31
March
2019

Eurovision Risks Embarrassment For An Exciting Voting Sequence

Eurovision Risks Embarrassment For An Exciting Voting Sequence

There’s been no big announcement, no flashy animation uploaded to the YouTube channel. Instead news of this voting change stumbled across eagle-eyed fans glancing through the FAQs on the official website.

The full text is as follows:

Eurovision.tv FAQ screencap

Eurovision.tv FAQ screencap

The voting system is still 50/50, with the juries voting first one by one followed by the combined televotes. However since this voting system was introduced in 2016 the televotes were read out in order from who had the lowest televotes first, and then up to the highest support from the public.

The change here means the country who scored last from the juries will know their televote score first. It doesn’t matter if that their televote score was 0, 20 or 400 points.

Still confused? Thankfully the ‘ESC Luxembourg‘ channel produced a example of how this presentation would look using this system for the 2018 voting with a mix of audio editing and scoreboard CGI:

There are some key advantages to this. Firstly the system is much simpler for the production to follow. The broadcast team know which country is getting points next, so it’s easy to find a camera to get in the face of the artist for an immediate reaction. Usually we miss out on the reactions from the lower order because they all get read out too quickly. However the production crew will have more time after the jury scores are available to plan their camerawork attack. This applies also to the script, which can be quickly updated and used on the autocue.

The second major benefit of this system is that it’s far more simple for the person at home to understand. If you are reading this article you probably know your Eurovision voting patterns to an encyclopedic level, and you’ve more than likely been brought up on a formula of Melodifestivalen since your fandom began. That’s not the same for the general public, who just see numbers bouncing around a screen in utter chaos and confusion. Starting from the bottom means you know which country is next and you know where to look on the screen. Just having one thing less to focus on makes this an improvement.

It also maximises the chance of that dramatic ending. Of the three editions since the 2016 voting change, it is the latter that ended on the biggest nailbiter of them all. Not just that it was Russia vs Ukraine, but also because we were waiting to see if the televote winner ’had enough points’ to leapfrog the leader.

With this system we will be asking that fateful question once more – will they have enough points? The only difference here is that rather than seeing if the televote winner can overhaul the leader, we are asking the same question about the jury winner. This does mean though we are guaranteed a head-to-head climax – what every producer wants to achieve.

This all being said, I strongly believe this presentation approach is the wrong approach. In making it simple and focusing towards that entertaining finish, we lose part of the joy that is the Eurovision Song Contest and what it stands for.

Positive Voting

One of the finest aspects of the Eurovision Song Contest is that it doesn’t get bogged down with negativity. We cut the camera to celebrate who received the 12 points from each jury, and the image we see is of flag-waving jubilation. It’s only the supernerds who trawl through the raw data to find out which Armenian juror didn’t place Azerbaijan last – these scores are rightly kept out of public’s immediate view.

With the televotes in recent years we rattle through all of the lower scores to focus in on the top ten. Then we pause, go through one at a time and take the voting of the top ten with the televote. Each one is happy that they scored well with the public, even if they don’t win, and there is a general feel good effect.

If we instead go in order of jury scores then we could have some real clangers. Last year’s show is great example of this. Much has been made of Benjamin Ingrosso’s low televote score, and I’m sure the ripples of laughter still echo around the boat in Stockholm where I watched last years final.

Benjamin Ingrosso / Instagram

Benjamin Ingrosso / Instagram

However what we remember most in the aftermath is Benji’s social media reaction, and we remember him for being a good sport. Imagine the furore of being in the final three with a chance to win the contest, only for hopes to be dashed and ending up falling significantly short. It’s highly unlikely the immediate Swedish reaction would have been as humorous and courteous in the moment, it would be a big shock. The Eurovision Song Contest should not be about broadcasting such cruel situations across the continent’s TV screens.

Juries Are Not Like Televotes

Another premise of this system is that it makes it more exciting because you would expect the winners of the jury vote to be scoring high with the televote as well. We remember the Benjamin Ingrosso and Michal Szpak anomolies, but because they are exceptions to the norm we expect.

