Eurovision 2017: Analysis Of The Semi Final Running Order Written by on April 1, 2017 | 17 Comments

In a surprise Friday morning announcement and far earlier than last year in Stockholm, the EBU revealed a running order for the two Eurovision Song Contest Semi Finals. We look at what details can be gleamed from looking inside the crystal ball of the producers and try and predict who if anybody may be advantaged by their position in each show. Ben Robertson reports.

The Kyiv Conundrum

The role of Contest Producer for the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 was always going to be an intriguing one. In 2016 SVT’s Christer Björkman took on the role and ran the ‘look and feel’ of each act, as well as deciding on the final running order.

Ukraine’s victory meant Eurovision was heading east for the first time since producer led running orders, a Björkman creation for Malmö in 2013, were introduced into the Song Contest. Ukraine’s history of producing running orders has been quite the opposite of the modern trend to control who sings when.

In the recent National Final in Kyiv, each act drew out their running order position in a televised draw. Further to this back when Ukraine last hosted, that being Junior Eurovision in 2013, the running order was drawn at the Opening Ceremony by each act. This was a format change from earlier Junior Eurovision shows, where the running order was producer controlled. Roman Keryk, the Executive Producer for that Junior Eurovision, argued then that it would be important to make the process seem ‘fair and transparent’.

It would be easy to see that the role of Contest Producer and the need to decide a running order would be a new challenge for the new Ukrainian broadcaster. However instead of copying the Western European practices of the last few years, instead they have ditched all the responsibility onto somebody else. The Contest Producer for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest is that very same Christer Björkman who had the gig in 2016 and 2013.

It means we have a very typically modern Eurovision running order with uptempo starts, interesting finishes and lots of weaving back and forth between the genres. It also means Ukraine completely avoided the drama of having to select the running order themselves and any potential controversy arising from it.

Deciding where Russia would sing would be another lose-lose situation that Ukraine has managed to deflect onto Swedes and the EBU. After what’s happened this week, thank goodness for that.

There are though 42 other countries taking part in the Song Contest, and 37 songs have been given starting positions for their Semi Finals. As always what we are looking for in a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ running order comes from three different factors. One is the absolute placing (being later is perceived as better, with 2nd infamous as the death slot), the second is based on crescendos in energy (does the song arrive on stage in a build up of crowd excitement and public interest) and the third is on direct comparisons between two songs with similar USPs back-to-back (i.e. if there are two power vocals together which one might out-shine the other).

The Winners Of The Running Order Minefield

Sweden

Let’s get this out the way first, the position of Sweden was always going to look awkward with Christer Björkman’s involvement in the production team.  Being drawn #1 kills anybody wanting to make those arguments.

However drawing first is not a bad thing for this track, and Robin won his Melodifestivalen Semi Final from the same position. Indeed having young male pop stars and their slick routines open the show is oh-so-Melfest…and they usually do really really well. The high production values on show here would have seen ‘I Can’t Go On’ sail through from any position in the running order. However opening makes perfect sense to get the party started, and also continue on the narrative from last year’s Contest in Stockholm.

The main ‘win’ for Sweden comes post-qualification to the Grand Final. An early draw on the Tuesday legitimises far more the option to showcase Sweden in the chaos of the 26 song Saturday night melee. Last year in Stockholm Frans was considered one of the favourites to win, and was pulled on stage after Poli Genova had lifted Globen up to the 9’s to warm up the home crowd. Mildly nudging the audience to warm up to a Swedish act is something that has been done before by the individuals making the running order previously. This move means they have more political flexibility to play Robin Bengtsson in for victory number 7 if they had the will and it was perceived the extra few % were worth nudging for.

Slovenia

By all rankings and ratings currently Slovenia are looking destined for the Semi Final scrapheap this year, with dated ‘On My Way’ performed by Kyiv Eurovision returnee Omar Naber a fan favourite to flounder.

