ESC Insight

ESC Insight

The Continuing Mystery Of San Marino’s Complicated Televote

The Continuing Mystery Of San Marino’s Complicated Televote

Do you trust the result of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019?  Why has the community’s confidence been damaged since the credits rolled over ‘Arcade’? Mistakes in the recalculation of Belarussian jury vote have been acknowledged, other issues are left unanswered, and questions remain over the San Marino televote. For the long term health of the Song Contest, it is time for the EBU to publicly show how the process works. Security by obscurity is a fantasy.

Since the curtain came down on Tel Aviv, the Eurofandom’s elite squad of spreadsheet enthusiasts and statisticians have been hard at work highlighting errors and raising questions around the scoring. In this article we take a deeper view at how the system for calculating backup votes works.

  • We finally found out how (one of) the systems for creating emergency backup Eurovision votes works, and it has had some impact on this year’s scores.
  • The system used to create the backup Belarussian jury vote is not the same as the one used to simulate the San Marino televote.
  • Why would there be two different systems for simulating emergency backup votes?
  • In a year where the winner was decided by 26 points and qualification was decided by single point margins, transparency concerning scoring is hugely important

Sorting The Belarussian Vote

Portuguese Eurovision fan @Euro_Brunotracked down the error in the aggregated score that replaced the dismissed Belarus jury, resulting in a correction of the scores that affected placings. Several other community members have done work showing that some jurors likely ranked the entries backwards, and showed the comparative margins of victory for the Top 50 songs of the decade.

@Euro_Bruno investigates the Belarus vote (Twitter)

@Euro_Bruno investigates the Belarus vote (Twitter)

Thanks to Bruno’s analysis, we now have a very good working model how an aggregated ‘emergency’ jury score is calculated. It makes sense to see whether this model can be used to calculate the aggregated televote score that is attributed to San Marino.

It would make organisational sense for there only to be one system for generating emergency scores – you could use it for the case you’re expecting every year (San Marino, which has no independent phone system); cases that crop up from time to time (when the televote in a country is too small to constitute a representative sample); and emergencies (when a jury fails to act with the required discretion and must be dismissed). Then you could be sure that you’re applying the same maths in the same way to anyone who needed an emergency score. Applying the same method to everyone makes the system auditable, gives the appearance of fairness and avoids the need to scramble together a last minute solution.

When You Need To Create A Televote

The San Marino televote has been a long-running conundrum. Back in 2016 Ben Robertson and I investigated the aggregated score that replaces San Marino’s televote. We had been told that the score was composed of an aggregation of other real televote scores. I used a data fitting technique called non-negative least squares to try and reverse calculate which televotes were part of the aggregation.

The answer was inconclusive. No matter what combinations of televote rankings we tried, it was not possible to verify how the televote was created. It is impossible to know if the San Marino televote is correct or if there are mistakes similar to the Belarussian jury vote.

The Belarus Jury incident gave us insight into one EBU aggregation method, thanks to the methodology worked out by @Euro_Bruno. This method combines countries in the same semi-final draw allocation pot as the country you’re calculating for. The individual jury rankings are combined to produce an average value for each country. The average values are then ranked to produce the aggregated ranking.

Let’s look at Semi Final 1, where San Marino had 58 televote points to distribute and the margin between qualification and missing out on the Grand Final was 2 points.

The countries from San Marino’s pot competing in Semi 1 were Greece and Cyprus. Let’s look at what the rankings look like if you just use Greece and Cyprus. The San Marino 12 and 10 points were awarded to Greece and Cyprus, which works out just fine as Greece and Cyprus both came highest in each other’s televote. But looking further down the rankings, it’s clearly more complicated than that. Georgia was ranked 2nd in both the Cypriot and Greek televotes, but was ranked only 10th by the San Marino process. Poland should be ranked 13th if the aggregator just includes Greece + Cyprus, but instead they were ranked 6th and obtained 5 televote points.

San Marino's 2019 Televote - Greek and Cypriot combination (image: Ellie Chalkley)

San Marino’s 2019 Televote – Greek and Cypriot combination (image: Ellie Chalkley)

So we are clearly looking for another constituent for the aggregation. In order to produce the San Marino ranking, that extra ingredient in the ranking must look like this:

  • Greece is ranked more highly than Cyprus, but not necessarily 1st or 2nd.
  • Georgia has an extremely low ranking, possibly last.
  • Poland has a good ranking, possibly top 3.
  • Iceland and Estonia both have good rankings, likely top 5.

