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.