How Running Orders Are Produced
Since 2013, the running orders for the Eurovision Song Contest have been made by the production team involved. In this case that is the host broadcaster SVT, lead by Contest Producer Christer Björkman. The final order must be confirmed by the EBU but they have never had to alter a running order made since this rule began. Once again the EBU have ticked off the host broadcaster running order.
The production team only have one constraint, that being the draw each country makes after their Semi Final, which puts them in either the first half or second half of the show. That draw took place at the press conferences after each Semi Finals, or on the Red Carpet for the Big 5 countries. Sweden’s position was decided by random draw.
The running order produced by SVT is stereotypical to the point of embarrassment. It follows all the patterns and cliches of previous years, and re-hashes the tried and tested formulas we all know about, and does the same technique in both halves of the draw. Each section starts off with a safe, up-tempo number which is not musically challenging to the ear (Belgium and Cyprus). Immediately after, in the dreaded 2nd slots, we have a move down in tempo to songs where vocals play a bigger role (Czech Republic and Serbia) and the mood of the Contest changes from just being light and fluffy to more serious. Also the ending songs in each half (Australia and Armenia) feature iconic staging and huge vocals. They are showstoppers and they’ve been given a chance to do just that.
One of the biggest issues with a producer led running order is that it is designed to make for great entertainment. To do that, you want to build excitement as the show progresses. Academic research has suggested this perpetuates any impact of running order bias as producers are more likely to put perceived favourites later in the show. When the draw was announced the top seven favourites were Russia, Australia, Ukraine, France, Sweden, Armenia and Malta, with a large pack of countries clustered behind this group. Sweden’s position as host country was randomly drawn in position 9, but nevertheless five out of the six favourites were given slots to the latter half of their split in the order.
The only one who didn’t is the odds-on favourite Russia.
How Producers Are Stringing Up Sergey
Russia are going to perform in position eighteen in the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final. Such a starting number is more than perfectly ok, coming in a time of the show traditionally where casual fans are looking for a favourite to support. What particularly is interesting though is how the show builds around Russia, making the stunning performance as anticlimactic as it possibly can be.
The songs immediately before in the second half are Cyprus, Serbia, Lithuania and Croatia. This is an incredibly forgettable section in the show. Lithuania’s safely up-tempo in a way that’s surely to be passed over in the huge setting such as the Grand Final, and the delicate melody of ‘Lighthouse’ is a calming lull in the show’s energy, rather than building a crescendo. Then in comes Sergey. He’s going to get one huge reaction without a doubt, but he’ll be coming off a crowd that have just been relatively uninspired, and a TV audience starting to turn off rather than turn on.
On the other side of the coin, the surprise to many was the placing of high energy and fun-loving Spanish singer Barei straight after Sergey Lazarev. This might well downplay any impact that Russia has on the audience. With hundreds of vocal Spanish fans and a catchy danceable tune, Spain will build well of the energy and excitement Russia throws around the arena. That continues with Justs coming on after that to blast away his vocal and will hit another fever pitch when Jamala arrives on stage. Sergey is being used not to be the focus of attention, but to give the show a boost of energy when needed to pick up pace for songs afterwards.
The Challengers Get A Step Up To Shine
Excluding Russia, I can make cases for the other favourites in the Grand Final getting a boost in support before them. Australia’s Dami Im knocked ‘Sound Of Silence’ for six in the Semi Final, and is now very much in contention. The latest possible slot in the first half just adds to the anticipation of Australia topping their fifth place finish from last year. Before that though comes Poland, with ‘Color Of Your Life’ also a impressive vocal effort. The difference here is that Poland’s entry does astonish in the same way diminutive Dami does, and Australia will take that wow feeling and grasp it from Michal Szpak. The scheduled break in performances is after Poland, but I’m expecting the crowd to anticipate Australia enough to overcome that.
Also add here that fellow favourite France is two ahead in position eleven. It’s classic Scandinavian design. Three favourites in the last five slots, separated by relative no hopers. Germany before is a static performance with the singer’s visuals will most likely distract from the pop song, which Amir’s charisma will come in and charm and clean up the genre. Sweden is also getting a boost from Poli Genova coming in at position number eight. Poli’s enthusiasm for her straight-up power pop will get the crowd in a buzz before Sweden arrives on the scene. It’s a risk with Frans’ performance so understated, but if Sweden’s going to take the crown it will have to capture that energy, and the home crowd will be ready to give 17-year-old Frans their all.
At the other end of the draw you can see how Ukraine’s ‘1944’ has got a little kick as well. Latvia’s Justs turned up the rock voice in the Semi Final and increases the power from Spain. Jamala will offer a contrast in musical style, but not in terms of the energy in the hall. If Malta, currently speaking 7th favourite, could work wonders, then coming out 22nd could do it. They’re both completely different songs, but having two of the best female singers in the final could be another compare-and-contrast point created by the producers.
Armenia being on last is quite typical SVT flair for having something quite groundbreaking to end the show. Usually in Melodifestivalen it works out well, and Armenia should have enough before it to stop viewer fatigue. A Georgia-Austria-UK does try and keep momentum high (even though one could argue the UK loses out in this bubble coming down from the Austrian fan love) and Armenia has been given every chance to capitalise on the buzz surrounding ‘LoveWave‘.
Who Is The Only One?
Russia’s odds of victory shortened to levels we have never seen before in Song Contest history, and we are all well aware of the rhetoric that may not want a trip to Moscow. ‘You Are The Only One’ does have one other obvious issue, and that is the style of the music. The schlager pop sound has never been a jury favourite before, and would be unlikely to place first from the industry professionals again.
What this running order has done is give lots of the other favourites the best possible chance to make the competition interesting and make it competitive. However there seems to be no clear trend to who can step up and challenge Russia. If we look at the download stats from esctracker.com, the top 5 as of writing are Russia (leading by far across all markets), Australia (mainly in the Western markets), Latvia (less markets but a good East-West spread), Ukraine (mainly in the Eastern markets) and Austria (only a few markets, and they’re all Western).
If anything is going to attack Russia, it’s going to have to be a united force from the collective will of continental juries. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus at the moment with East and West, other than Russia. Russia would need to be a long way back from the jury vote to not be expected to win, and that requires one song to hoover up support. Of all the tracks with a chance, I’d give my feeling that Australia’s been given the best line of attack. However all the favourites have running order positions that I can argue are favourable, and could very easily lead to a split vote which might let Russia just steamroll through in the final voting sequence.
The producer-led running order of Christer Björkman and the SVT team will make it entertaining on Saturday night, and might even nudge the Contest in such a way to make the voting closer and more exciting. We all know that the ESC Insight team question the power the production team have in doing this, but now we have our 26 and we have a very tantalising show ahead of us. If you want to win it, now is the time to show off and make yourself number one and not just number two. Game on.