What Is A Super Final?
In simple terms a Super Final is just an additional round of voting with only the top placing songs. Some countries having a top two in the final round, and others with three, four songs or occasionally more songs.
Since 2000 we have found 23 different countries at least once have used Super Finals as a part of their selection process. For some this is a tradition integral to their show. Most notable of these is Norway, where in Melodi Grand Prix each year the top four songs in the final show compete in one last round of voting.
Super Finals are popular across many of the Scandinavian and Baltic nations, with Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Germany using Super Finals more often than not in recent years. Oddly going against the local trend is Sweden, where Melodifestivalen has not introduced a Super Final system since 1998. (However, Melodifestivalen’s Semi Finals do have a second round of voting – a rather tepid cut from seven songs to five songs – so technically we could say Melfest has Super Semi Finals…).
There are obvious benefits to a Super Final from a broadcaster’s perspective. One is the generation of tension as viewers speculate who is going to win between closely competing songs, making the climax of the voting gripping live television. Another feature for many is that it creates another passionate round of televoting, with some broadcasters then able to manipulate extra funds. The third factor that broadcasters may consider a benefit is that in a Super Final the winning song is likely to get more support from the voting public, whereas with many more songs most voters would vote for songs that were not the winner. The impact of this is that the winning song may be supported by more home viewers, meaning immediate positive rather than negative press.
The Impact Of A Super Final
What we are interested though is to look at Super Finals in more detail to assess any impact they have. The method to do this requires us to look at results from National Finals gone by and work out which National Finals have had a different result than the earlier round of voting. Many thanks to the National Finals database at 4lyrics.eu which we used to collect our data.
National Finals where the result changed due to different voting rules are not included in this analysis because those results are impacted by other factors – we only want to know Super Finals with televoting in both rounds. Multi-week National Finals are included where the songs in the later show all competed against each other in the earlier edition. Two 2016 examples would be last year’s Supernova from Latvia (an eight song Semi Final had the top four all qualify to the Final, basically a Super Final of the previous show) and Lithuania’s marathon selection (where songs were eliminated each week).
Frustratingly many National Finals don’t reveal the full voting data at each section of the voting. Take the Danish final from 2016 as our example here, Lighthouse X won the Super Final, but much speculation afterwards suggested that one of the two blonde powervocals that finished 2nd and 3rd was a more likely victor in round one when the vote wasn’t as strongly split between them.
Despite all this we have been able to find 13 occasions where the winner changed hands during the Super Final in the 21st century. What we are going to do is group those different examples together into groups with common trends.
Divide And Conquer
Slovenia 2005: ‘Pojdi z Menoj‘ vs. ‘Stop‘
A perfect example of the ‘Soldiers of Love’ situation, Omar Naber’s ‘Stop’ was 3rd placed in the Slovenian Final of 2005. In a three song Super Final ‘Stop’ had to battle two huge Slovenian pop stars, Saŝa Leandro and Rebeka Dremelj, and both unleashing their latest uptempo chart hits for competition. In contrast the ballad got extra votes.
One oddity from this selection process is that Rebeka Dremelj’s vote, after winning round one, decreased from 25,739 votes to 23,514. What could well have happened here is that uptempo pop fans votes for both her entry and Saŝa’s, only to choose one in the Super Final stage.
They’ve Been Waiting For This Night
Lithuania 2016: ‘Leading Me Home‘ vs. ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night‘
Lithuania have become masters at the extended National Final concept, with 2016 being no different. From the release of songs Donny Montell’s ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night’ was always the one to watch, and in each of the four shows it took part in prior to the Semi Final stage it won the jury voting. With most songs passing through to the next stage of voting, regular viewers knew their votes were no longer needed for Donny Montell, so could support other acts.
In the Semi Final Donny Montell finished 2nd (interestingly, finishing 2nd with both jury and televoters, suggesting the same complacency might have effected them as well) to the song ‘Leading Me Home’. The final show had only six songs compared to eight in the Semi Final, but the votes for Donny Montell increased nearly seven times, winning comfortably.
Televoters will vote more when they know their vote will make a difference, as neighbouring country Latvia found out a couple of years earlier.
The Underdog Wins In A Photo Finish
Latvia 2014: ‘Pēdējā Vēstule‘ vs. ‘Cake To Bake‘
I was blessed to witness the 2014 Latvian National Final from the front row of the Juras Varti Theatre House in Ventspils. What I saw that night was one of the biggest upsets in National Final history.
Finishing 1st in the Semi Final and coming into the show as the seemingly unassailable favourite was Dons with ‘Pēdējā Vēstule’. This song just one month before was crowned Most Valuable Song of the Year in the Musical Bank Awards held in the same town and artist Dons has National Final pedigree with a previous 2nd place finish. His publicity was everywhere around town and all Latvian press warned us we were coming to see a procession.
In contrast ‘Cake To Bake’ stuttered through equal 6th in the Semi Final. In what was a politically sensitive show the feel-good zero-to-hero story behind ‘Cake To Bake’ was infectious light relief in contrast with the serious nature of Dons’ composition.
Furthermore, two other nudges combined to make this a reality. One was a Super Final running order with Dons first and Aarzemnieki last, and the other was live updates of voting during the performances. Until the very end of voting we were reminded that Dons was ahead, but that lead was dwindling until being overtaken at the very last moment. As they announced the final result only then did we know Aarzemnieki won by just over 100 votes.
The very act of showing this data to the audience likely encouraged one last wave of SMS voting to give the underdog victory. Latvia nearly fell into the same trap in 2016, when Catalepsia almost overhauled Justs’ victory lap in the Supernova final.