Running some maths on the last three Eurovision editions, I compare the correlation between the jury vote and the televote scores using Spearman’s Rank Coefficient. In the statistics presented below, a number of +1 means a perfectly positive correlation (i.e. they are the same as each other), 0 means there is no relationship and -1 means the relationship is perfectly negative (i.e. a high jury vote means a low televote).

By using the rank coefficient I take the placings of each country from 1-26 in each list (jury points and televotes) rather than the score they received. This is more relevant as the placing the song receives is what is key for the purposes of production.

YearCoefficient (to 2 decimal places)
2016+0.08
2017+0.07
2018+0.24
Average+0.13

An average coefficient of +0.129 is, at best, only a very weak correlation. Jury votes therefore have little in common with televotes. I would argue that using the jury votes as the order to announce televotes is therefore a bad idea, as they are equally as likely to disagree with each other as they are to agree. It means that, like in 2018, you may have a script encouraginging suspense and drama but realistically the voting results are anything but.

Who Gets The Screentime?

As we get closer and closer to the end of the show, the voting should get more dramatic as we reach the final stages. This means that those still in contention are going to get far more airtime in those final few minutes. Unless their televote score was large enough to overhaul everybody, chances are a televote favourite lower down the pack has already been knocked out of contention. Out of contention means out of the competition, and means out of sight for the viewers at home.

This is the wrong way round – the people are home should see their champions in the spotlight when it is their points being announced, not the choices of 5 people in a stuffy back office of a TV station. The public have already suffered the jury favourites being ahead throughout a 40-plus country satellite link to gain that advantage. The televote should, if anything, be more exaggerated to celebrate those the public really love.

There is a secondary issue in giving more focus to those ahead with the jury. Our friends over at ESCNation pubilshed a great visual image of which countries do better with juries or better with televotes over the past week. There is a clear difference from east to west.

The western countries almost uniformly score higher with juries and the televote is stronger for those from the east. What our new presentation means is that the eastern countries lose out far more in terms of airtime, and the western countries linger ’in with a chance’ for more of the show. In recent years we’ve had Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Ukraine, Portugal and finally Israel winning the Song Contest. We don’t need to do any more to make the West appear better than they are – they are already dominating.

There Must Be Another Way

I fully accept that the new presentation does make the voting easier to follow, and does make for a dramatic reveal of the winner, and that a change that does these aspects is worth pursuing. However I have explained above why I believe this system could actually make a voting presentation that is less engaging to the viewer – with less popular acts highlighted and climaxes to the voting sequence that offer little genuine suspense. It’s also a negative for many acts and delegations, who may be embarrassed by a low televote and laughing crowd… only for that also to be broadcast to the entire world.

There is an alternative way that can tackle both problems.

My model would work that we run the jury votes as we do now, and the televotes are still accumulated from each country. There is no difference. However instead of reading out the lowest score from the televote, I propose we start by revealing which country it was that finished 26th overall. And then 25th… And then 24th…

Take Lisbon 2018. We would reveal that Portugal was last place overall, but quickly move on to 25th, 24th, 23rd. We don’t linger on any of these final placings. It is easier to follow because the countries now align in order from the bottom right corner of the screen.

Sweden finished 7th overall. When we get to 7th place there is still shock that Sweden is announced, but there is still success – 7th is a perfectly respectable result. The Swedish team would shrug their shoulders and smile at the camera.

Austria finished 3rd overall. Cesar would smile, bow to the audience, and then we get stuck into the real business.

Who won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest? There are only two left – Israel or Cyprus?

The winner is…..

For me this is a better system than what the EBU have now put forward. Successful acts get the airtime they deserve. Nobody in the final rundown is put on camera to look like a loser. We get a genuinely exciting ending between two songs that most likely got support from both juries and televotes. We create stories about success, not failure.

It is great that the EBU are trying to make the presenation of scores in the Eurovision Song Contest more exciting. However the ways we do that should promote celebration, not increase the risk for embarrassment.

