Analysis of the draw for 2016 Eurovision Song Contest semi finals. Which countries does Ireland want to be drawn with and which do they need to avoid?

Adrian Kavanagh, 22nd January 2016

The draw for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest semi finals takes place on Monday 25th January in Stockholm’s City Hall. After this draw, Ireland will know whether Nicky Byrne will be taking part in Semi Final 1 (on 10th May 2016) or Semi Final 2 (on 12th May 2016) and will also know the 17/18 other countries that will be competing against Nicky Byrne for one of the ten qualifier slots from this semi final. The three Big 5/Host countries that will have the right to vote in this semi final will also be known after this. This post will assess the possibilities facing Ireland ahead of this draw and pinpoint what would be an ideal/nightmare draw for the Irish act. 

First of all, to note the format for this semi final draw. 43 countries will take part in Eurovision 2016 and 37 countries (excluding the hosts, Sweden, and the “Big 5”) will be taking part in the two semi finals (up significantly on the numbers taking part in last year’s semi finals, with Ukraine, Croatia, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina returning to the contest and with Australia being required to go through the semi-final route this year (although Portugal are not taking part in 2016).

The remaining 37 countries in both semi finals will be drawn from a series of six pots. In most cases, there are six countries in a pot, with the exception of Pot 1 (which contains seven). The countries in each of the different pots will generally be countries that have exhibited a strong Eurovision voting relationship between each other over recent contests, although the strength of the relationships between the countries in some of the pots is not as strong as that in others. This is a recognition of the existence of voting blocs within Eurovision, especially following the introduction of televoting in 1998 and the semi final system in 2004. The pots system is an attempt to “break up these voting blocs” somewhat and limit the potential of some countries qualifying for each final by default due to being able to rely on a strong pre-existing support base due to “friends and neighbours voting” and/or “diaspora voting”, as discussed in previous Eurovision posts on this site.

18 countries will take part in Semi Final 1 on 10th May and 19 countries will take part in Semi Final 2 on 12th May. Israel have been pre-assigned to Semi Final 2, while Germany have already been assigned to vote in that same semi final.

Note that the pot names listed here are not official ones – these are names assigned by me.

Pot 1: Former Yugoslav Bloc pot – Albania, Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia: Bosnia-Herzegovina (100% record) and Serbia have the best qualification record, by far, of the seven countries in this pot. Slovenia, Croatia, Albania and FYR Macedonia have mixed results in terms of qualification, while Montenegro have both only qualified from the semi final on two occasions (albeit over the past two years). Ireland would usually not expect to get too many points from countries in this pot (with our best level of points during the televoting era having come from Croatia, Albania, FYR Macedonia and Slovenia – in that order, although Macedonia ranks ahead of Slovenia largely on the basis of a strong jury vote score in 2014), so ideally we would be drawn with just three countries in this pot. The main hope here really would be that we avoid getting drawn with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. Dream: Croatia, Albania, Slovenia. Nightmare: Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro 

Pot 2: Viking pot: Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland and Latvia: This is a rather mixed pot in terms of semi-final qualification records. Norway and Denmark have qualified from most of the semi finals that they have competed in since the introduction of the semi-final system back in 2004. The fortunes of the other countries in this pot in terms of semi final qualifications have been relatively similar over the past ten years, with these countries reaching some of the finals and missing out on others. In terms of voting patterns, most of Ireland’s biggest Eurovision friends fall in this pot. Since 2004, Ireland’s highest average points levels from countries in this pot have come from Latvia and Denmark. But to be honest, we should expect a few Eurovision points in most cases from any of the countries in this pot, even though Ireland’s average points tally from Estonia and especially Iceland is somewhat lower than from the other countries in this pot. The Danish selection for this year’s contest is very strong and to a degree there could be some merit in avoiding them in the draw, but against that Denmark are the second-best supporter of Irish acts at Eurovision, after the United Kingdom, based on voting statistics between 1998 and 2015. Dream: Denmark, Latvia, Finland. Nightmare: Norway, Estonia, Iceland

