Eurovision 2015 Vienna – Voting Controversy, TV Ratings and Awards

05 June 2015

It’s taken 2 weeks to fully decompress after an especially intense edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. It was also sad, especially this year, thanks to Australia’s participation, to be involved directly by voting and watching live. It’s easy to relate to Maria Elena from Greece and the sadness she expressed to the official website after her final performance that her adventure was suddenly over. For her, being in semi final 1, it was intense for two full weeks, whereas here it was only the 5 days that spanned the telecasts. I can truly empathise with the sudden finality of it all. Like Maria Elena, this could also be a one time affair. Australia’s unlikely to back anytime soon, so it was really one Eurovision to saviour.

Voting Controversy

The biggest revelation post Vienna is that, for the first time since the re-introduction of the juries in 2009, the people’s choice was not the winner of Eurovision. The people had Italy win by a massive 80 points, with Russia second and Sweden in third. The jury had Sweden win by an even greater 104 points, followed by Latvia, Russia and Italy only in sixth. The biggest surprise there is not so much that the jury decided differently, it’s that the jury went so heavily for such a hollow song like Sweden. I expected Latvia to win the jury vote, with Sweden about fifth. Instead the jury were seduced by the flashy stage show. I guess that just proves that juries are people too!

Split vote Eurovision Final 2015

Split Vote Top 10 Eurovision Song Contest 2015 Vienna. Source

This news of the jury deciding Eurovision sent many fans into apoplexy. There’s been voices against the juries since the day they were returned, so it was only a matter of waiting for a year like this before such claims of unfairness could really be heard. Except, there’s nothing unfair. It’s not like the jury promoted something from tenth into winning Eurovision. Excluding Estonia and Latvia respectively, the public and the televote were sympatico with their top 5. Sweden was still very much a people’s song, being the clear third pick of the televote, almost second pick, and Sweden were a very popular winner in general.

More than Sweden’s popularity, the 50/50 split were the rules leading into the contest. Had it been televote only, that actually changes the nature of many songs to less artistic than now, so you potentially have a silly or cheap Russian entry, and Italy would continue its boycott of Eurovision, meaning Sweden probably win anyway. That’s the core point to remember: the juries were returned to diversify the contest and attract higher profile artists, and also to provide hope for such songs to qualify for the final against the rabid bloc voting that almost destroyed the competition in the late 2000s. There was zero integrity to the semi final results back then, and increasingly dull finals. Now we have a greater range of songs and much better shows and fully deserved winners.

Even worse than the complaints – and this goes back to the far more vociferous complaints of the bloc voting plague in the televote-only era – is that no one offers any solutions. You were hearing ideas back then of splitting ESC into West and East divisions, which was never realistic. It was a divisive option liked only by those in the (you guess it) West. The European Broadcasting Union went down the subtle path of juries. At first they were given one wild card spot to promote a semi finalist to the final before eventually the 50/50 route was implemented. Other than individuals whinging about their own particular favourites missing out, the process has worked. Not only has 50/50 worked at ESC, it’s also the tried and tested formula at most national finals! If it’s good enough there, then why not at ESC? The only exception is some countries conduct “super finals”, where the top 2 or 3 songs go to a final round of voting that’s decided 100% by televote.

Finding Solutions

Could a super final work at ESC? Not in the form of national finals, where there is a new round of voting. The likely scenario is that after the results are read as normal and a top 3 confirmed, then the televote result is applied directly and a winner revealed. This would actually create a true moment of suspense for confirming a winner, unlike the current artificial process of reading the votes in an order that reveals the winner at the latest possible moment. As discussed in the Grand Final review, being aware of the manipulation actually removes suspense. With a super final concept, the regular voting itself is also alive longer, because there’s three spots to be contested.