It would make sense to combine one of the Big 5 + Host nations into the simulated televotes. For 2019 Semi 1, this is Spain, France or Israel. Looking at the table below, let’s check these off:

  • Israel – 1: False. 2: False. 3: False. 4: False.
  • Spain – 1: True. 2: True. 3: False. 4: True.
  • France – 1: True. 2: False. 3: True. 4: False
San Marino's 2019 Televote - French/Spanish/Israeli potential (image: Ellie Chalkley)

San Marino’s 2019 Televote – French/Spanish/Israeli potential (image: Ellie Chalkley)

Next, we look through the rest of the semi final for countries which fit these criteria.

…It appears that no single country fits all four of our criteria. The San Marino televote does not appear to be an aggregate of Greece + Cyprus or Greece + Cyprus plus any one of the other countries in Semi Final 1. Let’s just run the numbers including Finland and Belgium just to make absolutely sure.

San Marino's 2019 Televote - Poland and Georgia High/Low combinations (image: Ellie Chalkley)

San Marino’s 2019 Televote – Poland and Georgia High/Low combinations (image: Ellie Chalkley)

No, it’s not Finland

San Marino's 2019 Televote - Cyrpus and Greece with Finland (image: Ellie Chalkley)

San Marino’s 2019 Televote – Cyrpus and Greece with Finland (image: Ellie Chalkley)

It is also very much not Belgium either.

San Marino's 2019 Televote - Cyrpus and Greece with Belgium (image: Ellie Chalkley)

San Marino’s 2019 Televote – Cyrpus and Greece with Belgium (image: Ellie Chalkley)

Wait though, we don’t seem to be getting closer. Can we construct a single set of rankings that would give us the correct result? We know roughly what values we’re aiming at, so we can try and solve it like a logic puzzle.

The two biggest clues are Poland and Georgia. To see if it’s possible to get Poland ranked 6th and Georgia ranked 10th, I’ve started by ranking Poland 1st and Georgia 16th. This results in average ranks of 8.67 for Poland and 6.67 for Georgia, which cannot result in Poland ranking higher than Georgia, whatever the other ranks from a single real televote are.

What is clear is that the system used to generate the San Marinese televote is different to the system used to generate the Belarussian televote.

I asked an EBU spokesperson to clarify how San Marino’s televote was calculated:

“The calculation for the San Marino televote is based on the standardized calls and SMS of countries with the same voting pattern. The formula for the calculation is confidential and agreed between EBU and its voting partners to generate the fairest substitute result.”

A Voting Frustration

The San Marino televote remains a mystery, and this remains a problem.

For the Eurovision Song Contest to remain as successful as it is, viewers, delegations, broadcasters, and performers must have confidence in the results of the Song Contest. If you cannot trust the scoreboard, why enter the Contest. If you cannot trust the scores why watch the Contest?

Without a transparent explanation of how the aggregated votes used in the Song Contest are generated, there will always be uncertainty over the veracity of the scoring. Following the Contest in Tel Aviv the ‘generated’ Belarussian jury vote was proven to be wrong, investigations are continuing over the Italian televote discrepancy, and various individual jury rankings are being questioned.

When qualifications are won and lost over a single point, it is important for everyone involved to be able to track where every single point comes from – a sign-off by an auditor is no longer enough when the auditor has been proven to miss a glaring error in the 2019 Grand Final. Giving everyone the data to work out where these aggregated scores come from (at least after the event), would enable those in competition and the extremely engaged audience to have confidence in the results.

Confirming the San Marino televote process should be one of the EBU’s first steps in rebuilding the loss of trust in the results of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Categories: ESC Insight


Which National Finals Sent The Wrong Songs To Tel Aviv 2019

Which National Finals Sent The Wrong Songs To Tel Aviv 2019

Belarus Should Have Sent ‘Potato Aka Бульба’

There are true Eurovision fans who watch the Grand Final religiously every year, there are those who join in with the Semi Finals, others make a point of watching their broadcaster’s National Finals. And then there are those at the other end of the scale who will watch the fixed camera livestream from the Belarussian auditions.

The latter discovered the earworm of the season and we’ve made sure to let everyone know the power of the (mis-heard) ‘Potato Acapulco For some reason BTRC didn’t even let this into the televised rounds. What a missed opportunity!

