albania and the contest hosts, Bulgaria.

Although the Former Soviet states (and particularly Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine) have fared especially well at the contest, but particularly from 2005/2006 onwards, none of the countries have dominated the contest in terms of victory numbers to the same extent as Ireland has at the (senior) Eurovision. Only two countries Belarus (2005 and 2007) and Georgia (2008 and 2011) – have won the contest on more than one occasion – it’s interesting to note that neither of these two countries have ever finished in the Top 5 of a (senior) Eurovision Song Contest Final. Croatia (2003), Armenia (2010) and Malta (2013) also count as examples of countries that have won at Junior Eurovision, but have yet to win the contest’s senior counterpart, while the wins for Spain (2004) and The Netherlands (2009) come many decades after those states’ most recent wins at the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest (in 1969 and 1975 respectively). The only countries to have won the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) during the 2000s and also win the Junior Eurovision Song Contest (JESC) over the same time period have been Russia (JESC 2006/ESC 2008) and Ukraine (ESC 2004/JESC 2012). Belarus and Armenia have finished in the Top 3 at Junior Eurovision on five different occasions, with the next best records in terms of Top 3 finishes (on three different occasions) being shared by Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and Spain. In terms of Top 5 finishes, Russia and Belarus (with seven Top 5 finishes each) have the best records here, followed by Armenia and Georgia (6) and Ukraine and Spain (4).

Figure 2: Average Junior Eurovision Song Contest points awarded by country between 2003 and 2014 (only includes countries that have competed on at least 5 occasions)

Figure 2: Average Junior Eurovision Song Contest points awarded by country between 2003 and 2014 (only includes countries that have competed on at least 5 occasions)

The strong performances of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Ukraine and Georgia at Junior Eurovision – especially since the 2005/2006 period – are further evidenced when one studies the average amount of Junior Eurovision points awarded to countries (excluding the “bonus” 12 points awarded to each contestant from the 2005 contest onwards) that have participated in the contest on at least five different occasions (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Average placings at Junior Eurovision Song Contests by country between 2003 and 2014 (only includes countries that have competed on at least 5 occasions)

Figure 2: Average placings at Junior Eurovision Song Contests by country between 2003 and 2014 (only includes countries that have competed on at least 5 occasions)

The same trend is more or less replicated if one looks at the average placings won by the 16 countries that have competed at Junior Eurovision on at least five different occasions (see Figure 3), with Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Belarus and Ukraien faring notably better than that other countries in this regard. Serbia ranks as the “best of the rest” here, just ahead of Croatia, Belgium and Malta, with Sweden, Macedonia, Cyprus, Greece and Latvia proving to be the least successful countries in this particular grouping.

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The full split voting details for last year’s contest suggests that there was no major divergence between the televote and the jury vote, with the Top 5 countries in both of these votes being almost exactly the same – Cyprus edging out Russia of the Top 5 for the jury vote by a margin of one point. However, similar to the trend observed at the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest, there is some evidence of geographical voting at Junior Eurovision, as is suggested by the analysis displayed in Figures 4.1 and 4.2. “Friends and neighbours” voting trends are evident if voting patterns over the contests held since 2003 are studied, with especial relevance to those countries who have participated in the contest on a regular basis. If voting trends for acts from the five most dominant Former Soviet states are studied, a tendency for these countries to score highly in terms of votes from other Former Soviet states is readily evident. All of the states studied here attained their highest average point levels from other Former Soviet states, with Russian act winning an average of 8.4 points from other Soviet states over this period, with Former Soviet states awarding an average of 7.9 points to Armenian acts, 7.7 points to Georgian acts, 7.5 points to acts from  Belarus and 7.2 points to acts from Ukraine. The strongest voting relationships here seem to be between Russia, Belarus and Armenia. Russian acts have won an average of 10.6 points from Belarus and 10.3 points from Armenia over this time period, while Russia, in turn, has awarded an average of 9.6 points to Belarus and also an average of 9.6 points to Armenia.

But it is important to note that acts from these Former Soviet states also fare well in terms of votes won from the other regions. This is evident in the case of Russia’s 7.8 point average tally from the Viking/Baltic bloc states. This could explain in part, admittedly, by the intersection between the Former Soviet and Baltic regions, with Russian acts winning an average of 9.0 from Latvia and 8.0 from Lithuania over this period, but Russia has also fared well in terms of points won from Sweden (average of 7.9 points) over this period. The other striking trend here is the especially high number of points won by Armenia from the EEC9 group of states (the nine Western states who joined the EEC/were already members of the EEC in 1973). If viewed solely through the lens of friends and neighbours voting trends, this pattern may appear to be somewhat of an anomaly. However, if viewed in terms of diaspora voting trends, this makes a lot of sense, given that it reflects the trend evident at (senior) Eurovision for countries to fare well in countries where they have large diaspora populations, as evident in the televotes won by Armenia and Turkey in a number of Western states such as Belgium, The Netherlands, France and Germany in recent contests, as well as Romania’s tendency to win high votes from Spain and Portugal and of course the fact that Ireland’s strongest vote levels, since televoting was introduced in 1997/1998, have come from the United Kingdom. The trend for the Armenian diaspora in Western Europe to vote from Armenian acts at (senior) Eurovision is, hence, also evident at Junior Eurovision, although the impact of this Armenian diaspora vote has been limited by the fact that a number of Western states, such as Germany, have not taken part in the contest or else, as with France and Belgium, have withdrawn after earlier participations. Over the years, Armenian acts have won an average of 9.0 points from Belgium and 7.6 points from The Netherlands.