Categories: ESC Insight

27
March
2019

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Where’s The News?

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Where’s The News?
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20190325_news_617/escinsight_20190325_news_617.mp3

Everyone is quietly rehearsing, with just the occasional post from the rehearsal room, an interview about the true meaning of the song they are taking to the Eurovision Song Contest, or heading back to the day job of reading the news (that might just be in Iceland).  All that excitement, plus John Lucas’ Eurovision Thought on the semi final running order.

What’s up in the Eurovision world this week? Let’s find out.

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Where’s The News?

The news is ‘we’re all rehearsing’, but there’s still lots of Eurovision discussions to be had. John Lucas predicts the Semi Final running order, while Ewan rounds up the headlines, as the ESC Insight team cover the latest news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019.

Follow these links to find out more about Eurovision in Concert, London Eurovision Party, Riga’s Eurovision PreParty, Moscow’s Eurovision Party, Spain’s Preview Party, and Glasgow’s Ne Party Pas Sans Moi.

As the delegations prepare for May, you can stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is  available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

24
March
2019

Why The Eurovision Song Contest Needs Strong Internal Selections

Why The Eurovision Song Contest Needs Strong Internal Selections

All 41 entries are known, the first favourites are bubbling up to the surface, betters and traders are working long hours, and Juke Box Jury is back in session Looking back on the more successful National Finals gives us an idea of their importance as a showcases for local music.

As a Dutchman however, the memories of the Dutch songs rom the early 21st century National Finals leave me with a bitter taste. For The Netherlands the ‘Nationaal Songfestival’ is very much deeply buried in the Eurovision Song Contest graveyard. The national broadcasters, first NOS, then TROS, lost the power to keep up competing with better music productions like The Voice (created by Dutch media mogul John de Mol). Not to mention the Dutch audience, who at times seems to have a rather lethargic and questionable taste in electing a competitive entries for the Song Contest

I feel more comfortable with the current selection format that The Netherlands have adopted since 2013. That resulted in a ninth place and was almost perceived as a victory (that fact alone should ring a bell). Since then things have gone more smoothly,  not just at the Eurovision Song Contest, but also in the Dutch music charts. More and more Dutch artists, both well-known and relatively unknown, are aching to use the Song Contest as a platform for their music.

An internal selection, although it isn’t the most democratic format to say the least, has some built-in advantages.

A Creative Canvas

First of all, there is a creative argument on why an internal selection should be considered. Sometimes a National Final simply doesn’t do any favours in representing the best of national music scene.

It is true that Melodifestivalen offers a platform to a long list of Swedish artists. There’s a clear idea behind the whole concept. For record companies Melodifestivalen has become a business interest , almost as much as audition shows like The X-Factor and The Voice. The production is tightly knitted together with extensive TV scripts. And yes, it’s an event the Swedish public and media love!

But in some instances it might feel a bit too calculated, too polished. Most entries in this year’s Melodifestivalen were wonderfully staged and found its way in the Swedish charts. But can a song like ‘Too Late For Love’ really become a bigger hit across the continent? Have we heard another ‘Euphoria’ or ‘Heroes’ as of late?

Broader Musical Styles

To me a National Final should be a platform for more musical genres than the ones that are guided by a big record company or a tightly produced format. How would songs like ‘Calm After The Storm’, ‘1944’ or ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ fare in a line-up like the one from this year’s Melodifestivalen? Perhaps they would do well, perhaps not. But SVT could, or should, look a bit more outside the box for new music styles and genres.

Salvador Sobral

With an Internal Selection, a broadcaster can steer the country towards one specific music genre. It can be perceived in the media as both daunting and daring: risk over calculated efforts, exclusion of the public vote instead of including them.

After a whole decade of misfortunes for The Netherlands, it was exactly that kind of behaviour need to get one of the founding fathers of the Eurovision Song Contest back on track. In the event Europe was introduced to new music that at first seemed very a-typical.