Australia Should Have Sent ‘2000 And Whatever’

A number of broadcasters would love a ninth place finish at the Eurovision Song Contest, but for Australia it feels like a poor return given the press interest around Kate Miller-Heidke and ‘Zero Gravity’. Put aside the intensely personal lyrics, the real story of Australia 2019 was spectacular gimmick from Strange Fruit that saw Kate and her backing performers wobble around the stage in time to the poperatic chorus.

And perhaps that was the problem. This was the first year that Australia held a National Final. Watching that show, there was a huge emphasis in the VT clips between the performances on what made a ‘good’ Eurovision song. If you tell the Australian public that Eurovision is all about gimmick and spectacle, then the gimmick and spectacle song is going to have an advantage in the public voting.

If the VT focus had been more on diverse musical styles and creating emotion in the viewer (arguably the key to winning in the last few years) then the audience would have been guided elsewhere, and the likely victory would have been Electric Fields’ ‘2000 and Whatever’.

Moldova Should Have Sent ‘Ca Adriano Celentano’

After a number of years of sending utterly memorable and memeable moments to the Eurovision Song Contest, Moldova managed the same again for 2019, but this time for all the wrong reasons – a rather tepid song coupled with an on-stage presentation that everyone recognised as ‘Ukraine 2011’s Sand Lady’. This is not the combination that has brought Moldova success.

Much like Belarus, the real goldmine was the audition phase. Much as I love the absolute madness of ‘Robin Hood’, I’m drawn into the turbo-prog-folk power of Irina Tarasiuc & Lume with their ode to the pillar of Italian music in ‘Ca Adriano Celentano’. It was all here, you just had to follow the plan that had worked so well for you in Lisbon and Kyiv.

Sweden Should Have Sent ‘I Do’

John Lundvik (eventually) took fifth place after the jury votes were re-calculated, but the irony is that ‘strong jury and poor televote’ has been the Swedish story for the last three years. Another year of a male solo singer, another year of relying on impactful staging, another year of the same split result.

Much like Australia, the final result feels lower than the personal target. SVT, it’s time to change the story at Melodifestivalen to change the story at the Song Contest. Looking at the entry list there were a number of choices that could have stood out – Wiktoria, Anna Bergendahl, and the duet of Hanna Ferm and Liamoo – but given the success of the ‘feel happy’ songs at the Contest (‘Say Na Na Na’ and ‘Spirit In The Sky’), I’m going to cheer for a return to Eurovision for Arvingarna.

Denmark Should Have Sent ‘League Of Light’

I’ll be honest, I’m still undecided about this one. Leonora did qualify for the Grand Final (err…) and made the left hand side of table, and I’m the first to admit that it is a real marmite song. But nothing about it says ‘Danish’, and at an emotional level I like my Eurovision songs to say something about where they come from.

Which means I’ve been much more invested in ‘League of Light’  and the return of Greenlandic of Dansk Melodi Grand Prix than ‘Love is Forever’. More honesty and authenticity will always win me over – consider this my personal wild card.

Croatia Should Have Sent ‘Tower Of Babylon’

You can’t escape the feeling that ‘The Dream’ was less about Roko getting to Eurovision than Jacques Houdek returning to the Song Contest. From the weak use of the wings to the poor use of CGI on the Tel Aviv backdrop, Croata deserved more.

Lorena Bućan finished second in the return of Dora with ‘Tower of Babylon’. This strong, female-focused number with lots of staging potential would have given the semi final running order a bit more drive and direction, which could well have been enough to get to Saturday night.

Ukraine Should Have Sent ‘Siren Song’

It’s going to be the great ‘what if’ for the ages. Did Ukraine have a potential winner here? Would it have depressed the votes going towards Sergey Lazarev? Just how mental would the back half of Semi Final 1 been with ‘Siren Song’ in the mix? We’ll never know…

We’ve already looked at the National Finals that got it right – read that article here. As for the big mistakes of the year, do you agree? Let us know in the comments!

Categories: ESC Insight


Which National Finals Sent The Right Songs To Tel Aviv 2019?

Which National Finals Sent The Right Songs To Tel Aviv 2019?

Netherlands Were Right To Choose Duncan Laurence

It won. Simple.