However this type of song, where it is, might capture the attention of the less committed fan. Running order brings this into consideration once more. There’s a run of very restrained performances at the end of Semi Final One. The Czech Republic singer is strong, but never takes the song past third gear. Cyprus brings ‘Gravity’ which relies on a melodic hook, but a very over produced sound wrapped around Hovig’s voice. Armenia’s ‘Fly With Me’ has the potential for off-the-wall staging, but still doesn’t reach a point where it impresses.

This is where Slovenia comes in, second last in the Semi Final. This slot is akin to what Poland’s ‘Color Of My Life’ received last year in the Grand Final, placing second last in the first half of the Grand Final. The power vocal stood out far more than anybody anticipated and resonated in Poland securing third place in the televoters.

Now I’m far from suggesting Slovenia will do that or anything close. But it’s been given plenty of room to impress with a sound that feels empowering to the artist, with the big vocal and key change signifying this is the one. It also makes it tricky for the intricacy of Latvia afterwards to show off it’s novel syncopation after the static melody from Slovenia is belted out across the arena.

Portugal

In absolute terms Portugal have been drawn as late as possible, after pulling out a slot in the first half of Semi Final One. ‘Amor Pelos Dois’ is one of Eurovision 2017’s more love-hate points, with Salvador’s stage presence (or lack of) and old fashioned charming music dividing fan opinion strongly.

By being given the longest run-in possible, it makes the anti-Eurovision essence of this song far more noticeable than before. That impact is amplified by coming after Azerbaijan’s ‘Skeletons’ which will deliver a jarring big production to the stage.

We have no idea how a song like this will do in Eurovision voting, but the last time we felt like this was in Malta at Junior Eurovision last year. There the rules meant the old music-hall feel of Georgia’s ‘Mzeo’, drawn last, suddenly felt ‘right’ after the big production numbers beforehand. There’s a similar run here for Portugal, although an effect weakened by being in the first half.

Nevertheless to do well this song is going to have to charm the audience by being so utterly different from everything else. It will still divide opinion, but whereas Azerbaijan separates two deep ballads and will probably come across messy in-between Finland and Portugal, the latter will be a focal point for the production. Again harking back to an old Swedish production, the placement here reminds me of Anouk’s ‘Birds’ in 2013, drawn last in the first half of both the Semi Final and Grand Final, a breath of fresh air in the middle of the Eurovision hurricane.

The Losers Of The Running Order Firing Range

Russia

Let’s get this out the way first. Russia is left with two different options here. Not turn up in Kyiv, which recent evidence from their no-show at the Head of Delegation meeting might suggest likely, or get handed one of the stinkiest Semi Final draws ever.

The EBU are of course supportive of Russia’s involvement in this year’s Song Contest, as they would be for any member, but that has no bearings on the treatment ‘Flame Is Burning’ gets as three minutes of song.

Serbia opens up the Semi Final with a female pop track and big production noise; it’s safe, welcoming, professional Eurovision. Austria is up in number two, and Nathan Trent plays another comforting track with a cheeky wink to the camera and charming smile to match.

Then it’s Russia, drawn #3 because actually being given the death slot could cause the EBU another political nightmare. The piano chords comes across too simple compared to the smiley nature played in Austria’s entry, the voice weaker than the clear tones of Nathan and Tijana before.

That doesn’t say anything about the narrative, and the relationship Eurovision fans have with Russia. Julia’s appearance, should it be made, will hark back to her preview video make her appear weak and feeble, as lights and colours buzz around her rooted to the middle of the stage. It will create a mood where people to talk about the act, about the country, about the drama getting her to Kyiv or not.

However, the audience won’t be ready and willing to have those conversations. This will appear awkward compared to the straight-laced entries surrounding it in the running order. Plus there’s no time to make it into a conversation point with Macedonia on next, another young star who’ll be giving their biggest performance ever that night.

