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If The EBU Trust DR, They Should Give Them Full Control Over The Running Order Written by on October 30, 2013 | 9 Comments

Quite  a few on-screen elements of the Eurovision Song Contest went through a number of changes during for the 2013 Contest, including the contentious decision to allow the SVT producers to (partially) set the running order of the songs in the semi-finals and grand final. Why is this rule likely to stay in place for 2014, even if it does damage the perception of a fair Song Contest? What are the arguments for it to be applied, and why should the EBU consider giving this year’s product team from DR complete control over the running spots for all 26 finalists?

One Rule Down, One To Go?

We’ve already seen one rule change announced for the 2014 Contest with last month’s announcement that the individual rankings from each jury member will be released after the Contest, as well as the full televote ranking. You can be sure that these will be analysed in depth once we have a winner in Copenhagen. I want to look at the other point of contention from the 2013 Contest, namely the changes to the running order of the Grand Final.

Until we arrived in Malmö for the 2013 Contest, the running order for every Saturday night was decided by a random draw organised by the EBU. to allow the producers (in this case SVT) to suggest a running order to be signed off by the Executive Supervisor and the Reference Group.

My feelings on this change, as well as those of the rest of the ESC Insight editorial team, have been clear since that announcement. The running order has an influence on the final result, and if Eurovision is to be a fair contest, the running order should not be left open to human bias, but continue to be a random draw.

At the heart of this argument is the dichotomy of the Eurovision Song Contest. In the same breath it is both the world’s largest singing contest and one of the most watched entertainment and variety shows on the planet. There are moments when you cannot adequately serve both of these areas. The decisions over the last few years have almost always landed on the side of increasing the entertainment value over maintaining a fair and balanced competitive element.

Speaking to a number of delegations, there is no appetite from any of the TV producers to return to a random draw. Many of the TV professionals working within a delegation have annual assessments, and the primary measurement of success are the TV ratings in each country. By having the running order formulated around the traditional rules of music hall and variety shows (broadly this means a fast/slow rhythm, whilst keep the bigger names until the end, a process which in itself ) they can take one more ‘risk’ out of the Eurovision broadcast.

The Crystal Hall, Baku

Why take a risk on Eurovision when the Strictly Come Dancing gig is waiting for you?

When the success of any event is measured on short-term results, it’s very hard to take a long term view. Creating an entertaining running order is a short-term view of the Eurovision Song Contest shows that will weaken the level playing field that any competitive event demands.

If It’s Going To Stay, Let’s Make The Best Of It

We have to assume that the running order for 2014 will still be put together by Danish broadcaster DR for the EBU to sign off on, and unfortunately there is still a weakness in this process.

After the running order rule change was announced in November 2012, there was one more tweak made to it. At the Heads of Delegation meeting in March 2013, it was announced that countries appearing in the Grand Final would now , either the top half or the bottom half (although the host broadcaster, for the sake of fairness, would still have its slot in the order drawn at random).

This struck us then as a strange compromise at the time, and looking back over the whole Contest it does stand out, especially as Executive Supervisor “there is indeed no significant statistical impact of the running order on the result.” If there is no impact on the running order, why draw for top or bottom?

Sietse Bakker and Jon Ola Sand

“Who’s on second?” “No, Who’s on first. What’s on second!”

ESC Insight recently asked Sietse Bakker, Eurovision’s Event Supervisor, on the thinking behind this draw process. “It is simply consistent to draw first and second halfs for all shows, rather than just doing it in the Semi-Finals,” he explained to us. “It’s also our way of compromising with those who believe that performing in the second half is an advantage.”

There are logistical reasons for the split during the semi-finals. Only half of each running order can rehearse each day, so delegations need to know when they have to turn up in the host city. Everyone is already in place for the Grand Final, so while there may be an emotional side to this argument, it still limits the options for the producers to create the best show possible. How many delegations were discussing with the EBU about carrying on the top/bottom split with the EBU before the rule change to the rule change was announced in March last year? The answer above also gives out a mixed signal coming from the EBU on the impact the running order has. If the running order has no impact on the result, then they should stand by this view and not provide a token compromise.

And that’s before we note that this year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest is returning to a random draw to decide the order of the songs. Why? In the words of Executive Producer Roman Keryk from Ukraine’s NTU, the televised random draw is also about “…seeing how fair and transparent the process is.

Give DR Every Option To Create The Best Running Order

Arguments aside, the EBU is set for a producer-led draw in Copenhagen. If the Eurovision Song Contest is to have a running order that focuses on creating entertainment and showcasing each song through contrast, then the EBU should drop the random top/bottom element of the running order process and trust the show producers to program all twenty six songs in the Grand Final – and yes, that includes their own song.

If the argument is that the running order has no impact on the victory, and the most important thing is to make each song stand out and be presented in the best possible way, then randomly separating the songs into two pools defeats that purpose.  On the other hand, if the EBU feel there is a need for the order to be random, then we should return to the random draw completely.

Given the desire from the delegations to remain with a curated song list, the EBU should commit fully to a producer-led running order , drop the draw for top/bottom in the Grand Final, hand 26 empty slots to DR, and tell them to put together the best show possible, with no restrictions.

