Junior Eurovision’s Misguided Adventure With Online Voting Written by on November 19, 2017 | 14 Comments

Junior Eurovision 2016 will allow the public to vote online as part of the classic 50/50 voting split that will decide the winner. Ewan Spence takes a closer look at the EBU’s chosen method and how it unbalances the Contest away from the live performances.

Once more, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest is tweaking its voting system. With a mix of testing new technology and an eye on the different audience demographic the Contest has, Junior Eurovision has never been afraid to try new ideas. For Tbilisi 2017, the EBU has opened up the voting to the widest possible audience, but not without controversy and risk.

Announced on the official website, 2017’s voting system returns to a 50/50 split between juries based at the TV studios of each active broadcaster, and the engaged public. But rather than set up phone lines in each country, collate these votes, and then combine the vote with the public, the public vote at Junior Eurovision is going to be powered by online voting, with no geographical restrictions.

Here’s how the EBU are explaining the process.

As you can see, the video explains the process for casting a vote. Voting starts Fri 24th November. temporarily closes as Junior Eurovision 2017 starts, and then opens again for fifteen minutes after all the songs have been performed live. You’ll also be asked to vote for 3, 4, or 5 songs, and in a change to decades of expectations, you can vote for your own country,

Presumably by forcing you to vote for multiple countries it means people will vote for their own country and at least two more. It’s a hack to get around the ease of avoid geo-blocking controls online, but it’s an ugly hack.

What the video does not explain is how the votes from around the internet will be combined to create to 50% public voting block.

The Online Vote Problem

With an online vote, the issue of discriminating genuine votes from those designed to pollute the final result is a significant one. But it’s also the concern of the EBU’s voting partner, not this article.

There has been an official online vote for Junior Eurovision organised by the EBU once before. Although it did not impact on the scores on the night, Malta 2014 saw an online poll to decide the ‘Online Song’ which ran live alongside the Contest. Unfortunately this crashed within minutes of the system opening:

”We apologise for not being able to count your votes,” [Executive Supervisor Vladislav] Yakovlev said today. “We were absolutely amazed at the huge increase in interest – we are sorry that the system did not work, but are also delighted that interest in Junior Eurovision from all over the world is so high.”

Technology has moved on in the intervening three years, so the lessons learned from Malta 2014 should ensure a smooth vote Tbilisi 2017. Of course if voting does crash during the live show, the votes cast before the show opened can be used as a fall back (before having to double up the jury vote).

But opening the vote before the show starts is a much bigger, and perhaps much more destabilising, proposition.

It’s No Longer Three Minutes On Stage

The change to online voting that starts two days before Junior Eurovision diminishes the value of the Contest, it increases the power of PR, and larger countries have an automatic advantage.

By detaching the voting from the live show, you weaken the live elements of Junior Eurovision. Voting will happen not on the strength of the three minute performance with live vocals where every competitor is on the same stage with broadly the same equipment. Instead people will be deciding how to cast their votes by looking at the official videos, artist profiles on YouTube, interviews on community websites, and online interactions. Arguably a strong social media game will be worth far more public votes than the ability to sing the song.

When your PR and marketing machine can offer you more votes than a spine-chilling performance, that can’t be the right approach for a song contest.

As an example, compare two of last year’s promotional videos. Georgia’s Mariam Mamadashvili  (the eventual winner) goes for a ‘stand in the studio’ approach, while Malta’s Christina goes all out on the production values and a studio-tweaked vocal track. Which would gather more votes? Given Mamadashvili won on the strength of surprisingly strong live vocal, the 2016 result under the new voting system would have been different.

The Competition Is No Longer Balanced

As contests go, Eurovision and Junior Eurovision have relatively level playing fields. Although the introduction of producer led running orders and a move towards a more visual style of presentation in the last five years has upset the balance, every performer had the same three minutes on stage, with the same cameras, sound, and lighting rigs as the competition. All performers were judged as equals – even if half of the votes were earned on the dress rehearsal, conditions were the same for every performer.

That’s not the case in this year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest.

With the voting window opening on Friday 24th November, the voting public will now be largely guided by the promotional videos available through YouTube. That offers a clear advantage to a delegation willing to invest heavily in the video and the promotion of the video.

Naturally, the voting platform will not have clips from the live performances. Expect clips from the second rehearsal to be used instead… which means the second rehearsal is not a rehearsal, it’s a performance that will directly impact the public vote. So no pressure, kids.

Vote For Yourself, Vote Often, And Win

Then there’s the ability for the public to vote for their own country – something that has not been the case at any Eurovision Song Contest or Junior Eurovision. That’s going to skew the voting numbers. I like that you will be asked to vote for at least 3 countries in the system, but the assumption has to be made that everyone is going to cast at least one vote for their country.  And that guarantees an advantage to certain countries.

Let’s be really generous and say that two percent of the audience at home votes, and that is distributed equally according to viewing figures. Last year the Junior Eurovision website reported 3.9 million people watched the show. If this were replicated this year, that would be 78,000 voters, and 78,000 votes for a home country. But more than half of the audience came from Poland – 2.2 million to be exact – so Poland get an automatic 44,000 votes out of the gate. Compare that to Italy, where the 49,000 audience would translate to a mere 980 votes.

If this happened this year, Italy and Poland would not be singing on a level playing field as the show started. Poland would have a huge lead in the votes, and Italy could forget about climbing the televote chart.

Even though each voter will be casting more votes, the example of the Melodifestivalen online voting that the vote stays clumped together without any huge variation. Assuming a regular spread of votes, there is every chance that a country with supporters heavily engaged in Junior Eurovision is going to be at a significant advantage in the televote.