Russia would want a situation where its entry takes all the headlines. This draw makes the performance feel wrong, makes it far easier to vote down or vote against, makes the talking point the negative, and makes it arguably more likely that the headlines would be about Russia not qualifying for the first time ever.

Ireland

The Irish song is slap bang in the middle of the 2nd Semi Final, and filled with a 3-beats-in-the-bar ballad of cheese so mature it’s amazing the teenage singer hasn’t been overdosed from it.

The running order leaves that cheese in the hot air to grow a lovely layer of mould.

There are other realms of cheese in the show, and Ireland’s song to its dismay has been separated from Malta’s ‘Breathlessly’ where direct comparison may have helped Ireland’s chances. Instead after Malta comes crazy Romania to warm up the crowd, followed by O’G3NE which will again lift up the energy in the hall. The Hungarian song, with the huge swathes of ethnicity throughout, may not lift up the energy again, but the heat and melodic hook will keep the crowd clapping along with all the same enthusiasm. It’s worthy.

Then comes Anja Nissen with her modern ‘Where I Am’, a song that sounds like a souped up ‘Sound of Silence‘. And Anja belts new notes all over the melody a la Dami Im did. There will be plenty of whooping and cheering for the blonde bombshell.

The energy will suddenly drop as Ireland appears on stage. ‘Dying To Try’ just takes far long to get going and will lose the interest of the audience in the arena and at home. San Marino afterwards will laughably try and redeem it, as will Croatia depending on the live gimmick, until Norway returns us to musical normality. Ireland is the crowd restbite from the crescendo, the much needed toilet break, and the one struggling to capture attention.

Australia

Looking at the first half of the first Semi Final from an Australian viewpoint, you would be expecting a bit of muddy water  even before the draw came out. This part of the show includes big power female vocals from Georgia, Albania and Finland, Sweden which was always going to open and predicted craziness from Montenegro and Azerbaijan. There was no choice in creating a ‘TV-friendly’ running order but to use Isaiah from Australia as cannon fodder.

Don’t Come Easy’ performs third in the show, after Georgia and before Albania. These two songs have two of the most explosive female songs with mega vocal power. In direct comparison of the studio versions, Isaiah’s track is just as slow but yet a lot less powerful.

Live might be another factor. Georgia’s ‘Keep The Faith’ has the potential to sound screechy as the key changes and manic build up adds just too many layers to the pot. Albania’s ‘World’ might come across as whaling noise to a viewer not focused on the build up before those power notes. Knowing Australia’s track record as well, we would be expecting Isaiah’s live vocal and performance to levitate the song to new heights.

However as much as the position gives Australia a chance to shine, how much they shine is also dependant on how the songs either side also stand out – the others have arguably more potential to be breathtaking. As last year’s voting showed there were lots of countries in the televote, especially in the east, which has Australia very low in the rankings. The Moldova’s, Azerbaijan’s and Montenegro’s of the family are certainly not giving guaranteed points to Australia anyway. On stage Isaiah is going to need a USP more than just his song to protect Australia’s 2-in-2 Grand Final appearance record.

Remember This Is A Tiny Piece Of The Puzzle

Running order is only one factor that impacts the chance of a song having Eurovision Song Contest success. The quality of the song, singer and stageshow are all more important, as of course is the name of the country that any artist represents.

However running order is one of the few things controlled by the production team behind the show. Our research suggests a slight benefit to performing later in the show than earlier, but an impact that is amplified by producer led running orders building and drowning different tracks in the energy of the show. Such impacts are small, in the boundaries of a handful of percent, but something that can be significant if qualification is close.

While this tells us so much about the show and the ideas the production team have, remember there is so much we still don’t know. A key argument for controlling running order centrally is to ensure there is time to set up each of the elaborate stage shows within the tight postcard window. So much we can only speculate on now but it’s fun to try. One would assume Greece being after utterly simple Portugal suggests the former has something requiring tons of set up, for example.

Let’s all see what the competition brings us when we all watch the drama unfold.

What do you think about the running order this year? Who are your winners and losers from the battlegrounds laid out?

