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Why Eurovision’s Voting Change Makes No Difference, Yet Changes Everything Written by , and on November 22, 2022

With the Eurovision Song Contest Semi Finals moving to a 100 per cent public vote, and a new “Rest Of The World” country joining the voting party, the Song Contest is changing once more. Ben, Ewan, and Fin Ross take a close look at what the changes mean to the Contest’s continuing balance of entertainment and competitiveness.

The European Broadcasting Union has announced that the scoring in the Eurovision Song Contest will be different in 2023. There are two main headlines to this. Firstly we note that the Eurovision Semi Finals are reverting to a system of one hundred percent televote; a Eurovision Semi Final has not been fully decided by televoting results since 2007.

There will still be a jury vote, and a jury show the night before each Semi Final, but those results will only be used in the case of a televote failure. The juries will return as we are used to for the Grand Final, each presenting their votes in turn.

Secondly, a key change is that viewers from around the world will be able to vote in this year’s Song Contest, not just people residing in the participating nations. An extra ‘Rest of the World’ televote vote will be added to the others (and the same size as all the other nations, so this ‘Rest of the World’ vote will only give out a maximum 12 points to their favourite). The EBU has stated that credit card verification will be used to help this vote, which will be conducted online, have the required integrity.

Why Is There A Need For Change?

The decision to make this change lies with the Reference Group for the Eurovision Song Contest, as well as the governing board of the Song Contest and the Executive Board of the EBU. As Executive Producer Martin Österdahl rightly points out this change lies in a long history of a show that has “constantly evolved to remain relevant and exciting”. The choice to allow votes from a wider range of countries is “reflecting the global impact of the event” as Måneskin, Duncan Lawrence and now Rosa Linn storm the charts beyond the boundaries of the European continent.

There is a deeper reasoning behind the decision-making process. This decision comes directly from a working group that was commissioned by the Reference Group following the 2022 Contest in Turin, where six different countries saw their jury votes annulled from the competition as irregular voting patterns were spotted. The goal of the working group was to “look at ways to protect the integrity” of voting in the Eurovision Song Contest on the back of these jury patterns and their “unprecedented nature.” It is understood that the bodies within the EBU have implemented the recommendations from that working group.

The recommendations will change the way the Song Contest works. The questions we ask are; do these changes make the event more relevant, more exciting and more global? And do they protect the integrity of the Song Contest that is so needed after last year’s controversial jury results?

Yet while the mathematics of this decision may appear as a huge new variable, at the surface level the regular audience member may notice no changes at all.

Eurovision Needs To Entertain And Engage

A large part of the Eurovision Song Contest’s success comes down to the entertainment value it offers audiences. How much of a difference will the new voting rules impact the product?

Let’s start with the qualifying songs. The EBU have all the data to hand, and a significant volume of that data is publicly available. The EBU notes that “in nearly all cases, when removing the Jury results from the calculation, 9 of the 10 qualifying countries from each Semi-Final stayed the same“, going on to highlight the tenth qualifying country generally ends up at “the lower end” of the final score table.

From the point of view of the overall result of the Eurovision Song Contest, this change is very unlikely to change the final outcome of future Contests, especially as the use of juries and televotes remains for the Grand Final.

What it will change is the audience’s feelings of engagement and emotional connection to their favourite acts and countries. That all-important qualification from the midweek Semi Finals to the Saturday night Grand Final is now completely in the hands of the public. The viewing experience moves from being a mostly passive experience to a mostly active experience. As the qualifying countries are read out at the end of the show, viewers know that it was their votes that decided who would stay and who would go.

Even though the presentation of the last five minutes of the 2023 Semi Finals remain the same as the 2022 Semi Finals, the audience is a bigger part of the show, changing it from ‘that show’ to ‘our show’.

And there’s more audience as well.

The inclusion of a “Rest Of The World” bloc, allowing audiences in non-participating countries to club together and get a vote as a de facto ‘unaffiliated country’ increases that feeling of connectedness. If we assume the 2022 partnership with Tik-Tok continues the EBU now has a commercial streaming partner and a voting solution for a much wider audience; where you had online polls and “the rest of the world likes this” last year, that online poll now becomes an official result.

We’ll be watching the implementation of this carefully, but it’s not as huge a change to the process as you might think. Conducting online voting has been a feature of Junior Eurovision for many years, so for a ‘year one implementation,’ there’s already a lot of corporate knowledge on this topic.

It’s also worth noting that the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest change every year. Some of these are subtle changes that quietly improve the Contest, some are brought about by unique annual circumstances, and other changes are more pronounced and announced with a fanfare. All of these changes mean that Eurovision evolves every year, but still remains the Eurovision Song Contest.