But looking beyond that, the internal selection of Duncan Laurence and the move away from Americana into something that feels ‘of the moment’ was a great move. Having spoken to Laurence, it looks like the initial push to submit ‘Arcade’ came from his Voice mentor Ilse DeLange, who was sure it would do well at the Eurovision Song Contest even though Laurence was sure it was a song better suited to Spotify.

Arcade’ has topped the Spotify charts as well as the Eurovision scoreboard.

Iceland Was Right To Choose Hatari

With no qualification to the Grand Final since Pollaponk in 2014, RUV came into the season needing to break a run of four non-qualifications. Although Söngvakeppnin featured a number of familiar names and songs that were built from the same mould as ’Unbroken’ and ‘Our Choice’, there was an alternative that could break the dead-lock.

Step forward Hatari.

In addition to the light they were able to shine on the darker areas of both Israel’s hosting and the limits of the ‘non-political’ Song Contest rule; Klemens, Matthias, and Einar created a passionate international fan-base and brought an under-represented genre to the Contest.

You can be sure that Hatari’s impact on the Contest will be remembered across the community in the same way as Iceland will remember its return to the Top Ten.

Norway Was Right To Choose KEiiNO

Because sometimes you just need three minutes of happiness.

Last year’s MGP was a wonderful TV show, but in Eurovision terms Norway was essentially coronating Alexander Rybak. But a bit further down the playbill you found Tom Hugo singing ‘I Like I Like I Like’ and Alexandra Rotan duetting with Stella Mwangi (Norway 2011) on ‘You Got Me’. Looking back, those appearances felt like a try-out for the main event – and it was noticeable that Stella and Alexandra too to the 2018 preview circuit ‘You Got Me’ as a warm up act for the various concerts.

They both knew how the circus worked. All it needed was a song that matched their infectious energy… at which point our musical Aragorn of the North comes into focus. Fred-René Buljo brings his mix of Sami and rap to the pop and schlager of Tom and Alexandra.

Schlagerjoik is born (please let it live long enough for at least one album) and Norway go on to (a) beat Sweden (err…  maybe not) and (b) top the televote with Spirit In The Sky.

Albania Was Right To Choose Jonida Maliqi

Given that Festivali i Këngës chooses a song for Albania (the ticket to Eurovision is a bonus, not a mission), the decisions isn’t necessarily about choosing Jonida Maliqi, it’s about the decision to not fiddle with the song (beyond the three-minute rule and sorting out a backing track) and trust Maliqi to bring all of her talent and power to the stage in the Tel Aviv Expo.

Authenticity is a word that gets thrown around a lot when discussing Eurovision performance, but this is a classic example of just that. In hindsight it was always qualifying.

Malta Was Right To Choose Michaela Pace

Much like Iceland, Malta’s PBS has been on a run of poor results, with Ira Losco’s ‘Walk On Water’ the only highlight in the last few years. The National Final system under MESC continued to sport the same faces with younger singers building up skills and experiences, but when you can call the winner of MESC by working out ‘who’s turn it is’ when the entry list is released, then something needs to change.

That change was The X-Factor. The long-running franchise debuted on PBS during the 2018/19 season, with the winner getting the Eurovision ticket. The rules of X-Factor also pushed out many familiar faces from MESC, clearing the way for Michaela Pace to break the cycle with a youthful sound and a ‘Post-Margaret’ Eurovision banger in Chameleon.

As for a training ground for future singers, having Destiny Chukunyere (the winner of Junior Eurovision 2015 with ‘Not My Soul’) on backing vocals in Tel Aviv points to a prosperous future.

Spain Was Right To Choose Miki

Of all the contestants at Operación Triunfo’s Eurovision Gala, Miki was the one who looked hungry for the win. There may well have been a buzz around María’s ‘Muérdeme’, but on the night when the scores were being kept, María looked like she wanted to be anywhere else and Miki wanted to be in Tel Aviv.

Let’s put aside the staging choices made by TVE for May (a giant-sized Ikea Billy bookcase knocked over by a Wickerman?) and remember how effortless Miki became one of the party songs of the season.

Portugal Was Right To Choose Conan Osiris

While Conan Osiris did not qualify for Saturday night’s Grand Final, I still think that RTP’s Festival da Canção made the correct decision. Telemóveis’ is a challenging song, mixing art and statement through three minutes of music. It’s not as accessible as a slice of schlager, it takes time to understand the nature of Osiris’ composition and that, along with the stylistic choreography on stage, made qualification a difficult task.