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson focuses on hot issues across the continent as well as piling through the minefield of statistics Eurovision creates. Ben moved from the UK to Sweden in 2011 and is the Stockholm Co-ordinator of Melodifestivalklubben and a Bureau Member of OGAE International.

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17 responses to “Eurovision 2017: Analysis Of The Semi Final Running Order”

  1. Cathal says:

    What a surprise, of course Ireland have a terrible draw! Take off your “I hate RTE” glasses off for just 2 seconds! You would have said it was a bad draw even if it got the pimp slot!

  2. Cathal says:

    What a surprise, of course Ireland have a terrible draw! Take off your “I hate RTE” glasses off for just 2 seconds! You would have said it was a bad draw even if it got the pimp slot!

    And what a surprise, Portugal who have the exact same position are in the winner section!

  3. Cathal says:

    Oh and another thing, please stop comparing Denmark 2017 with Australia 2016. They both have an Australian singer….thats where the comparison’s stop! Australia had a song that became a big hit, Denmark 2017 doesnt have that potential.

  4. Ben Robertson says:

    That’s all fine. I hear the throwing-away-of-the-vocal-line-to-blast and the huge reaction from Herning as reminding me from what I felt with Australia last year. I agree the chance of a big hit is smaller, but the ‘feel’ is what we are talking about here. Anja will smash it.

    And, as discussed, Portugal will feel more natural where it is than anywhere else. Ireland could have far better positions than the one it has.

    Who do you think ‘wins’ from this?

  5. Tim Everingham says:

    Another important consideration is when the broadcasters plan to have ad breaks . Last year all 4 songs after the break made it through whilst only 1(Croatia and only just ) out of 4 did before .

  6. Cathal says:

    Okay I may have overreacted a little bit but my honest view on Ireland is its on before 2 potential car crashes in SM and Croatia plus its to most comparable competitors are in the first 5 one of which has the death slot, imo Ireland being where they are is like a moment of calm in all the madness between Hungary and Croatia (similar to Hungary 2015 in a way). Obviously we won’t know till rehearsals but I dont see how Ireland being late as possible in the first half and right before 1 if not 2 bad performance’s is one of the 3 worst draw’s, also being quite far away from the similar Bulgaria entry (who are the obvious SF winner imo) is another big plus.

    Australia last year while I may not like it was in hindsight a cracking song and had a crack staging performance, Denmark 2017 imo is much more comparable to Iceland 2015. Denmark I think themselves have a pretty rubbish draw being right after Hungary which will leave a lot of people confused and the last thing they need is some lady screaming at them. If Denmark have the same performance as there NF performance they are then at best a borderline qualifier, its the pure example of fan-whatever ;)- but I doubt that will work with the non ESC fandom viewers.

    IMO Portgual unless they got the dreaded 2 slot it didn’t matter where they were drawn, its a song that stands out in its semi, my issue with them is if they qualify we will then have a 6-4 split in the semi as I simply cannot see Aze,Fin,Bel,Swe,Aus not qualifying, what this draw tells us is Dimitris Kontopoulos is planning something big with Greece.

    In the end we just dont know until rehearsal’s, Czech Republic I thought were doomed last year being right next to Russia but in the end they actually stood out. What I can gather from all this is Ireland and Portugal probably have quite simple performance’s followed by Greece and SM who probably dont.

  7. Ben Robertson says:

    Tim, there’s a different article looking at advert breaks and their impact that will be online soon!

  8. PurpleKylie says:

    OK, no offence Cathal but I think you need to take off your emerald-tinted glasses off for a second.

    Thinking about it now, I kinda agree with Ben on this (and we hardly ever agree before you accuse me of anything). It *does* feel like a drop after a crescendo, and while you obviously have a major dislike of Denmark, I think they’ve got a better chance of qualifying than Ireland does because, well, what do juries like?