Given that the main point of the juries was to diversify the songs entered and to make qualifying for the final fairer, maybe the Grand Final returns to televote only. In the era of just the televote, other than Russia winning in 2008, there were few complaints about a winner being preordained. From a competitive aspect, only the ultra close final in 2003 that Turkey won ahead of Belgium and Russia could you cite as affected by bloc voting. Turkey got several 12 points from countries with high Turkish diaspora, notably Belgium itself, and Netherlands and Austria. That stopped probably the biggest upset and most surprising victory in Eurovision ever. To this day, I still know much of Urban Trad’s “choreography”.

Bloc voting stopped Urban Trad from Belgium winning Eurovision 2003. Unfair?

Considering that 10 spots are up for grabs in the semi finals, there’s a thought that the procedure could be simplified there. The EBU has already been fiddling around with ranking procedures of the respective jury and televote scores, previously using the traditional 12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 ESC style, or these days a straight rank of 1 to 16 (presume 16 songs involved), before combining the result. The former rewards songs that excel in one discipline, while the latter rewards consistency. Again, it depends on the effect on your personal songs as to which system you prefer. This could vary each year as well! That’s the problem with the whingers: faults exist primarily on personal bias.

In the many periods of personal contemplation since Eurovision finished, an idea has emerged that the televote and the jury should simply pick 5 songs each from the semi final, alternating each pick. The question is whether the televote or jury starts first. Theoretically the televote benefits by going second because they will get more of their songs in the final when both the jury and televote have common interests. This year it doesn’t matter for either semi final. For the sake of the exercise, we’ll start jury first.

Split vote Semi Finals Eurovision Song Contest 2015 Vienna

Split Vote Semi Finals Eurovision Song Contest 2015 Vienna. Nations in bold did not make the final. Source

Under the alternate pick system, the finalists from the first semi would be Russia (Jury), Estonia (Televote), Belgium (J), Georgia (T), Greece (J), Romania (T), Netherlands (J), Armenia (T), Hungary (J), Serbia (T). The only change from the official results is Netherlands in, Albania out. The Dutch benefit because they finished fifth on televote, whereas Albania finished a lowly 9th on jury and 8th on televote. Note that Russia, Belgium and Georgia were the common top 5 songs, meaning the televote get their sixth and seventh best songs through of Armenia and Serbia (11th and 14th on jury), while the jury get their sixth best through, Hungary (12th on televote).

The finalists from the second semi would be Sweden (J), Israel (T), Latvia (J), Poland (T), Norway (J), Lithuania (T), Ireland (J), Slovenia (T), Malta (J) and Cyprus (T). Ireland and Malta come into the final for Montenegro and Azerbaijan. Sweden, Lativa, Israel and Norway are the common top 5 songs, meaning the televote get their sixth, seventh and eighth ranked songs of Lithuania, Slovenia and Cyprus through (all are in the jury’s top 10), while the jury get Malta through as their sixth ranked song (12th on televote).

Finishing top 5 in either voting discipline actually guarantees passage to the final. In practice, it’s more likely top 6 for jury and top 8 for televote as the guarantee. If the jury’s top 5 songs are all in the televote’s top 10, it then means the entire top 10 of televote is guaranteed. Those to benefit most this year would have been Netherlands, Ireland and Malta for jury, and Estonia, Armenia, Serbia, Poland and Lithuania for televote.

To empower the televote further, you could just take the jury’s top 5 and then the next best 5 from the televote not already selected by the jury. For SF1, it’s Russia, Belgium, Georgia, Greece and Netherlands from the jury, with Estonia, Romania, Armenia, Serbia and Albania from the televote. Hungary drop out for Netherlands and the televote get their top 9 through. In SF2 it’s Sweden, Latvia, Norway, Israel and Ireland from the jury, then Poland, Lithuania, Slovenia, Cyprus and Montenegro from the televote. Azerbaijan out for Ireland, and again the televote get their top 9. Note that if the jury and televote have totally different top fives, then both get their top 5 through – regardless of picking systems.

