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Making A Model For The New Melodifestivalen Semi Final Written by on March 4, 2023

There was a new Melodifestivalen format last year, but SVT have already gone back to the drawing board and changed the Semi Final process for this year’s show. Ben Robertson explains the changes and builds a simple model to try and predict the results.

The Melodifestivalen Semi Final is the second chance round at Sweden’s search for a song for the Eurovision Song Contest. From each of the four heats two songs go directly to the Friends Arena final, and the song’s finishing 3rd and 4th in the heats come in for one final stab at the final.

This round has changed its format through history, with knockout rounds and 4 song groups being used in the past to choose the songs battling for the final spots in the final. This year though the format is so much more simple. 8 songs will perform, and viewers will choose 4 of them to create a 12 song final of Melodifestivalen. No duels, but still plenty of drama on screen.

Anders Wistbacka, the project manager of Melodifestivalen, believes that “sometimes it has felt too complicated previously” and that the desire of the team today is that we would like to “simplify as much as we can.”

How it will work is as follows. The songs that will qualify from those eight performances will be the ones that score the most points from the seven voting blocs and the televotes. A voting reveal will take place at the end of the show similar to how it works in the heats. The one key difference is that, with eight songs in contention tonight compared to six songs in the heats, is that the points distribution from each voting bloc is changed.

Now each bloc will give out points 12-10-8-7-6-4-2-1, with 12 points to the song voted for the most, and 1 point to the song in last place. This is, honestly, the most bizarre Borda count distribution I have ever come across. We are used to having douze points for your favourite in the Eurovision Song Contest, with the 12 and 10 getting boosted higher to give more points to your favourites. However we also have a case here where the middle is crowded by single figure gaps (8-7-6) but the fall out from there is again double figure spacing (6-4-2-1).

Why would we in addition to the boost for favourites give a slight negative drag to song’s that do not do well? Well I would argue this is because SVT would like songs to qualify that hit the remit of being “a party for all in Sweden”, and if you have songs that alienate certain demographics that would not create the uniform loving atmosphere that is part of the Melodifestivalen brand.

The Model

The difference we have this week compared to the previous four is that these songs have all taken part in Melodifestivalen already this season. All of them have been part of the voting each week and we already therefore have a good understanding of which songs are equally loved from young to old, and which divide opinion immensely.

We can use this data to build a model for how the results may look on Saturday’s show. The model is based on two factors:

  • Songs that topped the vote within that age category will come out on top again
  • In the case of a tiebreak where more than one song received the same number of points from the voting public, then the song from the heat with the most voters will place higher.

To explain this for the 3-9 age group. Both Kiana and Theoz scored 12 points from this age group in the voting reveal in the heat. As heat 4 had more voters than heat 2, Kiana received the 12 points in this model with Theoz the 10 points. Victor Crone, as the sole recipient of 10 points in the heat, receives 8 points. Elov and Beny and Nordman both received 8 points in their heats, but these are now ranked 7 to Elov and Beny and 6 to Nordman as heat 1 had more voters than heat 3. Similarly Tennessee Tears win the tie-break against Melanie Wehbe because heat 3 had more voters than heat 2. This leaves Mariette, who placed last with this age group in the vote in heat 4, in last place again.

The full results of this model are as follows:

Ben Robertson’s model (not prediction!) for how the Semi Final may play out

As you can see, this model predicts that Victor Crone, Theoz, Tennessee Tears and Kiana will qualify to the final of Melodifestivalen, however Nordman and Mariette are both very close to challenging for those spots at Friends Arena.

I will be the first to admit that there are flaws in this model. Firstly it assumes that the number of voters in each heat is related to the relative strength of each heat. It might well be, but it also could be due to the strength of the winning songs in this heat. Loreen is the favourite to win Melodifestivalen and I can’t help but notice that heat 4 had significantly more voters, which of course in part will be due to her. On the flip side this model also doesn’t account for the relative strength of other songs that placed 5th to 7th in each heat. Victor Crone received no less than 3rd place from any of the groups who voted in heat 1, but how much of that was because of the strength of the competition rather than the strength of his entry ‘Diamonds’.

In any case, the model gives a good starting point from where to make a prediction for the qualifiers. Except there is one twist that could change everything.

Voting Once, Voting Twice

The plan for the presentation of the votes was fully demonstrated during the Semi Final rehearsal on Friday night. Traditionally in Melodifestivalen heats there is a format where one song is selected to go directly to the final, before a second voting window opens. That will not happen on Saturday and all of the eight acts must wait for the conclusion of the show to know if they have made Friends Arena or not.

Instead what will make for some squeaky bum time is that the current voting result will be revealed to the public in this slot. This section is hosted by Fouad Youcefi, the man behind the stats on SVT’s election night coverage and reveals how many more women voted for Victor Crone and which areas of Sweden voted most for Tennessee Tears, amongst other facts from the heats. He then reveals which four songs are on top and are, at this point in time, heading to the Friends Arena showcase. But then the voting opens again, and viewers at home will be encouraged to go and vote one more time for their favourite, with the possibility then open that viewers might vote differently to avoid certain songs qualifying and therefore change the outcome of the result.

The rationale behind this is simple. This creates a heightened moment of excitement and further reason for viewers to pick up their phones and vote, increasing that second screen engagement with the show that SVT prides itself on. However I have to think critically about this. This is the type of logic that I often see utilised in national finals elsewhere in Europe in a frantic attempt to drive up televoting revenue. The quality of these votes that appear in the second round of voting is likely to be poorer and is likely to be biased against what people don’t want qualifying, rather than those they did without that influence. That is likely to result in more diverse acts doing worse as the more palatable and bland acts receive more votes in the final round in an attempt to stop the more risky art qualifying.

And this is a terrible system for Eurovision in general, but especially for a Melodifestivalen Semi Final. The last thing that Melodifestivalen needs from Saturday’s show is four bland pieces of pop music to fill up the quota for a 12 song final the week later. We want songs to qualify from this show that ruffle feathers, that stand out from the crowd, that offer something unique that will mean millions of viewers will be happy to watch their performances for a third time in as many weeks on primetime TV.

It is also dull entertainment, as it is highly likely the qualifiers will remain unchanged from those announced earlier. Furthermore the voting reveal at the end of the show is confusing for viewers. The broadcast goes through each voting bloc in a random order, revealing their 12 points, but none of the other scores. It is therefore very difficult to follow who is in contention to qualify until the actual final reveal is made, making for a TV spectacle that is very discombobulating. And it’s not because SVT are wishing to hide the scores from the Semi Final either, these are shown in full at the end of the show.

And yes, I accept that a Melodifestivalen Semi Final is the place where ideas can be experimented with. But this voting change is not the answer to make it exciting or easier to understand, and if anything those final few minutes are more confusing than ever. It also risks bias towards the safer entries over the more risky ones. Melodifestivalen Semi Finals are hardly the top tier of out-there high-risk songwriting and artistry, but if any system and any show should be finding a way for the wacky, weird and wonderfully eclectic to succeed, it should be this one. This tweak threatens to make Melodifestivalen even more bland than the community already critiques it for today.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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