Figure 4b: Average points won by counties at Junior Eurovision by European region between 2003 and 2014 (other European states)

Figure 4b: Average points won by counties at Junior Eurovision by European region between 2003 and 2014 (other European states)

Similar voting trends may be also evidenced among the other countries that have participated in Junior Eurovision on a regular basis. The Netherlands and Belgium, as illustrated, by Figure 4b, have tended to win significantly higher votes from the EEC9 group of countries (of which they are a part), with strong friends and neighbours voting evident between both countries also. Belgium over this period has awarded an average of 9.8 points to Dutch Junior Eurovision acts, while The Netherlands has reciprocated in turn, awarding an average of 9.7 points to acts from Belgium. Acts from Croatia have tended to fare notably stronger in terms of votes from other Former Yugoslav countries (with an average of 8.4 points), including a particularly strong level of votes from FYR Macedonia (average of 11.0 points) for the Croatian acts. Sweden does not, however, attain its highest level of support from its own Viking/Baltic regional grouping, although this may be in part due to the fact that so few countries from this region have participated in the contest on more than a handful of occasions. There does not seem to be any notable geographical dimension to Malta’s vote pattern based on this analysis, save for a propensity to fare slightly better in terms of votes from the EEC9 group of states. Malta are as likely to win points from the Former Soviet and Former Yugoslav state groupings as they are to win points from other southern or western European states.

So if geography does, by and large, have an impact on voting patterns at Junior Eurovision in a similar vein to the (senior) Eurovision Song Contest, what does this mean for Ireland’s prospects on their début at the contest? Obviously there are no past Junior Eurovision voting trends to fall back on here, so it might prove useful to instead study the geography of voting for Irish acts at the Eurovision Song Contest itself. Figure 5 (below) shows that Ireland’s highest tally of votes have tended to come from the United Kingdom and other Viking/Baltic Bloc countries, such as Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland. Outside of Scandinavia and the Baltic region, the highest Irish points tallies have come from Belgium, Switzerland and Hungary, as well as the smaller states (which cannot be seen here!) of Monaco, Malta and San Marino. The problem for Ireland lies in the fact that most of these countries (apart from San Marino and Malta) will not be taking part in this year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest, with Ireland effectively being the only Viking/Baltic Bloc country taking part in this year’s contest (although there could be an argument made to also include Malta and Australia in this grouping). Out of the countries that are taking part, based on Ireland’s record of winning Eurovision points during the televote era, the countries that would seem most likely to vote for Ireland would include San Marino and Malta (as noted), as well as The Netherlands. Australia might appear to be a country that is more likely to vote for an Irish act, but it is worth noting that Ireland won no points off Australia at May’s Eurovision Song Contest. Indeed, Ireland are probably more likely to win points off the more eastern countries in this contest (especially Albania, FYR Macedonia and Russia) than they are to win points off Italy. Since Italy’s return to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011, Ireland has yet to win any points from the Italian televote/jury vote, despite the fact that Italy regularly gets to vote for Ireland’s Eurovision semi-finals. Indeed, the last Irish act to win points off Italy at Eurovision was Marc Roberts in 1997, whose Mysterious Woman won 10 points off the Italian jury in the final Eurovision contest to be largely decided on the basis of jury voting.

Ultimately, for Ireland to do well at this contest will require the Irish act to win a significant number of points off countries that have not traditionally voted for Irish Eurovision acts during the televoting era. One final point to note is the fact that Ireland’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest entry will be performed in the Irish language, with Sandie Shaw’s Ceol an Ghrá (in 1972) being the only Irish Eurovision act to have been performed in Irish. A review of voting patterns at that contest (which did not use the “un point, deux points…douze points” system that has been used at each Eurovision since the 1975 contest) shows that the highest points for Ireland that year came from Malta, Luxembourg and Norway, as well as The Netherlands, Sweden and Monaco. But it is worth noting that only a few of the countries that will be competing at this year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest were also competing at the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, namely Malta, The Netherlands, Ireland and Italy, although Yugoslavia did also compete in 1972 and four Former Yugoslav states – FYR Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro – will be taking part in this year’s Junior Eurovision.

Figure 5: Average points won by Ireland by country at Eurovision Song Contests between 1998 and 2015

Figure 5: Average points won by Ireland by country at Eurovision Song Contests between 1998 and 2015

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