Sunlight or Darkness? – Predictions for the 2016 Eurovision Semi Final contests

Adrian Kavanagh, 8th April 2016 (Updated: 22nd April 2016)

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.

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

  • song quality (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 public/televised show itself and in 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 can only 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 2016.

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 and in general, these do favour the countries most beloved by the Eurovision fans (e.g. Sweden!), or acts with song styles that might appeal to the Eurovision fans but not necessarily the general public or voting juries.  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 Croatia and Bulgaria, 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 8th April 2016). 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. All things being equal in terms of song quality, a country that has a number of “friendly” countries voting in a specific semi-final or which gets a good running order position will be at an advantage to counties with few “friends” and/or a poor position in the running order.

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 and will have a greater impact on the final votes than it did at the 2013, 2014 and 2015 contests, the past voting histories of countries will give a strong indicator as to the destination of their Eurovision votes in the 2016 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 the Czech Republic, Austria, 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. The change in the rules introduced at the 2013 contest as to how televotes and jury votes would be combined had 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. However, the new voting system, in which each country will award its jury votes and televotes separately, will again increase the potential impact of bloc voting.

To analyse the impact of voting history, 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 8.18 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 (6.33 points average), would be predicted to win 10 points from Ireland, followed by the next highest ranked country, Poland (6.20 points average), which would be predicted to win 8 points from Ireland, and so on. The predicted points’ destinations for all the other 21 voting countries in the Semi Final 2 are estimated in a similar manner (with a similar process being used for the Semi Final 1 voting countries). As Australia had never taken part/voted in a Eurovision contest prior to 2015, there are few 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, and as discussed in some detail in relation to semi-final contests in a recent post, 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. Certain positions in the contest running order (generally positions later in the running order) tend to be 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 position in the running order 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 position in the running has been shown to give a notable advantage to different acts in the past, all things being even, with the last two acts that perform in a semi-final contest seen to have an especial advantage in this regard. 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 10th and May 12th 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 the previous post.

Combining the voting bloc/history patterns with the impact of running order position and the betting odd weightings (and giving the bookie odd rankings a 50% weighting, while allocating a 25% weighting to voting history and a 25% weighting to the impact of the running order) , the following result would be predicted for Semi Final 1:

 Country/Act Odds Draw History Total
Russia 167 75 133 136
Malta 144 109 69 117
Armenia 121 69 107 105
Azerbaijan 82 78 135 95
Croatia 109 63 41 81
Cyprus 97 44 34 68
Netherlands 64 87 56 68
Hungary 68 61 69 67
Iceland 55 67 68 61
Greece 32 57 123 61
Estonia 44 82 62 58
Czech Republic 76 67 6 56
Austria 48 76 49 55
Bosnia and Herzegovina 25 78 81 52
Finland 38 59 58 48
Moldova 20 39 57 34
Montenegro 15 56 32 30
San Marino 12 50 38 28

In  this semi-final, the advantage accorded to countries such as Greece and Bosnia by past voting histories is outstripped by the higher rankings accorded to Malta, Cyprus and Croatia in the bookie odds. Indeed, this analysis suggests that Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina – two out of a small number of countries with 100% qualification records since the semi-finals system was introduced in 2004 – face a struggle to qualify out of this semi final. Given their very high ranking amongst the bookies and their strong position in relation to past voting trends/histories, Russia is predicted to win this semi-final. Malta – by virtue of a high ranking in terms of bookie odds and an excellent position in the running order – would be predicted to finish second in this semi final, with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Croatia predicted to round out the Top 5. On these figures, Cyprus, The Netherlands, Hungary, Iceland and Greece are predicted to fill the remainder of the ten semi-final qualification positions. If any of these predicted qualifiers should miss out – and being mindful of the narrow margin separating these five countries from the countries falling just outside these Top 10 qualification berths – then Estonia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina  would seem to be the most likely countries to replace them, with Finland also in contention. While Moldova, Montenegro and San Marino do not by any means seem to be wholly out of contention, these would seem to be the countries that have the least chance of qualifying out of this semi-final, based on this analysis. (It is interesting to note that 2014 contest winners, Austria, 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 Austria is not helped by the fact that this country has traditionally struggled to win Eurovision points off other countries, even Austria’s own neighbours.) 

Of course, if any of the countries ranked in the 11th-18th positions in this analysis were to receive especially high scores from the voting juries (a factor that 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 is even more the case in this year’s semi final, seeing that the jury vote points will no longer be combined with the televote/public vote points, but will both stand alone and be awarded separately. A country that just misses out on the Top 10 in the public vote, but scores well in the jury vote – such as, possibly, the Czech Republic in this semi-final, or Estonia or Austria – would probably go on to qualify for the final.   

