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Paths To Victory: A Practical Guide To Winning The Eurovision Song Contest Written by on April 29, 2018 | 4 Comments

As we descend on Lisbon, this year’s Contest is one of the closest fought in the last decade. For those delegations with an absolute hunger for victory, what tactics can help you win the Song Contest? Ewan Spence takes an in-depth strategic view on how to win the Eurovision Song Contest.

Let’s start with a quick reminder.

You win the Eurovision Song Contest by scoring more points than any other song in that year’s Contest. No points are ‘more special’ than any others, four ‘single points; from the jury are worth the same as a single ‘four points’ from a public televote. All you have to do is collect the most, the Glass Microphone is yours and your broadcaster gets an incredibly short deadline to put on three massive live shows in just under a year.

You could leave you final score up to chance, but the many investments in at the acts, staging, videos, and promo tours are for one simple goal. To score as many points as possible. If that’s more than every other song, you win.

Denmak 2013 Emmelie de Forest

Denmak 2013 Emmelie de Forest

How Many Points Do You Need?

There’s no hard and fast number to target for victory at the Song Contest. Each country awards 116 points, and no one song can score more than 24 of those points under the current system. Can it be as simple as “half the maximum available to you plus one” enough?

Surprisingly, the answer is almost a yes. If you can earn this many points you are going to be within touching distance of first place. Every winning entry in the current ’50/50’ era (which started in 2009) has passed this mark except for 2011; although it should be noted that the second placed song in the last six years have also snuck over this winning line.

Paths To Victory, Margin of Victory

Paths To Victory, Margin of Victory

As a working hypothesis, this is close enough for me. Lisbon 2018 has 43 entries, which means there are 42 countries with a douze from their jury and a douze from their televote up for grabs for each song in the Grand Final…. this year’s ‘finish line’ is 505 points.

Now we know what we need… how do we get there?

A Genuine Game Of Two Halfs

A key change happened in 2016… the televote and the jury vote were no longer combined to generate the final score. Instead the juries and the televote of each country produced their own list of points, from 12, 10, 8, right down to a single point. Under this system a jury can easily award no points to a song while the televote awards it 12 points – previously the methods used to combine the two electorates meant that a strong  televote could be held back by the weak jury score and the song score no points at all… see the United Kingdom’s last place jury score negating the first place in the televote going to Poland in 2014.

Skipping forwards to 2018… The Eurovision Song Contest, like any good European international sport, is a game played out over two legs – one on the Friday night with the jury scoring methodology, and one on Saturday with the televote methodology.

The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter which leg you score your points in, they are worth the same – there is no ‘jury points score double in the event of a tie’ rule. If you can get 400 of your 505 points from the jury, that’s a good strategy. And if you are reliant on the public to lift your song on Saturday, that’s acceptable as well.

Choosing Your Strategy

This leads nicely into the definition of a Eurovision entry being a ‘jury song’ or a ‘televote song’. The former is a song which is likely to score more points on from five hand-picked jurors given specific criteria, the latter more suited to the all or nothing approach of the public. And this is where the different ranking methods of the two legs come into play.

Relying On The Jury

A jury song strategy needs to consider that the jurors are asked to rank every single song from most favourite to least favourite. Every song will be considered. The combination of the rankings from a very small electorate of just five jurors means that a big part of a jury song’s strategy is not just to gather high rankings from across the board, but to avoid low scores – because only five jurors are used, one low score can pull down the points haul from a jury. Thanks to the new changes announced by the EBU (which Ellie has explained in great depth) the single juror drag will no longer pull a song out of the points, but a jury song is about maximising the return on Friday.

The goal here is to be ranked consistently high by all five jurors. While a juror’s final score sheet simply orders the songs, the EBU ask that jurors look at a number of criteria:

  • The vocal capacity of the performer.
  • The performance on stage.
  • The composition and originaitly of the song.
  • Overall impression of the act.

Simply put, your song should stand out in these areas. Delegations will be able to ask your own jurors from previous years how they used these criteria in judging songs to give you a sense of how everything is weighed in the room. It’s a clinical approach to a song, but the goal is to score as many points as possible.

The danger is that these criteria are not hard and fast. There’s no instructions on the weighting that should be applied to each. At the end of the show, the jurors provide one single ordered list.  If you are looking to gather eights, tens and twelves from as many juries as possible, you’re going to need to get in the top three of every juror in a country. Thanks to the new exponential weighting, that’s likely to put you in first or second place.

Forty juries scoring you an average of ten points each is 400 points, eighty percent of the way towards the finish line. Forty juries scoring an average of six points is 240 points, not even half way. It is critically important to keep your average rating over the five jurors as high as possible, and to try to not lose the support of even a single juror. If you are leaning heavily on the jury for the majority of your points, you still cannot afford to be divisive with your song.

