Today a very different Opening Ceremony for the Junior Eurovision Song Contest took place. I was present last year in Katowice for a glitzy affair of canapés galore artists full of energy and excitement for the week ahead. This year’s show was a world away from that. With no artists present live in person it was up to host Mateusz Szymkowiak to create energy out of a quiet TV studio in Warsaw, with last year’s winner Viki Gabor alone in performing this year’s theme song ‘Move The World’. It must be said though that the augmented reality used in Viki’s performance was a stunning piece of technical achievement, a little piece of quality production and performance that really whet the appetite for Sunday.
We are here for a running order though, which ended up as below. The rules this year were that the host country, first and last placed songs in the running order were drawn during the Opening Ceremony, while the rest of the entries were placed in the show order by producer placed
- Germany (drawn)
- The Netherlands
- Poland (host country)
- France (drawn)
Does Running Order Matter In This Pandemic Contest?
There are a few factors that we have previously mentioned are factors in how we decide if a running order is deemed ‘good’. The first is well known in the Eurovision community, that a later position in the running order gives more chance to be remembered and to get more votes.
We also believe that viewers often compare songs side-by-side, and a more impressive performance of a similar genre adjacent to another may help one song over another. Producer-led running orders tend to reduce this effect by creating a more saw-tooth viewing experience, explicitly trying to give space for each song style to stand out. This year is no different in that regard.
Finally we also look for possible crescendo effects, runs of songs that heighten excitement and anticipation that get more crowd support and interest, that may translate into votes. The host country’s support is one key factor in this energy.
The latter of these factors may be reduced in 2020. All of the performances have been recorded in TV studios without an audience, and at this stage it is fair to assume many of these will have less of an impact compared to live performance on the Junior Eurovision stage and a full arena. It is a complete unknown for 2020 how those at home will feel watching the performances and if the show ramps up in energy in the same way without an audience around.
In addition we have the side-by-side comparisons to consider between songs. The juxtaposition of each of this year’s songs will be greater than otherwise, with many of the stages being different than the previous performance. While each country has made efforts to make their performance to a set standard issued by the European Broadcasting Union, these stages are expected to be similar rather than the same, and how much of a difference this will play is also unknown.
Does Running Order Matter In A Twelve Song Show?
We must also address the matter of running order itself. Running order bias and the idea that later is better comes from the Eurovision Song Contest, originating from Grand Finals that in recent years have hit 27 songs. This year, due to many withdrawals directly or indirectly linked to the spread of covid-19, only twelve countries compete to be the Junior Eurovision winner which matches the record low entry numbers from 2012 and 2013. It would be fair to assume that, in shorter shows with less difference in time, running order would have less of an impact compared to otherwise.
There’s some rationale to be cautious in that assumption though. Running correlation analysis in a comparison between the running order position and the number of points from both 2012 and 2013 (removing the automatic 12 points) shows a correlation of +0.31 and +0.52 respectively (2012 was a mainly producer-led running order, and 2013 was randomly drawn). Correlation is measured on a scale from -1 to +1, and both of these shows recorded positive correlations implying that running order did have a measurable impact. Of course, we know that two contests alone are not sufficient to make conclusions, but such values show that running order can be a factor even in a show so small.
We have previously demonstrated how Melodifestivalen, the six week marathon selection process Sweden uses for the Eurovision Song Contest, that running order has a massive statistical bearing on who qualifies and does not, even though each of those heats only includes seven songs. The caveat though is that SVT are making that running order to generate excitement, and are often leaving the big names with the public to last. Yet it would be naive of us to not consider that as an impact in Junior Eurovision as well, perhaps it is not big name artists in a Junior Eurovision context but remember all the performances have already been recorded and submitted. The show and the order of it is now there to tell a story, easier now than ever before, and a story that may amplify the perceived running order bias.
In short, running order can have an impact on a twelve song Junior Eurovision this Sunday. However I wonder if the impact of it may be less than one would expect from purely looking at this data.
The Votes Are Cast Before The Show Begins
The voting mechanism for Junior Eurovision 2020 remains unchanged from last year’s competition, except for a minor tweak in reducing the number of songs one can vote from five to three. The system needs a radical overhaul, but given 2020’s challenges (at the Opening Ceremony, the EBU’s Project Manager Gert Kark spoke about how plans for this year’s competition “had to be changed weekly, if not daily”) having a show to celebrate is the main success, and sorting out voting can wait for a quieter era.
Half of the points come from juries in each country, and the other half of the points come from the online vote. In this people can vote prior to the show and in a voting window during the broadcast, and yes they can vote for the country they live in. We expect that once again to vote viewers need to watch a recap video of the performances, but in reality most of these votes will be decided by people who have already watched the music videos, or are voting to support their favourite artist or nation.
Given the PR campaigns in recent years that have had each nation pushing to get out the vote as much as possible before the show begins, I would not be surprised if, Poland exclusive (where viewing figures were nearly half the total viewing population), most of the votes have been cast before the show begins. It appears that the online vote is running order independent, performing the same correlation analysis on the online vote points and the running order position for the last three years (when the online vote was introduced) shows an average correlation of 0.00, with the highest value at +0.11. In other words, there is zero correlation between the running order position and the size of the online vote.
However jurors in each country are only human, and just like televoters can be biased by a running order, so do they. Indeed in these last three years of Junior Eurovision 8 of the 9 songs in the top three with the juries came from the second half of the competition (this includes Kazakhstan in 2019, singing 10th out of 19 in the middle of the competition, but performing after the first half break). The jurors may have an implicit running order bias as well (confirmed by other studies), yet their points and their spread of points may be less significant this year. This is because each jury must award points to all but one of the other songs, as the Eurovision scoring system (12, 10, 8, 7, 6….) still applies to the top 10 songs from each jury. With the chance of scoring a zero from a jury reduced, the chance of a song being out of the running from a low jury score is reduced. That said, with fewer countries the chance of a runaway jury favourite is increased, yet the smaller sample size of the smaller field makes this side of the competition increasingly harder to predict.
Yet The Drama Continues
Running order is one of those factors at all levels of Eurovision that has the community searching for favouritism and conspiracy theories. Fans of the Kazakh entry as dismayed by being given the death slot of #2, which French and Spanish fans are pleased that the momentum is on their side with their late draws.
I’m here to say that, in this competition, in this year, running order has never meant less. People will mainly be judging their opinions of the songs, and voting on them, before the live performance, and the juries are going to have to give points to almost all the songs in the line up, from all over the show’s running order. I know the impact is likely at most a handful of points in either direction.
Whoever wins on Sunday afternoon I hope they win decisively so nobody can argue about what would have happened in an alternate universe.