Looking At The Cost

Participating in the Eurovision Song Contest by only focusing on a less complicated internal selection is not just desirable from a creative point of view, it can reduce the financial burden to (smaller) national broadcasters, For The Netherlands for instance, which has the added disadvantage of being part of a complex public broadcasting system (AVROTROS is not a task-based ‘state’ broadcaster like NOS, it depends on funding from its members) the internal selection method proves cheaper.

For the 2016 Song Contest, the cost was estimated at €550.000. For The Netherlands these costs were roughly divided into two parts:

a €250.000 ‘entrance fee’ payable to the EBU (which varies from broadcaster to broadcaster, taking into account the member’s relative financial status. That part is paid by the umbrella organisation NPO that (financially) oversees the task of every member-based broadcaster, like AVROTROS.

€300.000 investment costs from broadcaster AVROTROS. This is paid for by contribution fees from its individual members (almost 700.000 individual members) and investment returns from publishing materials (online and physical). These costs can include (but are not limited to) hotel accommodation, staffing costs, creative costs, and promotional material.

In an environment where smaller broadcasters are struggling to get the financial budget approved for a Eurovision participation (such as those from Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Portugal, Cyprus, Serbia who have all skipped Contests in recent years), an internal selection is one option to reduce costs, albeit the participation costs in May remain.

The 2019 Selections

SVT’s Melodifestivalen and SBS’s Australia Decides have proven popular to fans and offer a national showcase for those who enter. The are powerhouse productions that can easily compete with the rush of reality-TV singing shows But are John Lundvik’s ‘Too Late For Love’ and Kate Miller-Heidke’s ‘Zero Gravity’ really this year’s frontrunners from a creative point of view? Are they really the entries that will come out on top in this year’s ESCtracker?

Of do this year’s Internal Selections have the upper hand when it comes to YouTube hits, betting odds, and Spotify streams? These all factor into creating hit potential. The Netherlands (Duncan Laurence with ‘Arcade’), Switzerland (Luca Hänni with ‘She Got Me’), Cyprus (Tamta with ‘Replay’), and Greece (Katerine Duska with ‘Better Love’) all offer something that makes them stand out with a bang at this very moment.

Improving The National And International Platform

For me the Eurovision Song Contest is a destination for European music, and not just National Final winners. Lately the Song Contest has leaned into reality TV tropes to generate more excitement and entertainment (such as the changes to the voting announcements). Perhaps it is time for the European Broadcasting Union to focus the Contest more on being a competitive music platform rather than light entertainment. What about adding a worthy financial cheque to that trophy? And silver and bronze medal recognition for all those runner-up’s and 3rd placed entries?

By doing so the Eurovision Song Contest could become an important platform for European music: for European newcomers and for European talent that otherwise would not make it within the framework of a tightly produced and record company-supported national final. Such entries tend to be more riskier, especially musically, but that makes the Eurovision line-up more diverse.

Obviously you can’t have all 41 nations to have one singular selection format. But having two broadly different approaches (National Finals and Internal Selections) maintains a certain degree of musical diversity on the Eurovision stage.

Internal Selections have the advantage of directing the focus of a national broadcaster and the selected artist. This can improve the status of the Song Contest at a National level and that of the local music scene. It can pave the way to re-introducing strong National Finals in the long-term. Or it can mix all of these.

The Internal Selection process is just as important to the ebb and flow of the Song Contest as a National Final.

Categories: ESC Insight

20
March
2019

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: There’s No Camp This Year

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: There’s No Camp This Year
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20190318_news_615/escinsight_20190318_news_615.mp3

A quiet week on the news front, but I’m sure the artists and delegations are hard at work rehearsing the songs, practicing the stage moves, and getting ready for Tel Aviv!

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: There’s No Camp This Year

Everyone is rehearsing this week, but there’s still news on the Eurovision camp site, the power of fans, and a dash of epic promise. It’s Ewan”s turn with a Eurovision Thought this week as he talks about song reviews and communities.

Follow these links to find out more about Eurovision in Concert, London Eurovision Party, Riga’s Eurovision PreParty, Moscow’s Eurovision Party, Spain’s Preview Party, and Glasgow’s Ne Party Pas Sans Moi.