All In With The Public

Going for the televote audience is a much simpler play, but one with greater risk. Once all the songs have been played, you want your song to be the one that will make people pick up the phone and vote for it. Yes, tele voters can cast more than one vote (in fact, up to twenty times in 2018) and some may split their votes, but you need your song to be so strong that it captures the maximum number of votes from every audience member with a phone.

Where the jury vote allows for more than one strong song to pick up momentum, a strategy based around a televote song cannot afford to be second best. It needs to be the only one in consideration at the end of the night. There are no specific criteria for voters at home, it’s just ‘be memorable’.

Arguably thats true of the Jury vote as well, but the assumption is that the jurors will look beyond the ‘hype’ and focus on more artistic and technical matters. For a televote focused song you need to clearly answer the question “why would someone vote for this song over every other song?”

Magical Balance

The real trick is to find a song that is utterly enchanting to the juries and is a slam-dunk winner within the four categories (vocals, performance, composition, impression); a song that has the strong hook, visual staging, and memorable recap to win over the telelvote; and has the story and media presence to push the artist forward and into the minds of both jurors and public as ‘the one’ when the time comes to vote.

Balance all three and you’ll watch scoring records fall (see ‘Fairytale’ and ‘Amar Pelos Dois’).

But a win is a win. Get to 505 points in Lisbon, grab the trophy, and musical immortality is yours.

Maximising Your Vote On The Night

Although the Jury and Televote shows are different shows with subtly different strategies, there are three key moments that can be worked on to maximise voting potential  no matter the strategy you chose. These are the song, the recap, and the build up.

The obvious moment is during the three minutes of the song. This is arguably the moment where the performer can maximise their impact, where the visuals can come into play, and where points can be most easily won or lost.

A delegation will focus on this three minutes, but the key is not just to be impressive in your three minutes – the key is to be memorable in this three minutes so that once all the songs have been played their song is the one that stands out. It’s no good having everyone at a Eurovision party turning to each other and going “that’s nice” if they don’t pick up the phone or the jury form when the time comes to cast their votes.

That’s where having a strong recap clip of ten seconds comes in. This is the second moment. The most memorable image, lyric, pyro or camera move as the last nudge in the recap to remind everyone that this is the one they liked and should vote for is needed on the night.

But the real investment comes from making sure everyone knows to vote for your song before Te Duem strikes up before the show. The key moments are the ones a delegation make for themselves.

The Media Winning Strategy

The very essence of the Eurovision Song Contest is that it is a popularity contest. If you stride on stage and literally everyone has decided you are the chosen one, then that momentum will be captured to ensure the victory.

This is the media strategy part of winning the Song Contest – having the audience look down the songs and say ‘that’s it, that’s who’s going to win’ at the flag ceremony. People love voting for the winning song, so if you are portrayed as the winning song, the votes will follow.

The achivement to unlock is to have the mainstream media tell everyone on Saturday morning that your song is the best, that your performer has the story, that your country is hungry and ready to win. And those stories and editorial choices are generally made by people who arrive in the Press Centre on Friday afternoon, look around, and ask “so who’s going to win?”

Who will they ask? The embedded reporters from other large media outlets… who ask the specialist media outlets… who watch the larger online media publications… who watch the smaller online publications. Essentially there is a hierarchy, as the opinions bubble up the strongest opinions survive to become reality.

That’s where the importance of preview concerts, song reviews, online polls, reaction videos, and other community content comes into play. These small social bites may not reach the millions that a printed tabloid may reach, but they start the conversation and shape the Contest that the tabloids will eventually react to. If you’ve ever wondered how influencer marketing helps you win the Song Contest, just follow this chain back up to the mainstream media, and the moments before the Contest when the public have heard “that Luxembourg is going to win this year”.

Just A Note About The Odds

The fast moving media sometimes needs a barometer to measure the mood. While it may not be accurate and is open to manipulation and misrepresentation, it’s hard to argue with the bookies as a source of a story.

This is why the interest in ‘the odds’ has captured the attention of the Eurovision community over the last few years. Leading the odds, and how the odds change during key moments of the season (such as the song reveal, first live performance, first rehearsal, semi-final performance) is seen as both an influencer-by-proxy and something reliable to hang a quote on in the mainstream press.

As the morning of the Grand Final approaches, the odds tend to settle down into something resembling the final score table. Of course those odds are influenced by the odds themselves – get yourself installed as the favourite early in the season and you can stay riding high in a visible spot for much of the season.

Some Practical Examples

The Jury Song – Denmark and France

Two songs stand out for me as songs that will not only take the lion’s share of their points from the jury, but have a chance of gaining just enough from the public.

The first is Denmark. The Viking inspired ‘Higher Ground’ from Rasmussen ticks all the boxes of a strong jury song. Rasmussen can sing the roof off the auditorium, the staging mix of blues and dark colours fits perfectly with the ‘upturned boat’ ethos of the Florian Weidler’s latest staging, and the overall impression is one of power and believing in yourself.