Giving Voters The Power To Kill
Germany 2003: ‘Alles Wird Gut‘ vs. ‘Let’s Be Happy‘
Germany 2005: ‘Miracle Of Love‘ vs. ‘Run And Hide‘
Slovenia 2008: ‘Za Svobodo Divjega Srca‘ vs. ‘Vrag Naj Vzame‘
Lithuania 2007: ‘If I Ever Make You Cry‘ vs. ‘Love Or Leave‘
Finland 2010: ‘Hulluna Humpasta‘ vs. ‘Työlki Ellää‘
In general, Eurovision Song Contest voting is positive. Certainly, this is true for televoters who pick up the phone and vote for songs they want to win, not songs they want to lose.
This impact is different in Super Finals, with only one or two other alternatives, voters have options to effectively vote against the song they don’t want to win. The performances of the eventual losing entries above are provocative in different ways. Some may be perceived as joke entries, some may feature a little too much flesh for the casual viewer, or just be one of the vomit-inducing Ralph Siegel love duets.
A Super Final provides an opportunity to limit the success of these songs as more moderate performances take any of the swing voters from the losing songs. In this context, we could imagine a 2016 Eurovision Song Contest Super Final between Ukraine and Australia resulting in a landslide victory for ‘Sound of Silence’ as voters would vote against what many viewers voted for in ‘1944’.
Even when both songs are doing nothing to put off viewers, Super Finals can see the same trend apply.
Viewers Don’t Like Taking A Risk
Slovenia 2007: ‘Čudeži Smehljaja‘ vs. ‘Czet z Juga‘
Estonia 2010: ‘Rapunzel‘ vs. ‘Siren‘
Estonia 2013: ‘Päästke Noored Hinged‘ vs. ‘Et Uus Saaks Alguse‘
Estonia 2014: ‘Maybe Maybe‘ vs. ‘Amazing‘
Iceland 2016: ‘Now‘ vs. ‘Hear Them Calling‘
The above Super Finals featured just two songs. The one that won was generally the performance that was more traditional and impressive for the casual viewer at home. Eurovision fans have remarked about Greta Salome’s backdrop since the first performance, just as they were floored by Tanja’s magical ability to sing at the same time as high energy aerobics.
As a general rule big vocals are a draw for swing voters, which would explain the extra boost in a Super Final for Birgit in 2013 and Alenka Gotar in 2007. Songs that show offer a big vocal will hoover up general support, with few people rating them lowly. In contrast songs with emphasis on melodic hooks divide opinions more easily. Super Finals provide another example to see this trend.
Another example of this effect will come from the UK edition of X Factor this year. Saara Aalto previously lost a Finnish selection Super Final in 2011 (where as it so happened she improved from 3rd place to 2nd place with sweet ballad ‘Blessed With Love‘) and despite winning the Semi Final and Final of X Factor was staged as the outsider ad quirky character, leaving Matt Terry to collect the swing in voters with his more traditional appearance and voice.
The Conclusions From Our Super Final Analysis
Looking through these 14 songs, we can clearly see some practices that led to different songs winning in that final round of voting. Examples from Lithuania and Latvia show that viewers are more likely to engage and vote when they can see their vote can change the outcome. We have also found evidence of split voting occurring when 2 or more songs are similar in a Super Final. The majority of changed results seem to occur when a Super Final song is clearly very divisive and viewers do not want it to win, or the lower placed song has stronger vocals which lure voters neutral to either song in the first phase of voting.
Looking at how these songs have done in Eurovision is mixed, but there’s little evidence that Super Finals help countries find success. Only two of the fourteen, ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night’ and ‘Czet z Juga’ placed in the top 10 in the Eurovision Song Contest. Of the ten songs that needed to qualify to the Grand Final, only three made Saturday night, the two above and ‘Et Uus Saaks Alguse’. Obviously, it’s impossible to say if the other songs selected would have fared better or worse in competition, but it’s hard to argue they would collectively have done worse.
One other trend here is that many of these results come late in the 21st century. Some of that bias towards more modern entries is because more data is available with broadcasters increasingly needing to be seen as transparent, but it’s also because Super Finals are becoming more popular. A record 11 National Finals in 2016 used a Super Final. Perhaps this is being used as a technique from broadcasters to root out any of those controversial songs that may polarise viewers in the 50/50 jury/televote era. An era characterised by jury members being able to vote negatively for the first time, resulting in songs that won the televote scoring no points from some countries.
With the new voting system brought in late to the 2016 season this year resulting in the televote and jury vote being split, such a method is no longer needed. A song with a high televote will score well in the modern Song Contest, even if the jury vote is low. Of course, a combination of the two would score higher, but no song is going to win without plenty of televote support. Remember a Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final is 26 songs long – you need something big to stand out to televoters.
Broadcasters thinking about using a Super Final should trend carefully. Perhaps they feel the need to moderate the type of song their country sends to the Contest, and a Super Final may get swing voters to support the more ‘normal’ type of performance. However normal doesn’t necessarily score well at Eurovision, and certainly doesn’t top the leaderboards. Should broadcasters want to balance their National Final, maybe an expert jury or group of juries would perhaps be a better option. Juries and televote can often differ, which may kill off entries too ridiculous, but they are still looking for quality rather than just accepting plan B. If Super Final results do change often they are just taking the option which offends less rather than impresses most.
Remember though that from the hundreds of Super Finals that have happened, only a few Super Finals result in a different song being sent to Eurovision. Most of the time Super Finals do not make a difference to the result. But they quite certainly have changed Eurovision history in the past. Conchita Wurst’s 1% defeat in the 2012 Austrian Super Final to eventual non-qualifier ‘Woki Mit Deim Popo’ changed both of their careers, and eventually Conchita came back stronger.
A small nudge can end up making a very, very big difference.