The Nature Of The Game Has Changed

While the front-of-house production remains largely unchanged, and the many millions of viewers will feel a greater emotional bond to our Song Contest, there is a noticeable impact on the competitive side of the Contest.

Save Your High Note

The nearly two weeks on the ground in May have been likened to a marathon; with artists and delegations having to acclimatise in a new city and potentially new time zone, take part in media appointments, spending time in rehearsal rooms, and the short periods of stage time for all up rehearsals. By switching the Semi Finals to 100 percent televote, much of the pressure that would be placed on artists in the ‘Jury Semi Final’ the night before will be removed, and the second ‘full dress rehearsal’ moves back to being more rehearsal than a competitive moment.

It’s not completely removed, backup juries will still be watching and scoring on this show but those marks are very unlikely to be used. The show is also recorded as a backup and there is a non-zero chance that this performance will be aired the following night (a situation that arose during the coronavirus pandemic).

Artists will always perform, especially to a full auditorium, but the true stars lift themselves imperceptibly higher when the moment comes. That moment is held back until it really counts… and that’s no longer on a Monday or Wednesday night. Previously, most Eurovision performers needed to find that moment four times. Now its down to three. For the artists managing their own bodies, this is a win that will help keep them match-fit for longer.

Two Games In One

The biggest change will be how artists and songs score points, because we now have two subtly different Contests going on… the approach to the Semi Finals is now different to that of the Grand Final.

Previously you had a very broad choice of approach. First, you could go all out for your televote and gather enough points here to claim qualification or indeed victory. This would be your big crowd-pleasing banger, your kooky song that did something that was meme-worthy, very much a route one pop song filled with huge staging, pyro, and other memorable moments that people at home will like and vote for. Or could decide to focus on the jury and bring a technically challenging song, focus on the composition and performance, and eschew the bright lights and big pyro for something more touching. It’s all about maximising the points from the jury.

The majority of songs fall somewhere between the two camps, but for most songs, there’s relatively little disagreement on which is focused on televoters and which is focused on jury votes.

With no jury voting at the Semi Final stage, broadcasters looking to get qualified through to the Grand Final are going to go where the points are. And the points for qualification, under this new system, are only with the voting audience at home. The Semi Finals could become more entertaining, more engaging, more arresting… the same factors that more participation in voting offers. But it means that going for quieter moments, slower chansons, and Balkan Ballads, is an even higher risk than previously.

Curiously, this isn’t true for every entrant. The Big Five broadcasters, along with the hosts, still have automatic qualification through to the Grand Final. They never have to face a pure public vote. There’s no reason why they should not use a “maximise our jury score potential” approach. In fact, with the potential of more Semi Final songs leaning towards the public vote, that leaves more space for a Big Five jury song to stand out.

Who’s Taking Part?

Someone is always going to miss out and the eleventh-placed song will always gather a lot of attention from statisticians. No matter the year someone will just miss out on Satuday night, who would have qualified under the old rules. With the smaller Semi Finals this year (one show of sixteen, and one show of fifteen) it’s unlikely that moving to a full televote will make a huge difference to the qualifiers – as stated by the EBU in previous years it would generally be a single country.

When we return to Semi Finals on the order of 18 or 19 performers, then the variance between the two potential results – televote or combined – will no doubt increase and the jury songs will fall further down the table. We’re not going to see that until 2024 at the earliest, and even then we’ll be two years into the system, and there’s every chance that the bias towards populist songs will be visible across all of the entries making comparisons all the more difficult.

There remains a question about the influence of diaspora voting. The full reintroduction of the juries in 2009 countered many years of full televoting that showed a bias towards countries in the east of Europe, and there are strong bonds between countries that are stronger than the musical material may suggest; Cyprus and Greece is the obvious pairing here, but there are a plethora of others. With no more jury drag in the Semi Finals, a return to Semi Final results swinging towards those diaspora relationships is something to watch out for.

Change Is Part Of The Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest has never stood still. Compare the shows in the fifties to the shows in the twenties and almost everything has changed. Some of those changes happened quickly, sea changes between Contests. Other changes happened gradually over time, reacting to circumstances, results, and feedback as required. All those shows are still Eurovision Song Contest shows.

The changes announced today are much like the former – a significant change that has taken place within a year. The change is very visible, and rightly so… it addresses the issues of jury voter irregularities seen in Turin with the same visibility. It also improves the entertainment aspect of the show, it continues a trend seen across public service and private broadcasting to bring viewers closer to the experience, and it works to create ‘global moments’ to be discussed around the world.

The Song Contest cannot stand still. Let’s see where this takes us.

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 (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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