But I would rather see challenging songs at Eurovision than a raft of formulaic three minutes with little to differentiate them.

Those are some of our choices for the National Finals that got it right. Who else caught your eye as being in the right place at the right time? As for the National Finals that got it wrong. that’s coming soon, keep your powder dry for that debate!

Categories: ESC Insight


Questions And Answers About The Voting At Eurovision 2019

Questions And Answers About The Voting At Eurovision 2019

What Happened On Friday And Saturday Night?

Belarus’ jury vote reveal during the Eurovision Song Contest’s 2019 Grand Final was going to be one to keep an eye on. Earlier in the week it had been revealed that the EBU had disqualified the Belarussian jury from voting on the Grand Final. This was because members of the jury had revealed publicly the songs they preferred during the first Semi Final. Jury members should keep how they voted secret until after the Grand Final.

In confirming this to Eurovoix, the EBU also confirmed that for the Grand Final the Belarussian jury vote would be calculated by an ‘aggregated result approved by the auditors’:

The Belarussian jury voting has been revealed in an interview contravening Eurovision Song Contest rules. In order to be compliant with the ESC voting regulations, the EBU has taken action and has dismissed the Belarussian jury from the Grand Final on Saturday. An aggregated result approved by the auditors will be used in order to determine to whom the Belarussian votes will be allocated.

It was therefore a shock for many to see Belarus award twelve points during the jury voting on Saturday night to Israel. Not only was this Israel’s only twelve points, they were Israel’s only points of the jury voting. For this to be an aggregated result means somewhere else Israel must have placed high with the juries…which was visibly not the case.

Something clearly went wrong.

The Belarussian 'Jury' vote as broadcast on May 18 2019 (YouTube/

The Belarussian ‘Jury’ vote as broadcast on May 18 2019 (YouTube/

Members of the Eurovision community were quick to suggest what the problem was. Taking countries in the same pot as Belarus used to split up similar voting countries for the Semi Finals (namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia) and averaging their jury rankings resulted in a jury score that was a perfect match for how Belarus voted.

…if you took their combined last place and flipped it around to be their first place.

Israel was ranked 15th, 21st, 24th and 25th by those four respective countries. This average placment of 21.25 was the lowest scored by any country, but somehow rewarded Israel with 12 points on Saturday night.

A ‘human error’ can be inferred from these numbers; the calculated average was ranked from highest to lowest rather than lowest to highest. The lowest average ranking song (which would have been ‘Chameleon’ from Malta) should have received the 12 points, not Israel.

The EBU have now acknowledged that this is the mistake, and on Wednesday May 22nd revealed a corrected ranking for the Grand Final before updating the Grand Final scoreboard.

How The Results Have Changed

The Belarussian jury vote is only 1/92nd of the total vote in the Eurovision Song Contest, and thankfully there is no controversy over our winner… it’s still The Netherlands, although ‘Arcade’ is now a slightly more impressive winner with a total score of 498 points compared to the 492 points that were revealed on Saturday night.

The changes that exist are further down the table. Sweden becoming the top Scandinavian country – leapfrogging the televote winner Norway into fifth – is the most notable swap. The biggest alteration is in the mid-table. Cyprus and Malta improve two places to 13th and 14th respectively, forcing Slovenia and France down by the same amount.

From a production perspective, the most significant change is that North Macedonia win the jury vote. With 10 points from the Belarussian aggregated score, Sweden’s last minute steal of first place on Saturday night would not have happened. Tamara Todevska would have held the limelight and be leading the Song Contest at the half way mark, and the final head-to-head in the new voting announcement procedure would have been Todevska vs Lawrence.

A Need To Catch Human Error In The Future

That takes care of the facts from Eurovision 2019, but what lessons need to be learned?

The wrong scores were announced on the night, and these could have had a much larger impact. Imagine for a moment a closer result where The Netherlands was awarded the Eurovision Song Contest victory on screen, but the true winner was Italy…

The most troubling aspect has to be the number of checks that missed the error. As the EBU press release takes time to explain, it is Digame who produced the aggregated result; then voting monitor Ernst & Young approved the final results; and at the final level it goes to Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand and the EBU team who give the final all clear live on the Saturday night broadcast. Nobody in this chain spotted spotted the upside-down mistake… although when it was announced Eurovision fans online raised digital eyebrows on social media.