The second is the French entry. It has a feeling of power, emotion, and connection. It does address a modern political issue, but so far the delegation has navigated this with taste and decency. The caveat to ‘Mercy’ is the low score from the jurors in the French National Final, but the make-up and criteria of the jurors at Eurovision are different

The issue for France is that jurors will only hear the song in competition once, and they won’t have time to re-evaluate their thoughts between Semi Final and Grand Final preferences. That said, knowing the jurors are provided with lyric translations means the power of Madame Monsieur could cut through in the jury room far easier than with the public. 400 points from the jury and another 100 from the public? The former looks achievable and the later is slowly building momentum outside of the normal Eurovision media bubble.

Both of these songs will be easy picks to land in the top picks of a jury, and the new weighting lends them even more distance from many of the more mainstream straightforward pop numbers.

The Televote Song – Finland and Israel

Again two songs stand out as likely to gather televote support with strong visuals, memorable lyrics, and an obvious hook when the voting window opens.

Finland’s Saara Aalto is a proven vote getter both in National Finals and in Talent Shows (even though the top step has eluded her). With a Gaga-esque approach to staging and visuals, plus her experienced team built up from The X Factor in the UK, she is unlikely to hold back. That might mean the vocals get a touch ragged on the night, but the promise of something ‘never seen before at Eurovision’ lines up her recap moment.

Israel may well have the visual impact, but its advantage may lie in the audible difference. A highly proficient looping artist, Netta charmed the audiences throughout the Israeli selection and will be hoping to do the same. Her challenge may be to achieve a qualification from the Semi Final. Once that happens the delegation should be able to build a social media story and get the world’s press on her side for Saturday.

Both acts still need some love from the other side of the televote/jury balance and this is where Israel and Finland will benefit from the new weighting system. There’s every chance that one juror per country is going to struggle to connect with ‘Monsters’ or ’Toy’ and place the songs in the lower reaches of their rankings. Last year that would likely wipe out any points from the countries, now it’s possible for one or two points to still score from the four remaining jurors. Forty juries with two points each means eighty points, and 425 points needed from the televote. Just under ten per country.

The technicality of the looper may give Israel the edge in getting the final jury points needed.

Social Influence Inside The Bubble – Bulgaria

Anyone who has been watching the Eurovision community scene will know that Bulgaria has been riding high. It may not have revealed Equinox’s ‘Bones’ until mid March, but the country was installed at the top of the bookies odds from early December on the strength of the delegation’s handling of ‘If Love Was A Crime’ and ‘Beatiful Mess’. That momentum was sustained through the first quarter of the year.

The key point of the reveal of the song was a potential danger point, but it was navigated well, the opinion of those that loved the song were magnified, and Bulgaria remained in the top tier of songs that continue to be discussed as winners.

Can it maintain that momentum through the first week of rehearsals? If the second wave of press arriving in the days before the Semi Final turn up and Bulgaria is still being touted as a potential by the community, then the strategy will have delivered. All that will be left is for Equinox’s promise to be noted by the juries and acknowledged by the media and for that promise to be converted to points.

Social Influence Outside The Bubble – Norway

There’s not a huge amount of love for Alexander Rybak’s ‘That’s How You Write A Song’ inside the Eurovision community. Rather than looking back to the sophistication of the last two victors, Norway’s 2018 entry feels more like a sequel to ‘Love Love Peace Peace’ than a response to a call for ‘real music’ at the Contest (which of course leads to the question of what is real music… the reaction to ‘Verb a Noun’ clearly defines it as a song that has fireworks and feelings.

The key to Rybak’s path to victory lies within ‘Love Love Peace Peace’. Go back and watch the live version of Edward af Silen’s classic, and pay close attention to the audience reaction when Rybak steps out for his violin solo. That love and recognition, that is what will drive the voting public.

Throw in his huge fan base and their ability to drive traffic to any published article – that makes him a financially attractive topic to write about in the mainstream press. Which his fans will share around the internet, creating a virtuous cycle of news feeding in on itself. And with that much noise, the public will assume that the media has got it right, and vote accordingly.

The Balanced Song – The Netherlands

And then there’s The Netherlands. It doesn’t have the technicality to stand out and top the jury vote, but there’s enough for the jury to mark him highly on the four categories. High but not top scoring could give him six points per jury. There’s 250 points from Friday night.

Can there be an average of six points per country in the televote as well? With a unique sound and visual look he stands out, theres a visual connection in the recap, and he’ll attract a fanbase that will pick up the phone and vote twenty times. The tricky part will be can he maintain the televote average from the Eastern European countries who have less of an affinity with US culture.

But another 250 points from the televote? It’s do-able.

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 (

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4 responses to “Paths To Victory: A Practical Guide To Winning The Eurovision Song Contest”

  1. Carlos Rubilar says:

    A balanced one?? Greece maybe, Ukraine? Nice explanation!

  2. Danny62 says:

    One clear lesson (being learned by Israel right now) is that it does not help to put out a video which can’t be reproduced or improved when performing live.

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