Finally, pay attention to how these individual votes are going to be aggregated together. There will be no attempt to allocate them to the sixteen countries taking part (and a ‘rest of the world’ pile). All of the votes will be counted as one constituency, and the 928 points will be split on the gross percentage of valid votes from around the world.

It’s Good, But It’s Not Right

Since the first televote test at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest, the public had always been involved with the result of the Song Contests at Adult and Junior level until last year’s Junior Eurovision in Malta. The smaller audience and occasional delayed broadcast time for Junior Eurovision have made the reintroduction of  audience voting a tricky proposition, and I am in broad agreement that using an online component to voting is the way forward. But the approach used for Junior Eurovision 2017 is unfair to smaller countries, distorts the results of the Contest, and puts too much emphasis on PR and Promotional videos than live performances and genuine singing talent.

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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14 responses to “Junior Eurovision’s Misguided Adventure With Online Voting”

  1. Agree with every word, but with a small correction. Juries were allowed to vote for their own country once before, in 1956. There was also, some problem with the Luxembourg jury that year and a spare set of locals took their place. Some think that the presence of two Swiss juries who could vote for themselves led to Switzerland getting the home win.

  2. James says:

    I wonder how the votes from non-participating countries would figure into the over-all vote, assuming this is what the EBU is going for, as that part was never fully explained for me. Supposedly, with the 50/50 split, we’d be guaranteed an equal distribution of points from the kids/adult juries and the online voting public:

    The voting public, the kids jury, and the adult jury per JESC country would each be given 58 points, totalling 2784 points [(58*3)*16] up for grabs. I’m not strong at math but I’m hoping this is accurate, and this is also under the assumption that there will still be two separate juries per country like last year.

    But supposedly with everyone outside JESC countries getting to vote, how will this new system work exactly? Will all the online votes cast and collected be combined into one single set of points representing the 50% of the over-all vote? Or will they count as a separate “rest of the world” vote composed of 58 points?

    As for countries voting for themselves: If, let’s say, every JESC country cast most of their votes to themselves*, then they’ll be rewarding their own entry with 12 points, right? But that would effectively rendering that 12 worthless as voters would have canceled each other out, similar to past editions when entries were given automatic 12’s to avoid any of them getting nul points. Then they’d still have to make sure others countries vote for them as well.

    *Again, assuming that online votes from all over the world would not all be combined and turned into a single set of points to fill that 50%.

    🙂

  3. James says:

    Also, with Poland moving their live telecast of JESC to a lesser watched channel, a certain drop in the number of people watching the show live there may have a significant impact with online voting on their side.

  4. @ James, the article explains that the voting won’t be broken down by country, so there won’t be a “rest of the world” vote. All the votes will be collected as one then broken down by percentage, so if for example Portugal get 5% of the vote, they’ll get around 34 points from the online vote in the final result.

    And as for Poland, if they’re as motivated and invested in Junior as I think they are, they can easily vote before the show regardless of how many tune in for the actual show.

  5. Ben Cook says:

    I agree it’s ridiculous that you’re going to be able to vote for your own country – especially if it’s true that over half the live audience last year was from Poland!

    But I don’t agree that Melodifestivalen’s online voting suggests the vote will stay clumped together. The reason it happens in MF is because you vote on every song. And people tend to vote for every song they like. You’ll only be able to pick 3 in JESC.

  6. Shai says:

    That countries can vote for themselves, make sure that song is not judged by its quality/singing abilities but on nationalistic level. National sentiment is always stronger than any other factor and therefore lead to bias voting. In short a bad idea.

    In ESC, they will have to apply this for all 3 shows(2 SF+ final) but they have the jurries final and they can transmit the feed of the jurries final to all participant countries, which solve the issue of unfair use of video.

  7. Ewan Spence says:

    You can vote for three, four, or five countries in the system.

  8. John Egan says:

    There is also nothing stopping someone from voting many many more times. I’m assuming the JESC will be using cookies and IP addresses to inhibit further voting. Multiple devices, VPNs and it would be super easy to cast 12x the ostensive limit.

  9. James says:

    @Kylie, Thanks for the clarification. Somehow I may missed that one paragraph explaining about the online votes.

    With a minimum of three countries to vote for and a max of five, it’d be interesting to see if that requirement will help minimize nationalistic votes by drowning them out with votes they have to send for other countries, which will in turn become advantageous for other countries voting for themselves, with the juries balancing everything else.

  10. Eurojock says:

    The fact that online voters will vote partly on the strength of video performances could give a boost to Russia and Belarus. At least this year there is a significant element of voting on the day. Last year little Mariam could have forgotten her lines, thrown up her lunch and then fallen off the stage and still have won, because nearly all the votes were in the bag before the Sunday show. (Mind you, I seem to recall that the only person who actually did throw up their lunch last year was Ewan!)

  11. Eurojock says:

    I’ve just gone to the JESC voting Website. The clips of the ‘live’ performance are so short as to be totally unhelpful to any voting decision. If you vote online before the day it will either be based on the videos or blind patriotism.

  12. […] In the 2008 edition of  JESC, the 50/50 voting split was trialled before being rolled out for the 2009 edition of the adult contest. The voting scheme for JESC has been tweaked and altered over the years – the custom of giving a douze points to every competing nation at the start of the voting sequence started in 2005, the mixed age juries have variously been supplemented by a kids jury since 2012, pop experts including Jedward and latterly and with varying success, an online vote. […]

  13. Erik says:

    If ‘behind the scenes’ they just delete the own country vote I’m pretty much OK wth it, But then they lie in how the process works or at least don’t tell. They only say ‘you can vote”they do not say ‘the vote will be counted’
    I think they don’t know how to solve the voting on your own country at all.

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