Making sense of the changes to the Eurovision voting process

Adrian Kavanagh, 8th April 2016

As you may have heard, changes are being made to the voting process for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest – changes that the official Eurovision website claim are the “biggest change to Eurovision Song Contest voting since 1975”. In reality, in some ways the changes being made are probably less dramatic than the decision to move from jury voting to televoting/public voting in 1997/1998 and the decision to revert to a 50-50 split between televoting and jury voting in 2009/2010. But there are notable changes, all the same, with these perhaps mainly relating to the manner in which the Eurovision votes are presented at the Final – changes that the EBU claim will make the contest more “exciting”. As seen in relation to the decision to have “producer-driven running orders instead of randomly drawn onces (introduced the last time Sweden hosted the contest in 2013), sometimes the effort made “in creating TV magic” can involve a lack of fairness to certain participants.

The actual process of presenting the votes, which is being introduced for this year’s Eurovision Final is similar to the process used in final of the Swedish Melodifestivalen national selection, whereby individual jury votes/points are announced first of all and then the entire televote points are announced, in reverse order, at the end. In fact, this is more or less the same process that was used when presenting the votes at the Irish Eurosong national selection contests between 2008 and 2015! Each of the 43 countries voting in the contest will present votes in the usual fashion (i.e. from one point/un point, two points/deux points…all the way up to ten points/dix points and then the magic twelve points/douze points!), but the points being presented will not be the combined televote/jury vote rankings of the past few years, but just the jury votes of that country. (This totally ruins the fun element in the voting sequence of trying to guess what country will get the twelve points based on past televoting history…). Instead of reporting the huit pointsdix points and douze points recipients after all the lower points receipients are flashed on screen, as was the case in recent years, the spokespersons for the different countries will now only be personally announcing the country that receive the douze points from that country’s professional jury, while all the other jury points allocations are flashed onscreen. This will substantially reduce the amount of time devoted to this section of the show, unless some spokespersons really, really milk their time onscreen!!!

All the televotes from each of the (42) voting countries will be combined and announced at the end of the show. Initially it was noted that the televote points would be announced in reverse order for all of the 26 finalists, but recently this has been changed and now the points for all the countries ranked 11th to 26th in the televote will be presented all at the same time, while the overall televote points for the Top 10 ranked countries will be announced in reverse order. This, it is claimed, will ensure that the winner of the contest will not be known until the very last moment (which may not really pan out to be the case if the top ranked countries in the televote all score poorly in the jury vote), but it is heard to see how this process can equal/surpass the excitement levels of the final votes in close contests such as 1988, 1990 1992, 1993 or 2003. That being said, there has not been a very close contest or well over a decade, so the next process will maintain some degree of suspense right up to the final televote (or at least the penultimate) being announced, apart from the case of viewers who can excel at mental arithmetic of course.

Personally, I think intuitively it would make more sense for each country to present its televotes separately and not the jury votes, given that these are the scores that were decided on by the viewers and indeed are the only scores that were based on the contest that the viewers have just watched, given that the jury votes are actually based on the previous night’s dress rehearsal/jury “final”. This also may avoid some confusion amongst viewers (and political leaders!), who end up wondering why the country they usually support has suddenly ended up with few/no points! In this scenario, the contest could end with the combined jury points from all the 43 countries, in a similar vein to what is currently being proposed as regards the televote scores/points. This actually would have resulted in a more exciting voting sequence in 2015, as the viewers became slowly aware that the country that had won the televote (Italy) had only finished 6th in the jury vote and had been overtaken by the country that finished 2nd in the televote (Russia), with that country then finally being overtaken by the country that finished 3rd in the televote (Sweden)!!!

In any case, the new system means that each country will actually be presenting two sets of points this year – their jury vote points (awarded to the top ten countries as ranked by the jury) and their public vote/televote points (awarded to the top ten countries as ranked by the public votes), instead of simply offering points to the top ten countries based on a combination of the televote and jury vote scores. This, in fairness, may not be a bad thing. There was always a random element to the manner in which the televote and jury votes were combined, either under the 2009/10-2012 process (in which only the top ten scores in the jury vote/televote were combined) or the 2013-15 process (in which all of the televote/jury vote ranking scores were combined). That being said, the 2013-15 process did allow for a much greater potential to limit the impacts of “bloc voting” (or more accurately, the effects of “friends and neighbours” voting and/or “diaspora” voting); to such an extent that a low jury score could lead to a scenario whereby the country that won the televote actually ended up with no points at all from that country (e.g. Poland and the 2014 Irish/UK Eurovision votes).  The new system will see the impact of “bloc voting” being increased again and may lead to “weaker songs” from the more “popular countries”/countries with a “lot of friends” qualifying for the Final. That being said, it did seem to be somewhat of an anomaly that the country that won a televote – possibly by means of winning tens of thousands of televotes – could end up with no points just on the say of five jury members…

The main bone of contention, in my opinion, with the new rules relates to those countries who “cannot deliver a valid televoting result” (which are usually the smaller and poorer countries). In the past, that country’s jury provided the rankings for that country’s Eurovision votes/points, but this will not be possible in the new system. Instead, according to the new rules, “a substitute result is calculated by the audience result of a pre-selected group of countries”, effectively meaning that half of the Eurovision points being awarded by these smaller/poorer countries will actually be awarded by viewers in other countries!!! (A similar process will apply in cases where a country cannot deliver “valid jury score”.) This, to me, seems to be profoundly unfair and could raise potential political conflicts depending on which countries are deemed to form part of this “pre-selected group of countries”. (This must also, presumably, skew the votes/results given that voters from these other countries still cannot, presumably, vote for their own country…)

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One Response to “Making sense of the changes to the Eurovision voting process”

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

    […] despite winning/ranking high in those countries’ televotes. However, the new voting system, introduced for the 2016 contest, in which each country will award its jury votes and televotes separately, will again increase the […]

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