    Nice and inoffensive? Check
    Commercial-sounding? Check
    In English? Check
    Big, strong vocals? Check

    Also, comparing it to Unbroken is really unfair because at least Anja has a professional-looking staging and is a far more reliable singer.

    Also, you say that Croatia being two songs after you would make Ireland look better in comparison? In terms of juries, yes, but to the audience at home voting, that might memory-hole Ireland, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a song.

  9. PurpleKylie says:

    Anyway, outside of this little debate, I highly disagree on Slovenia getting a good deal here. What Slovenia’s position in the running order reminds me of is when they put Eneda on before Laura in last year’s second semi. It feels more like filler before the big climax.

    Also you could make the argument that they could be memory-holed here, before you get Armenia with their choreography-heavy performance (if we’re going by the official video), and after you get Latvia with their big rave-style party.

    Also your comment about how Portugal feels like a relief after a bunch of craziness, I think the same thing could be said for Belgium, it comes after three big blustering ballads and the people at home might be thinking “oh thank god, not a ballad for once”. Being on before the ad break doesn’t hurt either.

    Otherwise I pretty much agree with the others, especially Australia, that run of Georgia-Australia-Albania seems like such a tedious run of songs to me.

  10. Cathal says:

    No green tinted glasses here, if it turns out Ireland is a shambles and looks lost than I will have no problem taking back all I said here thus far.

    I actually dont dislike Denmark at all, I already have it as a green but if it stay’s the same as the NF performance I’d likely move it to a 50/50 case. What I think is stupid is comparing it with Australia 2016, there chalk and cheese. She is a better singer but the staging isn’t that different but the routine is better. Denmark have tried this formula the last 2 years and failed, she’s a better singer but like Iceland 2015 there is no point of a song, its just him singing.

    If Croatia was right after Ireland i’d be concerned but with SM as a spacing it make’s it. I really dont know what to think mainly because we really dont know about the live performance’s

  11. Poet says:

    I enjoyed last year’s ESCInsight analysis. What I’m missing this year is ‘neutrality’.

    The article points out that Ukraine would have done bad draw in a way, but having Swedish producer on board makes it more professional. Later on, it acknowledges that Sweden’s position is given as a present, but after that very sentence it doesn’t question that.

    Not sure if there has ever been professionally done running order decided by organisers since Sweden’s decision to introduce it. It has always been very biased. Just because it’s Swedish and they explain it by ‘making every song stand out’ is very, Very questionable.

  12. HarrietKrohn says:

    “Then it’s Russia, drawn #3 because actually being given the death slot could cause the EBU another political nightmare.” *cough* In semis, #2 isn’t _actually_ the death slot – that’s #3. The only way this avoids even more political nightmare is that most people are as unaware of this as the author. 😉

  13. Ben Robertson says:

    Yes, but the running order ‘perception’ amongst the media and general public is that 2nd is worst. If Russia was second that would generate far more negative headlines than being drawn 3rd.

    I remember talking to Aarezemnieki’s songwriter about this in 2014, just after they were given the second slot. He interpreted it as ‘they don’t think we deserve to qualify’. It will take a lot to shake the stigma, so the acts singing 2nd have to be carefully chosen, if you choose to choose.

  14. Robyn says:

    Random question: what does “restbite” mean?

  15. HarrietKrohn says:

    @Ben: Isn’t that what I said, that people are not aware that #3 is the death slot so it isn’t a problem to put Russia there, even though it’s actually worse than #2?

  16. Ben Robertson says:

    Indeed.

    I would be careful on suggesting #3 is actually worse than #2. I don’t think there is enough data to justify that. Especially knowing running order is only a small piece in the puzzle.

    Using Q rates isn’t the most effective test either, absolute points would be a better measure, as would absolute ranking place in the jury and televotes which we can do going back to 2014.

  17. […] As ever, ESC Insight have provided a full analysis of the Semi Final running order, courtesy of our stats king Ben Robertson. You can read his rundown of the winners and losers here. […]

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