As the delegations prepare for May, you can stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is  available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

15
March
2019

Have We Entered The Era of The Eurovision Stan?

Have We Entered The Era of The Eurovision Stan?

Ever since the Eurovision Song Contest began counting public votes, we’ve been discussing who is voting and why. We discuss the power of the diaspora (votes cast for the home country by those who live elsewhere), geopolitical voting patterns, and what impact staging has upon the public votes. We talk about the influence of past songs upon the current crop, and we even talk minutiae like bpm and camera angles.

I’m curious about what I see as a sea change in how we choose the acts that sing the songs we dissect so much.

If I Can Make It There, I Can Make It Anywhere

The 2010s has been a decade of memorable contestants who started on TV talent shows. Ruth Lorenzo, Conchita Wurst, Guy Sebastian, Dami Im, Måns Zelmerlöv, Jamala, Salvador Sobral, Saara Aalto, Loreen, Jedward and Krista Siegfrids are just a handful of the many acts who got their first break through participating in a talent show. Appearing on a TV show meant they were already familiar with how TV works (know your marks, work the camera) and were comfortable on stage. It also ensured that the viewers at home were familiar with the singers themselves and had a story hook already. In the case of the names mentioned, this proved beneficial as they all made it to the contest’s Grand Final and some even won. For others, their appeal proved very local — such as Iceland’s Ari Olafsson who failed to make an impact at Lisbon 2018 — or they struggled even on the national stage.

The past few years we’ve begun seeing another type of contestant: the social media star. Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube back in 2008 and his success gave rise to other social media discoveries like Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara and 5 Seconds of Summer (as discussed previously on ESC Insight).

In the interim 11 years Instagram has joined YouTube as a creative outlet for young music talent. Aspiring pop stars no longer have to audition and go on semi-scripted reality TV shows to get a story and find an audience. The talent can now record themselves singing in their bedrooms, tell their own stories, and build their own audiences who can interact with them.

Bilal Hassani of France is one of those young talents. He did compete in The Voice Kids in 2015, but it was not until he had amassed nearly 1 million subscribers on his YouTube channel and roughly 500,000 followers on Instagram that he made the leap to Eurovision. He won with ‘Roi’ due to an overwhelming public vote share — out of his 200 points, 150 came from the public vote.

In Sweden, we nearly saw the same thing happen with 16 year-old Bishara. He finished second overall thanks to an impressive public vote: his overall score was 107 with 69 being from the public. However, if we take a closer look, Bishara’s numbers look different. His YouTube channel has only 16,000 and his Instagram account is followed by 185,000. Surely, this should not have been enough to catapult a practically unknown boy to the runner-up spot in Sweden’s most popular TV show?

Let me introduce you to the concept of the Stan.

Just To Chat, Truly Yours, Your Biggest Fan

Depending upon who you ask, the concept of the Stan either stems from Eminem’s song of the same song or as abbreviated form of ‘superfan’. Either way, a stan (noun) is an enthusiastic fan who is connects with others online who also stan (verb) someone.

The online phenomenon really began with One Direction whose meteoric rise to fame was propelled by stans who consumed as much online content as possible, thus paving the way for a third-placed X-factor boy band to become the biggest British export in the US since the Beatles. While fannish spaces have existed on the internet since its inception, and websites such as LiveJournal and DreamWidth enabled fans to connect, social media sites like Twitter and Instagram made staning a much more organic and focused pursuit.

New Zealand based fandom & tech expert Sacha Judd has studied the stan phenomenon and argues that staining is one way of honing and developing tech skills. One Direction stans infamously hacked airport security cameras so they could watch their idols chill before a flight and Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters staged a Starbucks scam to get her a number one single. More benevolently, stans frequently organise complex campaigns to win awards and have songs played on radio, but fundraising is a big part of stan culture, though, with wider societal issues such as LGBT+ rights, structural racism, and women’s rights often high on the agenda.