Combining the voting bloc/history patterns with the impact of running order position and the betting odd weightings (and giving the bookie odd rankings a 50% weighting, while allocating a 25% weighting to voting history and a 25% weighting to the impact of the running order) , the following result would have been initially predicted for Semi Final 2:

Country/Act Odds Draw History Total
Australia 174 66 69 121
Ukraine 150 56 120 119
Serbia 113 86 110 106
Latvia 126 59 74 96
Bulgaria 100 81 40 80
Norway 79 67 88 78
Poland 85 56 66 73
Lithuania 66 75 70 69
Israel 71 61 72 69
Denmark 45 78 101 67
Belgium 50 108 59 67
Ireland 57 68 41 56
Romania 26 75 67 49
Belarus 39 63 53 48
FYR Macedonia 33 50 69 46
Albania 16 78 61 43
Georgia 12 67 53 36
Switzerland 21 39 29 28
Slovenia 12 44 34 25

However, following the decision by the EBU on 22nd April 2016 to disqualify Romania from the contest this year (as discussed in this Wiwibloggs post), Semi Final 2 now becomes an 18-country semi final.

RomaniaDisqualified2

This means that certain countries’ positions in the running order become better/worse almost by default. Australia, for instance, were drawn to perform in the First Half of Semi Final 2 but now find themselves in the Second Half of this semi-final due to Romania’s disqualification. But this too has an impact on the “voting history” dimension. One less country – Romania being excluded – will now be voting in this semi-final – and this particularly works against Israel, the country that was predicted to win the Romanian douze points. By contrast, Romania would have been predicted to win high numbers of points off other countries such as Italy and Belgium (due to a diaspora voting effect), as well as Israel, so other countries will now be placed to pick up on the points with Romania no longer taking part.

The revamped model, with Romania no longer included, now predicts the following result for Semi Final 2:

Country/Act Odds Draw History Total
Ukraine 144 78 118 121
Australia 167 67 72 118
Serbia 109 87 108 103
Latvia 121 59 78 95
Bulgaria 97 76 41 80
Norway 76 56 88 74
Poland 82 57 69 73
Lithuania 64 75 72 69
Denmark 44 82 100 67
Belgium 48 109 60 66
Israel 68 61 66 66
Ireland 55 69 41 55
Romania (disqualified)
Belarus 38 63 55 48
Albania 20 78 63 45
FYR Macedonia 32 50 65 45
Georgia 15 67 56 38
Switzerland 25 39 32 30
Slovenia 12 44 34 25

In this semi-final, a close contest is predicted between Australia and Ukraine as regards which country goes on to win this semi-final. Australia ranks higher than Ukraine in terms of bookie odds, but Ukraine (and also third ranked Serbia) scores higher in terms of the past voting history factor and – with Romania now disqualified – this factor gives Ukraine a narrow edge over Australia (Australian having been ranked just ahead of Ukraine in the model that had contained Romania). Latvia and Bulgaria are predicted by this analysis to round out the Top 5 in this second semi-final. Neither country has had much luck in terms of winning Eurovision points in recent contests (with the notable exception of Latvia’s 6th place finish in 2015) and neither has an especially advantageous position in the running order. But both these acts are rated highly in terms of the current (i.e. 8th April 2016) bookie odds. Rounding out the Top 10 here would be Norway, Poland, Lithuania, Denmark and Belgium (with the Danes and Belgians being now pushed ahead of Israel in the model that does not include Romania(. The margins separating some of these countries from the countries that would be just missing out on the Top 10 are very narrow, with only a wafer thin 0.3 point margin separating Belgium from the 11th ranked country, Israel.

If any of the predicted qualifiers should miss out – and being mindful of the narrow margin separating some of these lower ranked qualifiers from the countries falling just outside these Top 10 qualification berths – then Israel and/or Ireland would seem to be the most likely countries to replace them, with Belarus, FYR Macedonia and Albania also in contention. While Georgia, Switzerland and Slovenia not by any means seem to be wholly out of contention, these would seem to be the countries that have the least chance of qualifying out of this semi-final, based on this analysis.

Of course, if any of the countries ranked in the 11th-19th positions in this analysis were to receive especially high scores from the voting juries (a factor that 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 is even more the case in this year’s semi final, seeing that the jury vote points will no longer be combined with the televote/public vote points, but will both stand alone and be awarded separately. A country that just misses out on the Top 10 in the public vote, but scores well in the jury vote, would probably go on to qualify for the final.   

This analysis suggests that Ireland will narrowly miss out on qualifying for the final. In terms of all of the three aspects being studied here, Ireland would be just falling inside, or outside, the tenth highest ranked countries in this semi-final, with the past voting history aspect/factor appearing to be the most problematic area here. The problem with a bad position in the running order, as was faced by Molly Sterling in 2015 (having to perform 2nd on the night and at the start of a long run of ballad-style entries), is not as evident, however, this time. 

So to conclude, this study offers a prediction as to how the 37 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 qualifiers based on this study and you make a few bob, then that’s great and mine’s a TK 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/Portumna/outer space… 😮

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2 Responses to “Sunlight or Darkness? – Predictions for the 2016 Eurovision Semi Final contests”

  1. William Says:

    That all makes a good deal of sense. I’d really like it if Ireland manage to make it to the Final though, as this will be my first year attending the ESC! Great appraisal though as usual Adrian!

    • Adrian Kavanagh Says:

      Thanks William
      Hopefully the performance in the jury show and the public show will edge us up into the Top 10 – of course a very high jury ranking – especially this time around – would offset the issue/problems faced by Ireland, as identified in this post!

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