Pot 3: Former Soviet Bloc pot: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine: Ireland would not expect to win too many votes from the countries found in this pot and most of these countries are ranked towards the bottom of the list when it comes to countries that award Ireland Eurovision points on a regular basis. (Russia and Azerbaijan would rank as the best countries to be drawn with in terms of the average points being awarded to Irish acts at contests since 1998.) To make matters worse, some of the contest’s big hitters fall in this pot with these countries in this pot accounting for three Eurovision wins since 2004 and Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan have qualified from every semi final they have competed in and also have usually tended to be among the main contenders for overall victory. Armenia has qualified out of every Eurovision semi-final that it has competed in with the exception of the 2011 contest and the Armenian act generally does fairly well in Eurovision contests, as evidenced in a fourth place in the 2014 final. Georgia have only missed out on qualifying for the final on two occasions, although Georgia recently missed out on qualifying for the 2014 final. Belarus is decidedly the least successful country in this pot, but they have qualified for two of the last three finals (in 2013 and 2014). With seven countries in this pot, the nightmare scenario would be to be drawn with four countries from this pot. From the point of view of average points awarded to Irish entries over the past fifteen years, the dream and nightmare draws would be as follows: Dream: Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine. Nightmare: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia. (Georgia has yet to award Ireland any Eurovision points.) But as few points would be expected for an Irish act from any of these countries in any course, on the basis of wanting to avoid being in competition with some of the contest’s “big-hitters” then the real dream and nightmare draws here would be: Dream: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia. Nightmare: Russia, Armenia, Ukraine

Pot 4: West European/Greek Diaspora pot: Belgium, Greece, Cyprus, The Netherlands, Australia, Bulgaria: The last few pots have a lot less coherence to them than the first three but this pot is probably defined in terms of countries showing strong support traditionally towards Greece, based around either strong cultural links (Cyprus), support from that country’s diaspora (Belgium, Netherlands, Australia) or neighbourly voting patterns (as in case of Bulgaria). From a competitive perspective, Greece is the country to avoid here. The Greek act has qualified from each semi final it has competed in since 2004  and Greece is of the strongest competitors in Eurovision. By contrast, the Belgians and Dutch (with the exceptions of a good contest for both of these countries in 2013, a second place for The Netherlands in the 2014 final and a fourth place finish for Belgium in last year’s final) have qualified for the final on relatively few occasions. Cyprus have had a mixed record also in terms of semi final qualifications, while Bulgaria have only qualified for the final on one occasion (2007). Australia took part for the first time in 2015, but got a bye to the Final (and finished in fifth place in that), so this will be that country’s first time to take part in a Eurovision semi-final. This pot is very interesting as there is also a big difference in terms of voting propensity for Irish act between the two potential dream draws (Belgium and the Netherlands) and one obvious nightmare draw (Greece). There were no points from Australia to Ireland at last year’s semi final, but Aimee Banks fared notably better in terms of winning points off Australia in the Junior Eurovision contest, and the suspicion might be that Australia would amount to a preferable draw to Bulgaria or Cyprus. It really matters here in terms of which countries we get from this pot, or rather which countries we do not get drawn with (ideally not Greece!). Dream: Belgium, The Netherlands, Australia. Nightmare: Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria

Pot 5:  The “Other” Viking Pot: Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, San Marino, Czech Republic. This pot does not seem to make much sense in geographical terms, but the voting patterns of countries in this pot tend to resemble those of the countries in Pot 2.  Countries in this pot have enjoyed little in the way of  Eurovision success during the 2000s. In the early 2000s, Lithuania would probably have ranked as the least successful of the countries in this pot, but in more recent contests the Lithuanians have proven to have been more consistent qualifiers and actually have the best qualification record out of all the countries in this pot. The qualification records for Ireland, Malta and Poland have been decidedly mixed over this period, but are notably better than those of San Marino (only qualified for one Final in 2014). Of course the Czech Republic is the only country competing in this year’s contest that has yet to qualify for a Eurovision final. In terms of voting trends, some of Ireland’s “better friends” would fall inside this pot, but against that Ireland has yet to win a point from the Czech Republic (but in fairness the Czechs have only had two opportunities to vote for an Irish act in their Eurovision history, namely Dervish in the 2007 Helsinki Final and Molly Sterling in the 2015 semi-final). Malta (3rd best), San Marino (5th best) and Lithuania (7th best) rank amongst the countries that have awarded the highest average level of Eurovision points to Ireland over the 2000s, but unfortunately Ireland can only get drawn with two countries from this pot. Given Lithuania’s relatively good qualification record and a strong field at this year’s Lithuanian selection, there would be some merit in avoiding the Lithuanians in this draw. Dream: Malta, San Marino. Nightmare: (Two from) Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania

Pot 6: Central European/”All the Others” pot: Austria, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Israel, Switzerland: This pot is mainly comprised of the Central European countries taking part in this year’s contest, but with Israel also being included. With the obvious exception of Romania – a country that has qualified for every semi-final that they have competed in since 2004 – none of the countries in this particular pot have had exceptionally strong Eurovision semi final qualification records in recent years; the Hungarians and Moldovans probably having the stronger records after Romania. Israel’s qualification record is a decidedly mixed one and the country had missed out on the Final on a consistent basis for a number of years leading up to the 2015 Final, but Israel qualified for that Final and went on to achieve a Top 10 finish in it. While Austria won the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, of course, that country’s qualification record from semi-finals is not especially strong and this year they may have to deal with the “curse of last year’s hosts”. Austria have only qualified for the Final out of a semi-final on two occasions, but have only taken part in five semi-finals over the 2000s due to withdrawing from the contest for periods of time and due to having prequalified for last year’s Final (as Hosts) as well as the 2004 Final. The Swiss qualification record is also poor; having qualified out of just three semi-finals out of ten different attempts. From the point of view of average points awarded to Irish entries over the past fifteen years, the dream draw would be Hungary and Switzerland (although the average points won from Romania, Israel and Austria are not significantly lower than those won off Switzerland) while the nightmare draw, in this regard, would be Moldova. This is a pot containing countries from which an Irish act would be hoping to win a few points (but not very many points) from, irrespective of which countries are drawn out of this in Ireland’s semi final (with the notable exception of Moldova). On that basis, it would probably be best to avoid Romania in this draw given that country’s perfect qualification record over the past decade. It is probably a toss up between Israel and Austria as to which of these countries we would want to see Ireland drawn with, but the fact that Israel has already seen pre-assigned to the (slightly) larger Semi Final 2 might tip the balance in Austria’s favour here. Dream: Switzerland, Hungary, Austria. Nightmare: Romania, Moldova, Israel 

The Big 5/Host countries: France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden: The nitty gritty and tension of semi final qualification is not for these countries, but they do get to vote on one of the semi finals and will be assigned as such in tomorrow’s draw. Ireland definitely wants to see the United Kingdom voting for its semi final given that our nearest neighbour is also closest to us in terms of Eurovision support and easily the top ranked country in terms of average points awarded to Irish acts over the past decade and a half. We would also like to see hosts, Sweden, voting in our semi final, as that country is ranked 9th in terms of the average level of points awarded to Ireland at contests across the 2000s. Although we have not received exceptionally high levels of points from Germany in past contests, their record in supporting Irish Eurovision acts would be better than those of the rest of the Big 5 countries (Spain, France and Italy). We definitely do not want to get France (a country with a very low points average in terms of support for Irish acts) and Italy (a country that has still yet to award any points to any Irish act since it returned to Eurovision in 2011 and which ranked Ireland in last place in the jury vote and televote at the 2014 semi final – does any other country in Eurovision hate Ireland more???). As Germany have already been preassigned to vote in Semi Final 2, it may in some instances be better to avoid Germany especially if the 19-country second semi final was to contain four countries from the Balkan/Former Yugoslav pot (Pot 1). In which case, being drawn with Spain would be a more acceptable alternative if we were also to get Sweden and the United Kingdom and avoid the larger second semi final! Dream: United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain (if drawn in Semi Final 1)/United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany (if drawn in Semi Final 2). Nightmare: France, Italy, Spain/Germany.  

Draw Position: The draw on 25th January will also decide what half of the semi final final each country will be performing in, but it will not be assigning actual draw positions. Based on my earlier analyses, it would be much better for Ireland if they were drawn to perform in the second half of a semi final. Rather controversially, this year (as in 2013, 2014 and 2015) the draw positions for countries taking part in the Eurovision semi finals and final will be decided by the show producers and not by a draw, as has been the case in previous Eurovision Song Contests. Only the starting position of the host country, Sweden, in the Final will be decided by a draw (for obvious reasons). In which case, can we glean which countries Austria loves/hates the most when we see which countries they assign the much desired No. 18/19 semi final draw positions and the No. 17-25* Final draw positions and who they assign the very dreaded No. 2 draw position to. It was very obvious in 2014 as to which countries Denmark liked (Sweden, Austria) and did not like (Belarus, Azerbaijan, Russia) in terms of how the draw for the final was organised. (* No, I’m not mistaking the numbers in the Final – while my analysis suggests being drawn last to perform in a semi final is statistically the best draw position to get, it suggests that the best draw position in a Final in statistical terms is to be drawn to perform in the second last position. Being drawn to perform last (26th position) in a very long Eurovision Final does not always help an act’s prospects, as Ireland found to its cost in 2013 and the United Kingdom discovered in 2014 (and also Slovenia in 2003), although Italy, in fairness, won the televote while performing last in the very long 27-country Final of 2015.)

To recap, the dream draw for Ireland would be to be drawn in the latter half of  Semi Final 1 (18 contestants) with Croatia, Albania, Slovenia, Denmark, Latvia, Finland, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Australia, Malta, San Marino, Switzerland, Hungary and Austria, with the United Kingdom, Sweden and Spain voting in this semi final. (As noted earlier, Germany might be a preferable draw to Spain, but if it means avoiding the larger Semi Final 2 – especially with four Former Yugoslav states in this semi final – it might be preferable to get drawn with Spain instead of Germany, given that it has already been agreed that Germany will be voting in this semi-final.)

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