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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9 responses to “If The EBU Trust DR, They Should Give Them Full Control Over The Running Order”

  1. Peter says:

    You know the EBU really got it wrong when even Ukraine point out how fair and transparent a random draw is!

    My cynical side wouldn’t trust any of the broadcasters to create a fair running order. Of course they’re going to have preferences and favourites for their own local markets, and of course they’re going to try and skew things to help them and their friends get a good result. The host broadcaster still has to care about their own ratings and their own share of the phone vote revenue, after all.

    The lack of trust that really concerns me instead though, surrounds Jon Ola Sand and the Reference Group, because they’re the ones with final approval to make sure the broadcasters don’t cheat and skew things in their favour. Obviously we don’t know what happened behind closed doors last year, but if they did anything other than say “Yes Christer, whatever you want Christer” and rubber stamp the SVT running order, then I’d be totally truly shocked.

    As much as I hate the idea of a producer-derived draw, I say let’s give DR and the subsequent host broadcasters free reign over everything, because the sooner they push things too far, the sooner some of the mud will finally stick to Mr Sand, and the sooner we can get back to having the show run by someone we can actually trust.

  2. RogerL says:

    I think it is much more important for the show that it gets a proper flow than virtual fairness.

    Suppose for one moment that starting position is decisive and you need to start in second half to have a chance to win. You do of cause also need a great song.

    What if the year you have a great song you draw #2…

    How is that fair? Wait ten more years to next great song.

    I think it matters a lot more what songs performs before and after you. The producer wants EVERY song to be viewed in best possible circumstance. Why? Because that will reflect on the show. No producer would want the worst possible order…

  3. Ewan Spence says:

    Roger, let me tweak the #2 argument slightly. Let’s imagine you have a great song, are drawn second half, but the production team place you 14th (the earliest possible) and sandwich you between two big name stars that dwarf you. And you have to wait ten more years to the next great song.
    And this, right here, is the dichotomy of Eurovision – and I believe that the bias be towards a fair contest. I’d rather lose (due to running order0 on a random draw than a production team trying to conform to an expectation of form that actually hinders the ability for people to judge songs (more on audience judging perceptions here).
    There’s no 100% right answer, but I tend to think that random draw is more right.fair than production draw.

  4. Shevek says:

    Yes, there are no perfect solutions. However, the current option is damaging and goes against ESC’s DNA. Everybody must be treated the same way. Soon enough the producers will be claiming that there is no point in having to waste time on songs from countries with no internal market to speak of. The first step has taken place.

    P.S.: last year one could clearly see how much HRH Björkman disliked the French entry and supported the German entry, for instance.

  5. Ben Gray says:

    I believe that a random slot for the host country’s song should stay, because not all broadcasters *cough* can be trusted with that power.

    I wouldn’t strongly object to dropping the 1st/2nd half draw for the grand final because I believe that the impact the running order has on the result is moderate at best. I also believe it to be dependent on what kind of song is at what position. If it is good enough, it quite simply will win from anywhere.

    I believe I already read an article a year or two ago on this site, (it may have been another,) that used dots on a graph to show how the running order had virtually no impact simply because the dots were all over the place instead of loosely going up the rankings as the running order progressed. To say that the running order is decisive on a song’s position is not a concrete fact by any means, and until there really is any significant statistical data the hive of fans can unearth, I have to side with Mr. Sand on his statement.

    Besides, the flow of the 2011 final was frankly chaotic.

  6. Ben Gray says:

    Apologies for the double post, but I also believe the EBU should turn their attention to the highly outdated rules concerning the performance. I’d be interested to hear your views on this Ewan…

    I’m not saying “match Melodifestivalen” because I sometimes gag at the overpolished acts on there who yell tunelessly over a swath of pre-recorded vocal noise, but I believe some pre-recorded backing vocals should be allowed in conjunction with live backing singers – particularly those vocals which are impossible or not easy to replicate with the human voice alone. Case in point, Sebastien Tellier.

    I concede that it’s difficult to moderate what vocals are and are not allowed if this were the case, and if I was running the contest, I’d have someone impartial with lots of production and studio experience assess them on a song by song basis.

    It goes along with Ewan’s argument here that it should be all or nothing. If the EBU want live music, give us live music, but don’t force modern pop songs to strip themselves back to near-demo levels in some cases that give the performers a real headache. A headache they’d never have to worry about in any other performance environment. To add insult to injury as far as musical credibility is concerned, the EBU are also still denying musicians the opportunity to play their instrument live unless unplugged. How does that unbalance the fairness? It gives an act an aesthetic edge, but it’s up to the audience to decide what they like more. I see no automatic competitive advantage there.

    I won’t ramble on, but I think this is something worth discussing. The EBU wants every song to shine? Then let a reasonable amount of the modern production elements stay on the backing track. Combined with live vocals, and if necessary, live instruments (played by artists, not orchestras!) it would sound so powerful if done right.

  7. Seattlesque says:

    Interesting arguments. Last year someone proposed that the producers could devise the running order as a circle (i.e. no defined start or end point) and then the EBU draws lots to see who sings first. No worries about the first half/second half quandary, nor concerns about the host country, and even if the start and end are a little dicey, the overall flow should be ok. Any takers for that idea?

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