Credit must be given to @Euro_Bruno for his analysis of the jury scores which raised the issue in the community which was subsequently picked up by the world’s media.

@Euro_Bruno investigates the Belarus vote (Twitter)

@Euro_Bruno investigates the Belarus vote (Twitter)

This is the first time an entire jury score has been replicated in this way since 2016, when jury scores and tele votes were split in the Saturday night presentation, but it is not the first mistake in process that has happened.

From individual jurors we have seen evidence of incorrect ranking orders numerous times. Arguably the most notable example is Hilde Heick, a Danish juror from 2016, who intended to place eventual winner Ukraine second last, but instead voted ‘upside down’ and placed Ukraine second. 14 of the 23 point advantage ‘1944’ had over ‘Sound of Silence’ that year was due to that mistake. Other individual jurors, including a number from this year’s Song Contest, have voting patterns that suggest they have voted the wrong way around. Ranking ‘upside down’ has been a problem for years and it remains a possibility that there has been a material impact in this year’s Contest in terms of countries who qualified for the Grand Final:

While the process to determine the Belarussian ‘jury’ vote is different to the ranking from an individual juror, the same mistake has occurred… Eurovision voting rewards those who get the highest points, but jury rankings start from the smallest number. It is easy to see how human error can result in these mistakes. This must be the catalyst to ensure there is increase clarity to the process.

One immediate quick fix would be for each juror and jury chairperson to write down which song is their favourite and input it into the computerised voting form to ensure the ordering has been completed correctly as a ‘check’ on the ranking order

Ensuring Integrity to The Eurovision Song Contest Voting

The Eurovision Song Contest voting is now a battle of two halves, with both jury and televote having equal value. After the EBU’s corrections to the vote, this year we have an unusual situation where neither televote nor jury winner are in the final top 5… and there is nothing wrong with that.

What a split outcome requires though is the need for a demonstrably clean, transparent and fair voting system for the Song Contest. This year we didn’t get that until four days after the live show. The Belarussian jury vote was an embarrassment for the EBU, for the artists involved, and also for the Belarussian broadcaster.

There are also ethics which need to be openly discussed.

Is it ethically correct to use other juries in different countries to ‘simulate’ a Belarussian jury? The countries used to assemble the points may be in a group of similar countries, but their results showcase huge differences. Russia for example received a 1st, 6th and 26th place ranking from those used to construct the vote. Azerbaijan scored a 1st, 2nd and 26th place ranking. Even politically detached Sweden received a 1st place and 9th place…combined with a 15th and 18th place. By accepting that you should take replacement jury points from countries that have a similar voting history, does that mean the result you calculate just perpetuates the perceived issues of political voting?

Certainly one argument to make that would have been to not include a Belarussian jury at all. This has issues for the TV broadcast – as we would therefore not see a Belarussian spokesperson on screen. However making Maria Vasilevich read out a jury score that was quite obviously made up has its own moral dilemma.

The Black Box Of Exponential Weighting

This is not an abstract question for the 2019 presentation. There are a number of issues around voting and point calculations that need to be exposed to public scrutiny to ensure the long term integrity and confidence in the Eurovision Song Contest results.

Firstly, in 2018 the EBU revealed an ‘exponential weight model’ to calculate the points from the 5 jurors. While good in that it mimimises the ability of one juror to destroy the voting power of one song, no set formula for this exponential curve has been formally revealed by the EBU.

ESC Insight’s Ellie Chalkly took a closer look at the system when it was announced last year:

This change to the jury scoring system is a welcome step forwards to a more competitive Contest. It rewards positivity, it diminishes the power of a single juror to negatively impact a song, and it allows strong but divisive songs the opportunity to achieve a respectable jury score ahead of the televote the following night.

Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley

Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley

While these changes are welcome, the formula requires a number of constants that have not been revealed. Without these numbers it is impossible for a third party to confirm the model is working as advertised. Essentially there is a ‘black box’  between the juror scores and the jury points awarded. If the Belarussian jury vote can be incorrect, can we have confidence in the rest of the jury voting process?

Returning to the suggestion that a juror has ranked incorrectly during Semi Final One, we cannot be certain of the impact on the qualifiers because we do not know the exact workings of the black box that calculates the jury points.

