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Eurovision’s First Rule Of Momentum: From Semi Final To The Grand Final Written by on May 8, 2018 | 1 Comment

In the first of two articles, John Egan takes a look at momentum in the Eurovision Song Contest. Today the focus is on what sort of momentum qualifying is required for either victory or a top 10 result

As we covered in our article about Cyprus’s 2018 strategy, for some participating broadcasters getting to Saturday night’s show is considered job well done. That could includes those from a smaller country (Malta), or one whose national language is one not widely shared (Georgia). Or those whose pecking order in an ostensive voting bloc is such that you don’t consistently get enough neighbourly or co-cultural support to qualify with relative ease (Finland, Belarus, Slovenia). For these delegations, if they send something really good they get an ‘okay’ result, but usually not much more. Left side during the week: right side on the weekend.

Or you can do what RTP does: (almost always) just send a song that you love, and let go of any expectations of a high placing. There is a lot to commend in that sort of strategy, in terms of what we get with respect to song diversity and quality. Regardless it cannot be fun to return year after year and not have your name called out of one of the digital qualifier envelopes.

In this first of two articles we examine what is required to gather some momentum coming out of a Semi Final.

We examine two sorts of momentum, each of which represents a good result. First we look at the relationship between placing well in a Semi Final and Grand Final. In part two we will examine how jury support in a Grand Final can indicate which entries might win—and what level of televote support would then be required to get across the line.

The Challenge

Semi Finals and Grand Finals have different voting constituencies since the advent of two Semi Finals beginning in 2008. That might seem a tad obvious, but understanding key differences is useful here. This year we have one 19 entry and one 18 entry Semi Final. In addition to the participants in each, half of the pre-qualified countries also vote in either semi-final. Thus for Lisbon 2018 there will be 22 or 21 delegation scores in both the jury and televote results for the Tuesday and Thursday night broadcasts. As in previous years we will only know who qualified each evening—until we have a winner on Saturday night and the EBU release all the data.

Component Juries Public votes
Semi-final One 22 22
Semi-final Two 21 21
Grand Final 43 43

That’s during the week. On the weekend every participating delegation—whether their artist appears in the Grand Final or not—gets to vote. Effectively the scoring component doubles between the midweek shows and Saturday. For some entries this can be advantageous…if they either have additional “friends” in the other semi-final, or if theirs is an entry that is less “instant” and would benefits from building a bit of a buzz immediately before a final.

But there is another important differentiator between Saturday night and the Semi Finals. There are a lot of people who only watch the Saturday show—it gets a much bigger audience than either Semi Final—and therefore represents a different public for the televote. There are also those who will only watch the semi-final in which their broadcaster is participating. Said broadcaster might show the other semi-final or not; if they show it, it might be shown on delay.

And while the public voters are very different, the juries are 50% identical to the semi-final jury vote: jurors are appointed for the year’s entire Contest. This doesn’t prevent changes in jury rankings—after all, the juries have 16 new entries to consider along with the 10 from their assigned Semi Final—but it does mean that each delegation’s jury all judge both their assigned semi-final and the Grand Final.

Whether a delegation is able to build on what was achieved in their Semi Final determines their overall destiny. Improve your currency for Saturday and you will do well—possibly very well.  If your support stays the same, you will likely end up towards the bottom of the leader board.

Towards The Top 10

Of the 26 songs in this year’s Grand Final, twenty of them will have a pedigree of some degree of popularity: that’s what qualification indicates. Looking at that another way, several other less competitive entries have therefore been eliminated. To use an athletics metaphor, you might win the heats with a personal best, then finish last in the final because everyone else’s personal best is faster than yours. And all the slower runners have been eliminated

In the 2017 Grand Final top 10 there were nine entries that qualified from a semi-final (Italy was the only pre-qualified entry to get a top 10 result):

Grand Final Total Jury Public Semi-final Total Jury Public Semi-final Rank
Portugal 758 382 376 370 173 197 1
Bulgaria 615 278 337 403 199 204 1
Moldova 374 110 264 291 111 180 2
Belgium 363 108 255 165 40 125 4
Sweden 344 218 126 227 124 111 3
Italy 334 126 208
Romania 282 58 224 174 26 148 6
Hungary 200 48 152 231 66 165 2
Australia 173 171 2 160 139 21 6
Norway 158 129 29 189 137 52 5

The lowest Semi Final ranking among last year’s top 10 was sixth place for both Romania and Australia. Romania replicated, more or less, its results in both its semi-final and the Grand Final. ‘Yodel It!’ was very much calibrated towards a strong public vote and it worked.

