Eurovision: Still a contest?

ESC_logoIn 2012, the Eurovision Reference Group – the governing body of the Eurovision Song Contest – voted to implement the biggest conceptual change Eurovision has been through for many years: As of ESC 2013, the producers of the show are given more power than ever before in order to affect the result of the contest.

Until ESC 2012, the running order of the show was decided by a draw. The starting position of each entry was decided without any kind of political agenda, without favouring certain music styles, favourite songs or artists. It was a contest where – beside the power of each entry’s melody and performance – coincidence was the main factor deciding the entries’ fate.

And claiming that an entry’s starting position is inessential should now be a lost cause: The statistics show that entries performed in the latest part of the show does far better than the entries performed in the beginning. Not just one year, or by accident two years in a row. But this has been the situation MORE OR LESS EVERY year since the introduction of televoting in all countries in 1998.

The fact of running order statistics

The countries having the 5 first starting positions in the years 1998-2012, received an average 59,40 points. The countries having the last 5 starting positions got an average of 99,05.

Among the last 10 entries performed each year, there are 44 songs who reached a top-5 placing. Among the first 10 entries performed each year, we find only 22.

There are numerous examples of countries who improve their results greatly when getting a «better» starting position in the final compared to their semi final slot, or countries who do well in the semis but fail in the final after not such a good draw. But you cannot find convincing evidence of the oposite.

If your country performs in the last half of a semi final, your chance of proceding to the final is 60%. On the other hand, if you start in the first half, your chances are only 37%.

Out of the 14 semifinals held until today (including ESC 2012), there has been two incidents where there are just as many qualifiers from the first half as from the last half (second semi final in 2010 and second semi final in 2011). In all the other semi finals EVER HELD (12 out of 14) – there are more qualifiers among countries who have a starting position among the last half than those among the first half. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A SEMI FINAL WHERE WE GOT MORE QUALIFIERS FROM THE FIRST HALF THAN FROM THE LAST.

(The first exception from this semi final trend SHOULD come this year, though – as four out of the top-5 favourites to win the contest (Denmark, Russia, Ukraine and Netherlands) were all placed in the first half of the first semi final.)

I’m not saying that the difference of being in the beginning of the show and being in the end decides whether you come last or first. But it can very well tip the scale when there is a close run.

The competition turns a show

Television is a powerful medium, and manipulation of the viewers is, sadly, easier than one should think. The running order is undoubtably one of the strongest forces in deciding the fate of a Eurovision entry, and the power of deciding this, is now in the hands of the producers, rather than in the hands of coincidence and fate.

The thought behind the change is to prevent having big parts of the show appearing as «dull» or «boring», with for example too many ballads in a row. The producers shall have the freedom to make a show that can attract the viewers’ concentration throughout the show, making it more exciting, more dynamic, and in many ways – more according to modern TV.

If Eurovision is to survive, and keep it’s position as the world’s biggest annual television show, it must keep evolving. Eurovision Song Contest has always been a music competition where composers and lyricists has been competing on equal terms. Now this has been put aside to make the best television product possible. The competition part of Eurovision has been undermined.

The next step would be terminating the voting part and only have a song presentation. A song for Europe. This would undoubtably have more established composers and artists taking part, as they would no more risk the failure of receiving a low placing. Then Eurovision could truly be used as an arena for presenting new music, and to reach a broad, European audience. The competition would turn a show. But it would definitely not be the Eurovison Song Contest we’ve known for decades.

I’m not saying this was a wrong decition, it might even be a necessary step to keep Eurovision alive. But I would claim that there has been an alarming absence of debate concidering that the contest has undergone the biggest conceptual change since the introduction of televoting in 1997/1998. Has the fans really understood what has happened?