Late last night, the Eurovision.tv website posted the ‘split vote’ results of the 2013 Song Contest. The average jury and televote rankings for each song in the two semi-finals and the grand final was announced. Take a few minutes to look over the message boards, forums, and other community sites and you’ll see discussion on who the juries helped and hindered, the televote results that were over-ruled, and other distractions from these numbers.
Yes, distractions, because ultimately the data on the jury and televote rankings released by the EBU tells us only a little more than nothing. It is a panacea for those who want to see how the Contest is scored, how the songs are judged, and who want to dig deeper into the cultural data set that the Eurovision voting represents.
A job half done is a job not done. The split vote ranking data, as released by the EBU, is less than half the job. Frankly, I think it would have been better if the EBU had not released any more data from the televote or the jury vote beyond what we saw on Saturday 18th May if this is all they feel they can release.
Nobody Really Understands Averages
Let’s illustrate this with a limited example of two songs and two juries, that are both listed as having an average jury ranking of ‘7’. When the combined rankings of these songs are translated into a placement, they could each receive a different score.
It could be that song one was first with one jury, and thirteenth with another. Translate that to the classic Eurovision Bourda points (12, 10, 8, 7, 6, etc) and it would score ten points. The second song could have finished sixth and eighth. Again in the old scoring system, that scores eight points (five and three). The same jury ranking, the same place in a table constructed as the 2013 split votes have been calculated, yet the scores awarded are different.
The ranking data provided by the EBU rightly shows a victory for Denmark. But it’s entirely possible to construct a set of televotes and jury votes that would hand the victory to Azerbaijan. With a bit of work I reckon you could take the published data and fashion a voting set that puts the United Kingdom in the Top Ten, and perhaps even top the scoreboard.
Why would you release data that allows for so much flexibility in its interpretation?
It Sends The Wrong Message
The chatter online has already started. ‘Montenegro were fourth in the televote, they should have qualified’, ‘The jury voted Austria fifth and they were sent home’,’ Romania won the televote in the second semi final’, ‘the jury had San Marino as qualifiers’, and so on. All of these statements will rapidly crystallise into the ‘facts’ of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest, when they are in actuality little more than an intermediate step towards the final result. Any tiny crumb of information is being treated as a feast.
All of these discussion points come down to fairness. The split vote might put Denmark at the top of the televote and jury vote’s ‘average rankings’, but when you start looking at other results, the implication is that this system is not fair. That’s not the case, but the explanation of the new scoring procedures has not been clear. Everyone was comfortable with what to expect with jury and televote results in previous years, but those rules of thumb no longer apply.
Unfortunately they’re still being used to try and analyse the split vote.
Anyone entering a Contest wants to believe that they have a chance of winning and that it will be conducted fairly. I’m sure that performers and delegations are aware of the changes and how the scores are calculated, but the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the few annual moments where it feels like a nation is entering a Contest – and the people of each nation must believe in the inherent fairness of that Contest.
Why would you release data that destroys the sense of fair play that should be present in any contest, rather than highlighting it?
It Makes It Easier To Hide Things
Okay, I may be veering slightly into ‘tin foil hat‘ territory here, but just because these seem outlandish, it doesn’t mean that the average Eurovision Song Contest fan won’t be thinking them – after all the latest theory behind Cascada’s loss this year is because ‘everyone hates the imposition of economic restrictions by Germany’ rather than anything to do with the performance on the night. No matter how crazy that might sound, conspiracy theories like that can damage ‘Brand Eurovsion’ for a long period of time.
This year was a 50/50 combination of jury votes and televotes, just as last year was a 50/50 combination of jury votes and televotes. That is a fact. But it’s the exact method of taking the two 50% sides and synthesizing them that’s in question here. How the combination process worked during 2013 is vital to understanding how the Contest unfolded, and it is this exact process that is being hidden by the EBU.
The EBU’s answer here is that to reveal the country splits would show where the televote did not reach the threshold limit (set targets in a number of areas to show that a televote is representative). Where a threshold is not met, the 50% jury vote becomes the vote from that broadcaster. It’s fair to say that San Marino would be a 100% jury vote given the issues in identifying enough votes from inside the Serene Republic, compared to votes from the surrounding Italian countryside.
The argument goes that if the countries not meeting the threshold are known, it would be easier to influence the televote in the following year. This ignores the fact that in previous years the countries not meeting the threshold were announced on the night by the then-Executive Supervisor Svante Stockselius, and that televote organizers Digame have procedures in place to negate the potential ‘power’ voting of people looking to influence the final result.
Of course with the average rankings and some smart maths, you can work out a few things. EscXtra’s Ervin Juhász has looked at the semi-finals and can say with a high level of confidence that one country used 100% jury vote in the first semi final, and two countries used a 100% jury vote in the second semi final. But that’s about all we can be sure about.
Putting the tin foil hat back on, therefore it must be a conspiracy!!! What would the result have been under 2012? Would it have been an Azeri victory, and all the political baggage that would have brought? Would we see that a significant number of countries did not reach the televoting threshold in the grand final, implying that tens of thousands of viewers might have wasted money casting votes that would never have an impact on the result? Or perhaps the cultural voting blocks are so pervasive that there is no easy way for the EBU to diminish their effects?
Why would you release data that creates the illusion of a hidden agenda?
It Would Have Been Better To Remain Silent
Looking at the issues around it, the ‘split vote’ announcement is a weak compromise between preserving the competitive nature of the Song Contest and being open with the data. It has failed on both counts. If meaningful split voting results are too sensitive to be released, then don’t try and hide behind a smokescreen of ambiguous numbers… make a decision to not release them.
These numbers given out by the EBU are incomplete at best, and it would be difficult to rely on them for any rigorous study. It feels like the official Eurovision press team have thrown us ‘something shiny‘ in the hope that the discussions will be distracted away from the numbers that actually matter.
Perhaps the best solution here would have been for the EBU to not release any split figures at all.