The Eurovision Song Contest was founded on the principle of pushing technological boundaries, an objective which exists today just as strongly as in 1956. That Eurovision has embraced and experimented with the technological era has been true even in the modern era, with Moscow’s fabulous LED backdrop and Malmö’s light-up wristbands utilising modern inventions iconically.
Technology is even influencing nowadays the voting system in the Song Contest, with an official Eurovision App making it easier to cast your vote and National Finals trialling similar ideas, as well as Junior Eurovision working on creating online awards.
This uptake has not been all rosy, Junior Eurovision’s online award crashed from an overload as did Melodifestivalen’s App voting during their Final. How technology is taken up by any organising body needs to be carefully thought through to ensure controversy is not present when it comes to the voting results. Ben Robertson looks at how all broadcasters and the EBU should embrace and utilise mobile applications in the future.
The Current State Of App Affairs
The first daring venture into the smartphone App market was with the big Eurovision Song Contest in the release of an official App. With this App you are able to see information on the competing songs and keep updated on the headlines of the Song Contest. Furthermore it does give you the power of voting for your favourites, receiving a video message from the artist themselves as a thank you.
That other countries have sought to utilise an App for immediate voter feedback sparked interest from two other National Finals this year. These are namely Hungary’s A Dal competition and Sweden’s Melodifestivalen. Both of these Apps have features just like that of the continental-wide Contest with easy-to-access artist information and a way to cast your vote.
Whereas the Eurovision App seemingly caused no issues at all both in Hungary and Sweden there has been significant dissatisfaction. The A Dal App is at the time of writing terribly rated, with over 50% of results on the Google Play Store awarding it the lowest 1 out of 5 star score. Comments complain about it not being possible to vote and it being far too slow to use. In Sweden the poor release of SVT’s Melodifestivalen App lead to a first Semi Final which appeared to massively unfavour earlier drawn candidates, as SVT later admitted more people downloaded the App later in the competition cycle.
Why Did Those National Finals Have Unsatisfied Consumers?
On key factor in the failure of both A Dal and Melodifestivalen to have a universally accepted system was that both of them radically changed the voting systems. In A Dal, viewers at home had to drag a little ball across the screen to give each song a score from 1 to 10, which then made up 20% of their first round score. This was announced just a couple of minutes after each song had performed, meaning a quick turn around time for viewers to give their opinion.
Melodifestivalen also used a method of on-demand voting. So-called ‘heart-votes’ were cast during a song was being performed and viewers had to rapidly hammer a heart shaped symbol on their phone before the song ended. If you had decided to award a song a maximum of five votes in reality you would need to start voting about one minute before each song had ended, and especially in the early rounds the full songs are kept secret from the public before the broadcast takes place.
The problems here are that they do not allow viewers to make a comparative judgement which is what Eurovision is all about. Eurovision voting is not about giving songs points it is about voting for which is best. Viewers watching Melodifestivalen may like song 1, but how certain would a viewer be that they would want to cast five votes on it. Even without calculating the maths fully the impact of running order bias appears stronger for app based voting than you would normally expect in both shows.
Also there is the impact that rather than enjoying the show people are focusing on voting. This lowers the involvement of the audience both at home and in the arena and also may suggest why the number of tweets to #melfest were lower this year than last. Being able to vote during the show is something that Eurovision has experimented with, but this was removed due a relatively low interest in voting. However in Hungary and Sweden these systems offered viewers benefits above the normal experience to get more voting power. This though is unnatural for many viewers and forcing this experience is not getting effective and considered votes into the equation making the balance too roughly disturbed.
Another issue was that although these broadcasters were keen to get into online technology, they had underestimated the demand viewers would have. SVT confirmed after the final that it was an overload of people in the system which caused the App to crash. The original estimates from SVT were that 2.5% of viewers would download the App during this series, a severe underestimate as it was over 700,000 (above the estimates by about eight times) who by the end of competition had downloaded the App themselves. If you were a casual Melodifestivalen viewer the App made perfect sense as those free votes made your chance to influence the TV broadcast higher, and thus the rates using the App were far higher than expectations.
The free voting for the Junior Eurovision Online Award gave many people outside of the representing countries an official say in the competition and this was equally snapped up in numbers nobody anticipated. When new technologies such as this, especially when they offer free voting incentives, it is likely that they will be taken up in greater numbers than even the most optimistic of song organisers can expect.
How To Make It Viable For The Long Term
If you are utilising App voting it is essential to look at it as an extension of the phone network. Voting should not be a rushed and ill-informed choice, voting instead needs to be something people can make at the pace they want. Making choices during the songs is perfectly acceptable, but a final chance to review and cast your votes should be given over to a time after all of the songs have performed. The Eurovision App actually does this very well, with you setting up a ‘reminder to vote’ which then becomes active once the show has ended.
It also needs to be really easy to cast your votes. A Dal’s moveable pin from 1 to 10 was messy, and Melodifestivalen’s ‘heart-vote’ took far too long. A good voting method is simply for you to press on a button next to a song the button vote. The Eurovision App actually does this very well, with your choices becoming active once the show has ended. One button for one vote makes it simple and intuitive to all viewers.
It also needs to be something very careful explained and protected so it does not over-balance the system as Melodifestivalen this year created. The number of votes offered was far too high and made the competition unfair for some of its entrants. It needs to have full and long term advertising as a part of the show, not just something released online a few days before competition begins. Demonstration videos such as that above are vital to ensuring nobody is left unsure of how to use the technology. A Dal, despite the groans of people about the actual technology, dipped their toes into using App voting rather gently only offering a percentage of points to be available using it. They also made it the introduction of the App key in the pre-show publicity campaign, demonstrating that viewers could be the fifth jury member. This gave people the required time to be involved which Sweden never got right this year.
Utilising social media is very important, and to lock in viewers to be more engaged with the process creates a positive feedback loop of inclusiveness and this is a growing part of modern television. It should most certainly be embraced by any broadcaster wishing to take it on. However if you do so you must run a simple system that requires just a couple of buttons to use, be no more powerful than other methods of voting and be really carefully and clearly explained to the viewers.
Christel Tholse Willers, the Head of Melodifestivalen, confirmed after the show that the Melodifestivalen App would be ‘redeveloped’ for next year’s program. The teething problems existed this year but are there to be fixed and improved. How they do this can be messages every European broadcaster can learn from.