Discussing the 2018 Eurovision Semi Final Running Order Allocations

Adrian Kavanagh, 3rd April 2018

The running order allocations for the two semi finals of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv (Ukraine) were announced this morning.


This is of interest, as one of the factors that can shape a country’s hopes of winning, or doing well in, the contest is the position in the contest running order that they get to perform in, with the usual rule of thumb suggesting that a later draw position will significantly help a country’s hopes of doing well. Positions in the running order had traditionally been decided by a draw up to the 2012 contest. But since the 2012 contest in Malmo, participating countries have just drawn to decide whether they will perform in the first half or second half of a contest, with the Host TV producers then deciding the running order based on what combination of entries works the best in terms of producing a better TV show. (The Host country is the only one that draws to decide their position in the Final running order and Portugal drew the eight position in the Final running order a few weeks earlier.) That practice has also been used this year and the running order allocations for the two semi finals of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest were released earlier today by the host broadcaster RTP

There have been notable differences between the different semi-final draw positions in terms of the number of acts that have successfully qualified for the contest final after having performed in these draw positions. (Successful draw positions are highlighted in yellow, with the last draw position in each semi-final being made evident by a heavier border.) Looking at the period from 2008 onwards, given that the two semi-finals system was introduced in that year, a number of trends become readily apparent.

First of all, it would appear to be the case that entries scheduled to perform in the second half of the contest semi finals are, on average, more likely to qualify for the Final than those scheduled to perform in the first half. The advantage of having a very late draw position – and especially that of performing either in the last or second-last draw positions – also becomes readily evident here. As will be noted further later, only a handful of acts performing from these very late running order positions have failed to go on to qualify for the Final subsequently.

Certain positions in the running order (namely 18th, 19th, 14th, 67, 17th, 10th and 13th – in that order) also have higher than average numbers of qualifiers associated with these, while acts performing from other positions in the running order (3rd, 11th, 5th, 8th and 4th – in that order) across these contests have tended to be more likely not to qualify than to qualify based on the trends noted above.


Figure 1: Average number of points by position in the semi-final running order at Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals between 2018 and 2016

While the second position in the Final running order is often looked on as the “draw of death” in a Eurovision Final, it is interesting to note that the qualification level for entries performing in second position in a Eurovision semi-final is not especially low. In fact, the worst position to perform from in a semi final, based on a review of semi final contests over the past eight/nine years, is the third position in the semi final running order. This is especially evident when the average number of points per semi final running order position are looked at, as in Figure 1 above. As well as again highlighting the advantage to be gained from a very late position in the semi final running order, this also shows that the lowest average level of points across semi-final contests since 2008 has been associated with the Number 3 position in the semi-final running order. This would appear to amount to bad news this year for Albania in Semi Final 1 and Serbia in Semi Final 2, although both of these countries will be able to offset this disadvantage somewhat due to being able to have strong “friends and neighbours”  and/or “diaspora” voting patterns (in the televote) to fall back on.

Most of the acts that have performed either in the second-last or last draw positions in these semi-finals have gone on to qualify for the Eurovision Final, although this trend has not been as pronounced over the past two Contests. Prior to 2016, the only exceptions to this rule were (for acts performing in second-last position) Switzerland in the second 2013 semi-final and FYR Macedonia in the second 2008 semi-final and (for acts performing last on the night) Serbia in the first semi-final of 2013 and The Netherlands in the first semi-final of 2010. However, at the 2016 contest both of the countries (Bosnia-Herzegovina/Albania) performing in the second-last position order slot failed to make the Final (although both the countries performing in the last position in the running order of these two semi-finals – Malta and Belgium – did go on to qualify for the Final). In 2017 both of the countries (Slovenia/Estonia) performing in the second-last position order slot again failed to qualify for the Final (one of the countries performing in the last position in the running order of these semi-finals – Israel – did qualify for the Final, but the other country – Latvia – did not).

It is important to remember that a poor position in the running order does not mean that an entry is destined not to qualify for the Final. Very strong entries can usually overcome a poor position in the running order, as also can countries that tend to have traditionally high levels of votes (in the televote, at least) related to “friends and neighbours”  and / or “diaspora” voting patterns to fall back on.

Somewhat confusing these trends is the unusual qualification system associated with the 2008 and 2009 contests, in which the country finishing in tenth place in the televote was not guaranteed qualification for the final but could miss out at the expense of a lower placed entry if that entry scored higher amongst the back-up juries. Thus, Sweden (performing 2nd on the night) qualified for the 2008 Final due to a strong ranking from the Eurovision back-up juries, even though the Swedish act finished in 12th place in the semi-final televote behind tenth-placed FYR Macedonia (performing 18th on the night) and Bulgaria. Had the qualifications in this case been based solely on the televote and the Macedonian act had qualified, this would have meant that every one of the acts that performed second from the end, apart from Switzerland in 2013, would have been successful in terms of qualifying for the Final at the fourteen semi-finals held between 2008 and 2015.

Songs are not disadvantaged from being placed next in the draw besides (other) strong entries. The fear has been that songs might find it difficult to stand out if they are in the same part of the draw as a strong entry or a number of strong entries. But the trends evidenced at semi final contests over the past ten years suggest that songs are probably more likely to be overlooked by the voters if they find themselves next in the draw to a number of (other) weaker Eurovision entries. Trends – as evidenced in the 2017 post on this same subject – suggest that songs have probably had a better chance of making it to the Eurovision Final when they were scheduled to perform just before, or just after, other entries that went on to qualify. These trends show a tendency for non-qualifier draw positions to cluster together in a similar vein to the manner that qualifier draw positions likewise seem to tend to cluster together.

So who does the running order allocation decision help, or hinder? There is no doubt that the “big winners” here were Cyprus in Semi Final 1 and Ukraine in Semi Final 2, with both these countries getting to perform last in the running order in their respective semi-final contests. It’s also relatively good news for Ireland (Semi Final 1) and Slovenia (Semi Final 2), as these countries get to perform in the penultimate running order positions in their respective semi finals. In terms of the countries that were initially drawn to perform in the first half of the two semi finals back in January, Bulgaria and Australia (in Semi Finals 1 and 2, respectively) would be very happy with their running order allocations given that they have attained the absolute latest position in a semi final running order that any of the countries drawn to perform in the First Half of these semi final contests could have hoped to attain.

The two countries drawn to perform in the Number 6 position – Lithuania in Semi Final 1 and Russia in Semi Final 2 – can also be relatively happy, given the relatively high (especially in relation to other running order positions in the first half of these contests) qualification level and average number of points that have been associated with that position in the contest running order. The big “losers” were the two countries that were assigned the dreaded Number 3 position in the running order – Albania and Serbia – as discussed above. The worst position to get in the running order for countries drawn to perform in the Second Half of the contest is the 11th position, which this year has been allocated to FYR Macedonia in Semi Final 1 and Poland in Semi Final 2. This is highly unfortunate for the Macedonians, given that they attained the dreaded third position in the running order at last year’s Semi Final 2 contest in Kyiv.



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