It is impossible for a broadcaster and member of the public to themselves calculate and ratify that the result is valid alone. We can model what the exponential curve acts like, but this is not the same as a clear and transparent system. One key model of integrity is ensuring that the model is replicable by others.

The San Marino Televote

As noted, it was a simple average of the juries in the same pot as Belarus that resulted in a correct calculation of the Belarussian jury vote. Each year since 2016 we have had to use a similar aggregate method to calculate not a jury, but a televote. Because San Marino uses the Italian telephone system, it is not possible to guarantee a televote is only made up of San Marinese voters. Instead San Marino’s televote system is “an average result of a representative group of televote results of other countries.”

San Marino’s televote construction sounds eerily similar to how Belarus’ jury result has been constructed.

JESC 2013 singer Michele Perniola reading out the points from the San Marino jury in the Eurovision Grand Final of 2014.

JESC 2013 singer Michele Perniola reading out the points from the San Marino jury in the Eurovision Grand Final of 2014.

Yet whereas the Belarussian jury score appears to have been mathematically simple to construct, it has not been possible to re-construct a San Marinese televote model since 2016. Even their Head of Delegation does not understand how the vote is constructed. Poland’s Tulia were two points away from reaching the Grand Final, and received five points from this constructed San Marino televote. It is easy to imagine if a different group of countries were selected Poland could have scored two more points and qualified for Saturday.

Hiding the process does not protect the integrity of the televote, it simply creates more mystery and raises more questions around the validity of the vote.

Improve The Design By Expecting Mistakes

Mistakes and human error happen, we all accept that. The key is to expect them and design systems that can allow them to be discovered and corrected. Having to change the results after the live show has embarrassed the EBU, Digame and Ernst & Young. Improvements to the design of the jury vote are needed to make sure it delivers the robust result that is expected by the millions of viewers and listeners to the Eurovision Song Contest every year.

However the EBU can not and should not stop now the Belarussian jury vote has been addressed.Clarity and integrity throughout the Song Contest’s voting systems are needed. This year’s incidents can be the catalyst for much needed improvements both behind the scenes and in the package that is presented to the public.

Categories: ESC Insight


Nine Things We Expect From The Netherlands And Eurovision 2020

Nine Things We Expect From The Netherlands And Eurovision 2020

When Should I Book Time Off?

Whilst the EBU has not released provisional dates for the Eurovision Song Contest 2020, I’m going to gamble and call it for Saturday May 23rd, slightly later in the year. Firstly, it nods towards the scheduling of another major televised event in Europe, the UEFA Champions League Final on Saturday May 30th. You also have the announced dates for the Danish National Final on March 7th. Assuming this isn’t clashing with Sweden, that puts Melodifiestivalen’s closer on March 14th, and the Heads of Delegation meeting on March 16th. It’s all running just a bit later.

There’s also a complication in the Netherland’s own social calendar… the return of the Dutch Grand Prix to the Formula 1 Grand Prix calendar, The classic Zandvoort circuit will be in use, just a quick tram ride from Amsterdam. The provisional date for that is Sunday May 11th. While you could have the Eurovision rehearsals running that weekend, are you going to run the opening ceremony that day as well?

Location, Location, Location

Even if you avoid the Dutch Grand Prix date wise, Amsterdam cannot avoid the Dutch Grand Prix. Handing the city two major events in close succession doesn’t feel like a smart political decision. If so, expect the bidding for the Song Contest to look for applications outside of the capital. Looking around suitable indoor arenas, with transport links, and sufficient hotel space, Rotterdam 2020 may be a good value bet.

PS… If it is Rotterdam, hosting the Grand Final on Saturday May 16th could come into play – it’s a tricky business second guessing a bidding process which already features six cities and climbing, so don’t make any solid commitments just yet!

More Personality, Less Tourism

Rotterdam (or anywhere) also takes the focus of Amsterdam as a destination. While there isn’t an active campaign of ‘Please Don’t Visit’, for many residents the city is over-run by tourists and popular locations and ‘tourist trap’ shops are being quietly removed. Don’t expect a massive amount of promotion around tourism in 2020’s Song Contest, expect more personal stories to be told and the nation-branding to be subtle and directed into different areas.