Australia fairly bled televote points—despite having more countries’ points on offer—from 21 to 2 points. But their jury vote went up from 139 to 171, which is not proportional: a proportional increase in jury scores would be its doubling. ‘Don’t Come Easy’ was designed to be jury friendly and that also worked. To a limited extent.

Other jury fodder: Norway, Sweden.

Other televote fodder: Moldova, Hungary

Towards Victory

The first metric is the easiest: since Semi Final began in 2004 only two Grand Final champions were not been ranked first or second in that year’s Semi Final.

One of those is an outlier for our analysis: In 2005 the top two entries were both pre-qualified, thanks to their delegations’ 2004 rankings. Helena Paparizou gave Greece its sole victory with ‘My Number One’, while Malta’s Chiara finished second with ‘Angel’. So let’s park 2005.  As well, in 2005 there was only one mega-semi-final, it was televote only, and all delegations were able to vote in both the semi-final and Grand Final. None of those aspects apply any longer in 2018.  Leaving behind the unitary Semi Final years, we drilled into the data beginning with the first year of two semi-finals: Belgrade 2008.

And, as it turns out, that leaves the 2008 competition as our only exception to our “top two to victory” theory.  Like this year the Semi Final stage featured two subsets of the larger voting sample of the Grand Final. In 2008 it was almost entirely televotes that determined qualifiers: the top 9 in each Semi Final’s televote qualified, but the tenth qualifier was the entry ranked highest by the juries that was not in the televote top 10. Serbia was the only pre-qualified entry to ultimately finish in the top 10.

Grand Final Rank Grand Final Score Semi- Final  Score Rank
Russia 1 272 135 3
Ukraine 2 230 152 1
Greece 3 218 156 1
Armenia 4 199 139 2
Norway 5 182 106 4
Serbia 6 160  –
Turkey 7 138 85 7
Azerbaijan 8 132 96 6
Israel 9 124 104 5
Bosnia & Hercegovina 10 110 72 9

In the first 2008 semi-final Dima Bilan only finished third with ‘Believe’, despite a late draw (18th of 19th). Greece’s Kalomira (‘Secret Combination’) and Armenia’s Sirusho (‘Qele, Qele’) finished ahead of Russia in first and second. Since the top 10 with the televoters and juries for this semi-final were in agreement—about which entries, not their ordinal ranking—no jury favourite was elevated at the expense of the 10th highest with televoters. In the second Semi Final the jury “save” was used. Sweden’s Charlotte Perrelli avoided ignominy for her 12th place with televoters. Macedonia’s Tamara, Vrčak & Adrian were bumped.

There are no jury/public splits for 2008. But in general, another good theory for winning the Eurovision Song Contest after doing well in a semi-final is whichever top qualifier comes closes to doubling its score from the semi-final will win. Russia exceeded this by two additional points: runner-up Ukraine, in contrast, “only” increased their score by 78 points, or 51 per cent.  This doubling theory holds up across several years regardless of scoring system:

Year Winner Semi-final Score Grand Final Score
2009 Norway 201 387
2010 Germany
2011 Azerbaijan 122 221
2012 Sweden 181 372
2013 Denmark 167 281
2014 Austria 169 290
2015 Sweden 217 365
2016 Ukraine 287 534
2017 Portugal 370 758

If you want to win, aim to be on every delegation’s radar. If you only want to qualify and focus on the delegations in your Semi Final, go for that. But you might be squandering an opportunity to be champion.

Tonight Is Semi Final Night

Monday night the first Semi Final jury votes were submitted to the EBU. Tonight the televotes for Semi Final one will be collected and both score components aggregated. All we will know this evening, however, is the overall top 10. We won’t know who was popular with juries or televoters or both. We certainly won’t definitively know who qualified first and second.

However…after the second Semi Final qualifiers are known, we will have some inkling about who has come out of their Semi Final ranked highly, if the last three years are something to go by. In the first half of the performance order, the Semi Final contenders are usually placed in slots 7 through 11. In the second half of the order slots 20 to 25 are where they have been placed. The data from before the 2015 Contest are less consistent in this regard.

So keep an eye the producer-led performance order early Friday morning! And for part two of this series: Momentum Part Two.

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