Watching the results in France and Sweden, I found myself thinking about the stan phenomenon at Eurovision. Both Bilal and Bishara belong to a new generation of contestants — vocal talents who are wildly famous to a certain demographic and completely unknown to anyone who do not live in certain pockets of the internet — and they are loved by the generation of stans who are used to participating in “voting attacks” with social media accounts devoted to generating hashtags and hits. These stans are primed for weaponising their numbers, even if they are voting via apps or by calling numbers. They are not casual Saturday night viewers nor are they just tuning in. These stans know the story even before they have heard the song or seen the performance, and they are poised to gain their fave as many votes as possible.

As National Final season gears down, the local TV producers will begin to look for the next batch of possible stars. Social media will play a massive part in their search as a built-in following guarantees good viewing figures on the night. As we’ve seen in France and Sweden, their profiles might also result in solid public votes. Interestingly, Sweden has changed how their voting system works: they are now giving preferential treatment to acts who gain votes from a wider range of demographics. This could be a reaction to previous years’ ‘voting attacks’ though it does not require fans to verify their range. Bishara still ended up with a large share of the public vote (only beaten by the inevitable winner).

It’s A Teenage Rampage?

I can hear ESC fans screaming already at the prospect of seeing ‘their’ Song Contest invaded by teenage girls armed with mobile phones. Well, there is more to this story.

Stan behaviour is not limited to a specific age nor gender. We already see stan behaviour on ESC social media with campaigns such as the successful ‘#mamood4eurovision’ which sought to persuade the Italian contestant to participate in Tel Aviv 2019 after he had voiced doubts. We have also seen fan generating massive hype around certain contestants before they’ve even released a song and finding leaked content before the official unveiling.

Social media has and will continue to change the Eurovision Song Contest. We already have our online fandom communities, fan media, leaked songs, streaming figures, access to National Finals across Europe and beyond, and instant access to .. whoever manages the social accounts of the contestants. When I started watching Eurovision, none of this existed but the changes have made for a more engaging and immersive experience.

And who is to say that a teen girl’s passion for a queer French-Moroccan Muslim boy is less valid than another fan’s passion for Big Balkan Ballads? If we truly celebrate diversity, we should not be gatekeepers. Opening up the Song Con test to new voices and new fans makes for a more exciting Contest that will keep evolving.

Categories: ESC Insight

15
March
2019

Laka celebrates 50th birthday with a new song about getting old

Laka celebrates 50th birthday with a new song about getting old

Laka

On his 50th birthday, Elvir Laković Laka, who represented Bosnia and Herzegovina at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, has released a new song today titled “Ostarih”, which deal with the issue of getting things done before it’s too late.

Ostarih, which in English translates to ‘I Got Old’, is a love song about how important it is to get things done before it is too late.

The video for the song has been filmed in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. Edvin Kalić, who has collaborated with Laka many times before, directed the video for Ostarih. Laka performers his new song with the inseparable member of his band – his 14 years younger sister Mirela.

Laka and the Eurovision Song Contest

Elvir Laković Laka was born in 1969 in Goražde (Bosnia and Herzegovina). He attended music school where he was studying guitar, but he disliked the school’s teaching methods and views towards music, and then subsequently quit the school. Laka recorded his first song, MaloSamSeRazočar’o, back in 1998. This song made him famous nationally. In 2004, he moved to New York, where he tried to start a band, but returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina unsuccessful and disappointed after two-and-a-half years. Short time after, he then released his first solo album Zec in 2007 – and soon followed Eurovision.

Back in 2008, Laka was internally chosen by the Bosnian and Herzegovinian National Broadcaster, BHRT, to represent the country in the contest, which was held in Belgrade. The title of his entry was Pokušaj. Laka finished 9th in the semi-final and in the grand final he came 10th with 110 points.

He was also the spokesperson reading out the results from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009 and again in 2012.

We wish Laka a very happy birthday and we hope to see ham and his native country Bosnia and Herzegovina back on Eurovision stage soon. Below, you can watch the video for his new song Ostarih:

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