Let’s Talk Budgets

The Dutch Public Broadcasting System has a rather unique set-up – in essence there are eight member organisations who get a proportion of airtime depending on the number of members they have, with funding coming from general taxation. AVROTROS – the broadcaster who runs the Eurovision delegation – is one of those members. It has been confirmed that AVROTROS, alongside NPO and NOS, will be organising Eurovision 2020, and the first press conferences on early panning will take place in June. Budget wise I’m expecting Eurovision 2020 to be lower down the scale, nearer the 20-25 million Euro mark, roughly equivalent to Vienna.

No More Big Names Hijacking The Interval

SVT tried it with Justin Timberlake, but we all remember ‘Love Love Peace Peace’ from Stockholm 2016, not ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’. KAN tried it with Madonna this year. According to urban legend, UA:PBC had an offer for a similar ‘stunt’ interval act for 2017.

Portgual showed us the correct way to bring a big music name into the interval act with its pairing of Caetano Veloso alongside Salvador Sobral. There was a level of respect for the Song Contest from Veloso. Those who realised who it was were in awe, others saw a delicate reprise of the winning song from the year before with some new music.

More like that and less like the smothering presence of the Queen of Pop, please.

Cut Eurovision Down To Size

The Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2018 had twenty songs, and ran for 2 hours 45 minutes. The Adult Eurovision Song Contest in 2019 had twenty-six songs, but inflicted a marathon running time of 4 hours 11 minutes.

Adding six songs and their postcards covers takes 23 minutes, why do we need the other 58 minutes? Yes it’s a chance for a host broadcaster to show off a bit more, but there’s far too much cruft in the show. Less is more, and it will be more memorable.

Vote For Pleasure, Not Cruelty

As ESC Insight’s Ben Robertson says, “I see Eurovision as a competition of love, love, peace, peace, so therefore want the biggest focus to be on the positives.” That was not on show last night.

The new voting announcements ensured that there would be a cliffhanger ending, by reading out the televote results in the ascending order of jury scores. That meant we had moments of emotional pain with those scoring high on the jury and crashing in the televote , notably Germany’s Sisters and Malta’s Michela Pace, and the Czech Republic’s Lake Malawi, having the camera focused on them during the moment of defeat.

I’d much rather have KEiiNO’s televote victory be acknowledged as the last score, rather than the painful sight of Sweden being handed a humbling number of points live on camera.

This needs tweaked to find a way to keep the entertainment and tension but also respect the performers.

What About Eurovision In Concert?

The biggest promotional event on the calendar – the privately organised Eurovision In Concert – is held in Amsterdam every year. Will that still go ahead, take a year off, or be something the broadcaster can leverage? It would be a great time to have the artists film their postcards, but would it weaken or strengthen interest in EiC that ESC would be happening ‘close by’ the next month? All I know is that something is likely to change.

Maybe ‘In Concert’ should move to Italy for the year, given Mahmood finished second?

More Authenticity, More Emotion, More Storytelling

All songs are stories, but Eurovision over the lat few years has turned this into an art form. While the last few winners have not been from the same genre, they all have something in common. They feel real, they feel like they mean something, and the emotions on the show can be felt by the viewers at home (even if it takes two weeks of rehearsing to work out how exactly to do this).

Duncan Laurence brought heartbreak and a vulnerability to the stage. The song wouldn’t be out of place on the playlist of any major radio station. It’s not just a great Eurovision song, it’s a great song.

There are a lot of those out there.

Viewers can tell when there is no connection between the artist, the song, the staging, and the audience. That’s what Eurovision 2020 needs. Broadcasters ready to step away from ‘a Eurovision song’ and just sending us the best songs they can find. Let’s put aside the idea of manufacturing songs and focus on telling stories and creating more magical moments.

What are you looking forward to for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2020? What needs changed, what should stay the same, and what would be your wildest expectation? Let us know in the comments.

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: Our Final Daily News From Tel Aviv, Sunday 19th May

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Our Final Daily News From Tel Aviv, Sunday 19th May

That was the contest that was. The Eurovision Song Contest for 2019 draws to a close, but before we move on, let’s review the Grand Final in our final daily podcast from Tel Aviv.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Our Final Daily News From Tel Aviv, Sunday 19th May

Reviewing the Grand Final of Eurovision 2019, examining the voting sequence, thoughts on the votes, and our highlights of the show.

With Ewan Spence, John Paul Lucas, Matt Baker, and Ade Bradley.

The summer is here, but our Eurovision insights will continue. Stay up to date with all the Eurovision discussions by listening to the ESC Insight podcasts. 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

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