Dying to Try or Trying to Qualify?: Estimates for the 2017 Eurovision Semi Final contests

Adrian Kavanagh, 8th May 2017

I have used this model to successfully predict the Azerbaijan win at the 2011 contestDenmark’s win in 2013 and Sweden’s win in 2015,  as well as to predict that Russia would win the televote at the 2016 contest (but not the jury vote, or the overall prize). I am going to use this to tease out who the likely qualifiers will be from this week’s two 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. It was not as successful last year, however; in part because of the growing clout/impact of the jury vote. But also because an unusual number of counties that have traditionally fared poorly at the contest since the introduction of televoting (e.g. Bulgaria, Belgium, Austria and The Netherlands) did especially well at last year’s 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 2017.

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 financial 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 Portugal 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. In the past I have used just one set of betting odds, but for this analysis I am taking the odds for these countries from

(a) early April; to measure the early impact of a song

and

(b) Eurovision week; to take account of the impact of promotional campaigns/live performances at Eurovision preview parties and the first two Eurovision rehearsals

For this purpose, the rankings of the different countries taking part in the two semi-finals in terms of (a) their overall chances of winning this year’s Eurovision were identified using the details provided on the Oddschecker website (as of 8th April 2017) and (b) their chances of winning Semi Final 1/Semi Final 2 (as of 8th May 2017).

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.

Other Factors: 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. In relation to Eurovision semi-final contests these factors – especially in marginal cases – could 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 (when a low jury ranking could nullify a high ranking in the televote, as in the case of Poland’s votes from the Irish and UK televotes/jury votes in 2014), the past voting histories of countries will give a strong indicator as to the destination of their Eurovision votes in the 2017 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, introduced for the 2016 contest, 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 36 different countries that are taking part in these two semi-finals, but only looking at the countries taking part 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 8.58 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, Denmark (6.90 points average), would be predicted to win 10 points from Ireland, followed by the next highest ranked country, Estonia (4.61 points average), which would be predicted to win 8 points from Ireland, and so on. The predicted points’ destinations for all the other 20 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). 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 guarantee qualification/a strong result, however, and a good running order position 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 8th/9th and May 10th/11th 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 – a 25% weighting to the April betting odds and a 25% weighting to the May betting odds – 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 Odds_April Odds_May Draw History Total
SWEDEN 168 122 57 148 124
ARMENIA 85 168 64 93 102
PORTUGAL 122 144 84 33 96
GREECE 77 98 69 132 94
AZERBAIJAN 98 111 50 95 89
BELGIUM 144 77 62 64 87
AUSTRALIA 111 68 36 117 83
FINLAND 68 85 69 48 68
LATVIA 43 55 108 58 66
MOLDOVA 31 63 81 58 58
GEORGIA 55 43 59 68 56
POLAND 63 48 45 50 51
ICELAND 48 25 75 56 51
CYPRUS 37 37 53 58 46
ALBANIA 25 31 62 63 45
MONTENEGRO 15 15 85 31 36
SLOVENIA 10 20 76 33 35
CZECH REPUBLIC 20 10 83 13 32

In  this semi-final, the advantage accorded to countries such as Greece and Australia by past voting histories is outstripped by the higher rankings accorded to Portugal and Finland in the bookie odds. Given their very high ranking among the bookies and their strong position in relation to past voting trends/histories, Sweden is predicted to win this semi-final, although they are not expected to be helped by the fact that they will be opening the semi final. Armenia and Portugal – by virtue of their fast improving positions in the bookie odds – would be predicted to finish second and third in this semi final, with Greece and Azerbaijan predicted to round out the Top 5. On these figures, Belgium, Australia, Finland, Latvia and Moldova 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 Georgia, Poland and Iceland would seem to be the most likely countries to replace them, with Cyprus and Albania also in contention. While Montenegro, Slovenia and the Czech Republic 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 worth remembering that this model can only focus on estimating the televote/public vote. 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, Georgia, Poland or Albania in this semi-final – 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 Odds_April Odds_May Draw History Total
BULGARIA 168 168 53 63 113
DENMARK 144 122 50 117 108
ROMANIA 111 144 62 70 97
SERBIA 98 68 57 135 89
ESTONIA 85 111 76 64 84
NETHERLANDS 68 98 85 83 83
HUNGARY 63 77 69 87 74
ISRAEL 43 85 108 60 74
NORWAY 48 63 81 101 73
FYR MACEDONIA 122 55 36 46 65
IRELAND 77 31 84 37 57
BELARUS 55 43 83 46 57
AUSTRIA 31 48 59 70 52
MALTA 20 20 62 74 44
SWITZERLAND 37 25 75 37 43
CROATIA 25 37 45 62 42
LITHUANIA 15 15 64 48 35
SAN MARINO 10 10 69 18 27

In this semi-final, a close contest is predicted between Bulgaria and Denmark as regards which country goes on to win this semi-final. Bulgaria ranks higher than Denmark in terms of bookie odds, but Denmark (and also fourth ranked Serbia) scores higher in terms of the past voting history factor. Romania, Serbia and Estonia are predicted by this analysis to round out the Top 5 in this second semi-final. Rounding out the Top 10 here would be The Netherlands, Hungary, Israel, Norway and FYR Macedonia. The margins separating some of these countries from the countries that would be just missing out on the Top 10 are relatively small with a relatively small number of points separating Belarus, Ireland and Austria from the country occupying the tenth qualification slot in this analysis.

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 Ireland, Belarus or Austria would seem to be the most likely countries to replace them, with Malta, Croatia and Switzerland also in contention. While Lithuania and San Marino not by any means seem to be wholly out of contention (and Lithuania does have a very good recent qualification record), 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 worth remembering that this model can only focus on estimating the televote/public vote. 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, would probably go on to qualify for the final. country that just misses out on the Top 10 in the public vote, but scores well in the jury vote – such as, possibly, Austria, Malta, Switzerland or Ireland in this semi-final – would probably go on to qualify for the final.

The face that Switzerland’s act, Timebelle, features two Romanian nationals in their line up, including lead singer Miruna Manescu, is another factor that needs to be accounted for here, as they could win a large number of points from Romania, but also tap into the Romanian diaspora vote. This could well see them edge into the qualifying berths.     

This analysis suggests that Ireland will narrowly miss out on qualifying for the final. The past voting history aspect/factor appearing to be the most problematic area here, although the recent betting odds factor are not favourable either. 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 around. The 9th position in the running order is probably the best running order position that Ireland has received since 2013, which was the last time that Ireland qualified. 

So to conclude, this study offers a prediction as to how the 36 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…no red lemonade for me, I guess.

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