One new feature SVT released prior to the start of Melodifestivalen 2015 was their brand new Melodifestivalen App. The App primarily features the option to vote for your favourite acts in the contest without needing to phone or text, but also is a quick way to see how friends have voted and predict the winners in each Melodifestivalen show. Social media accounts suggested problems through the first Semi Final this week which was won by Eric Saade and Jessica Andersson. Ben Robertson investigates to what extent the App affected the voting.
Understanding How The App Works
The main focus of the Melodifestivalen App is to vote for songs during the live shows of Melodifestivalen. During the show you have the option of giving ‘heart votes’ which are worth the same as each phone vote. You are able to award up to five votes per song via this method, and it is completely free to do so.
The catch is that your votes for each song must be made within a certain time window, a particularly narrow one stretching only the duration of each song being on stage. You register your votes based on the intensity that you press the heart symbol for during the performance. During the live TV show SVT make visible the intensity of votes across Sweden as a whole, and via the App you can see which songs are the favourites so far.
This whole concept is not a unique idea for Eurovision. The Eurovision Song Contest itself allows app voting, but this basically replicates the ability to text for your favourite just in a pretty interface. Hungary’s selection show A Dal features an app which makes up for 20% of the votes in the first round of scores, although its ratings on google play show two-thirds of people rating it 1 out of 5. Furthermore getting live information on screen about the popularity of performances is an idea Lithuania have toyed with previously. The functions of the App are not by themselves new, but combined with Sweden’s biggest TV show the effects are dramatic in ways we all underestimated.
The Tragedy That Happened On Saturday Night
News of the App was made public by SVT on Wednesday 4th February featuring a short video on how to use it. However for new viewers not keeping up to date with every Melodifestivalen news item it was first publicised by host Sanna Nielsen after 7:30 of showtime. This took a minute to explain, and our first act Molly Petterson Hammar was on stage two minutes later. Quickly social media flooded with people confused as to how to use the App to vote, including even some of Molly’s press contacts.
It took time to download, and more time to couple the App to your social media accounts and then again to realise how the App worked. In the show the hosts explain that you should click on the heart symbol to vote. However it seems fair to say that most Swedes did not work out the system for voting correctly until some way during the show. The impact of this is that later songs in the running order had more chance of gathering votes.
Running order prevailed. Before the votes were announced the App showed us that the final two songs were in the top places, the two before that in the Andra Chansen slots and the first three songs were going home. The final result was almost the exact opposite of the running order, with the only difference being show-opening bookies-favourite Molly Petterson Hammar pipping the sentimental ballad ‘Pappa‘ to sixth.
The separate voting numbers are not revealed but some simple maths leads us to the conclusion that the App was decisive. SVT reported that over 1,200,000 votes were recorded in this Semi Final. Last year by comparison the same show scored just over 400,000 votes, and even the Melodifestivalen final was less with just shy of 1,200,000 votes. Despite this increase in voting numbers phone calls do not seem to have been the method used, as money donated to SVT Radiohjälpen was down from last year’s show with a drop from 782,213 Kr to 609,463 Kr. If we add in the fact that by the end of the show yesterday a total of 171,500 people had downloaded the App we can see where the problems could lie.
All indications show that the introduction of the App was underestimated by SVT for its impact on the Melodifestivalen voting. The evidence here suggests most votes were collected by the App and that most people were not able to use it correctly throughout the show.
How Did It Go So Wrong?
A key problem here was that the App’s publicity was not strong enough. To award five votes per song for free is a huge incentive to get involved in the competition yourself and vote for your favourites. However too many people were not prepared for this at the start of the show, and even when made aware the whole process took too long to be effective.
Also for critique should be how SVT presented the App. To vote for your favourite song we were told by host Robin Paulsson involved you pressing a heart symbol during each performance. However to register a heart vote you need to do this many times to fill up a tiny bar at the bottom of the screen. At no point was this demonstrated to people on how to create a heart vote, seemingly leaving many confused that one press was not sufficient to score a vote. A good idea would have been for Sanna or Robin to demonstrate while hosting how to download the App and how to vote using a visual basis, instead confusing and unclear verbal instructions were given which lead to further misunderstandings.
Another problem is that the time window to vote was far too short, closing directly when each song stopped. There was no way to remove votes cast, there was no way to go back and add more votes to songs that you liked and no way to consider your votes after all the performances. To do that cost you money. SVT forced a system where votes had to be made on impulse where mistakes are far too easy to make happen.
Furthermore the number of votes cast was surely a huge underestimate. To allow up to five votes per song means that our numbers have skyrocketed to never seen before heights and to offer this for free created a huge surge of never-seen-before votes. To have heart-votes directly inputted into the final scores untested on the country was foolishly brave.
Swedes have been let loose on a system that was not ready for them. This is a country with one of the world’s highest smartphone usage rates and is tech savvy, but SVT underestimated how long it would take to work and furthermore how much usage it would get. A better format would have been to allow these heart-votes, but then you confirmed how many points you were to award each song in a short window during the recaps before they get sent away.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Christer Björkman, Melodifestivalen’s Executive Producer, was asked by Aftonbladet after the Semi Final to comment on the App fiasko.
“The results do not differ between those who voted with the App compared to text or by phone, so we have no doubt that the two finalists are the correct two finalists.”
The full results in Melodifestivalen are traditionally released soon after the Final in March. At this point we would urge for SVT to also reveal the total votes for both normal voting and heart-voting in their breakdowns to remove any doubt in the process. Transparency will be essential to remove the stigma App voting gave in this show, and also to show us if at any percentage level the numbers to back up theories that the App confusion impacted on the final results.
It’s going to improve through the next few weeks, and we can expect those voting numbers to rise again through the next Semi Finals as people gain confidence in how to use the App. At this point it would not be a surprise for us to be in a farcical position come the Final when more votes are cast than there are viewers watching the show on TV.
For Molly Petterson Hammar, she will always be known now as the girl who lost because of the App voting. She did great, but she would have been an outsider to win the entire Melodifestivalen. Now she can be marketed as a martyr and the extra publicity will help her career beyond the next month much easier. She is signed to Warner Music who immediately got her song released and it is charting higher than any of the other songs from Melodifestivalen so far this year.
For SVT, the aim now must be to ensure clear demonstrations of how App can be used are given. After last year’s voting scandal of its own the Swedish broadcaster must ensure the whole population understands and can easily apply the new voting rules. In many ways after SVT got lower ratings for Melodifestivalen last year this is a make-or-break year. All these format tweaks have to make the end result more fantastic, more popular and more fair. At the moment the results of Melodifestivalen’s adaptations create the opposite which is a dear shame.