It’s back to that original question of rewarding excellence in one discipline or rewarding consistency. Is a 9th and 8th place more worthy of a place in the final than a 5th and a 14th? Personally, one high position is better than two mediocre ones. Ironically, so do the comments of an Albanian fan I read on the official website, who asserted his country would have scored better in the final if excellence was rewarded. Except, under this criteria, Albania does not make the final at all.

The lesson we can learn from the voting controversy is there is no controversy. Stop whinging, consider the broader context of the procedure, remove personal bias and, most of all, try offer a solution if you really feel aggrieved. If changes were to be made, I would try a televote-only final and the semi final top 10 decided by the jury and the televote alternately picking their top 5. That keeps it simple, very transparent and gives more power to the people without undermining the great benefits the inclusion of the juries have provided. Over to you, Jon Ola Sand!

Television Ratings

Of great benefit to Australians would be the impact of Guy Sebastian’s participation in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest on numbers of TV viewers. Mostly it’s good news. Total peak audience was up from 2.7 million of last year to 4.2 million this year. Peak audience means the number of individuals anywhere in the country that saw any of the shows, including replays, for at least 5 minutes. With 3 live broadcasts this year, obviously that means more chance of people to watch at least some of the shows, including the replays. It’s an accumulated audience, much like the 25 billion that watch the Olympics, even though there’s only 7 billion people on the planet. Note the semi finals had two replays: the traditional Friday and Saturday evening at 7.30pm on SBS’s main channel, and then 2 hours later on their second channel. SBS has touted the peak figures as a great success, as they obviously are.

More important to advertisers and ratings in general are the average Metro numbers. Metro is the 5 largest state capital cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Here, the final on the Sunday night rated 592,000, which is up on 2014’s 476,000 and just down on 2013’s 595,000. That decline is offset by the fact the final was also live at 5am, which attracted 263,000 viewers. If you presume they were all unique viewers, the total for the final was 858,000 viewers. SBS were hoping for a million viewers.

In the face of generally very low ratings for the nation’s government run multicultural broadcaster, SBS were hoping for a ratings spike to justify recent requests to sell more advertising slots per hour. The 592,000 on Sunday evening – the biggest TV night of the week – is disappointing, regardless that many people might have skipped it after watching live at 5am. It’s probably the reason SBS were loathe to advertise the live shows. The advertising on their own channel never mentioned them (that I saw), nor did many articles in mainstream media. I’d say half footnoted with only the delayed telecasts. The strategy was no doubt to ensure that Sunday night figure was as high as possible. This strategy also doesn’t portend well for future Eurovision Song Contests. Outside the years of football’s World Cup, Eurovision is SBS’s most watched annual show, and they would really have loved this year’s event to take off, and hope to retain some of the viewers for next year.

Not surprisingly, Sunday night was dominated by the commercial networks, with Eurovision only scraping into the top 10 of most watched shows, and SBS in its usual last place on audience share. This is not unusual as, despite much of the hype overseas, ESC is still a niche affair on an incredibly niche TV station, and the general TV share is often around 2%. Also not unusual is the Saturday evening broadcast of SF2 had more viewers the grand final on Sunday evening. There’s less competition for TV viewers on a Saturday.

Preliminary OzTAM ratings, Sunday 24 May 2015
01 CATCHING MILAT Seven 1,459,000
02 SEVEN NEWS Seven 1,401,000
03 NINE NEWS SUNDAY Nine 1,296,000
07 RENO RUMBLE Nine 851,000
08 60 MINUTES Nine 754,000
09 MODERN FAMILY Ten 752,000

Audience share: Seven 33.9, Nine 21.6, Ten 18.7, ABC 13.6, SBS 12.1

If you really want a definition of Eurovision being “big”, Sweden had an incredible 85.6% share watching the final, while Iceland was at a mesmerising 95.5%. To clarify, that means of all people watching TV in Iceland during the Eurovision final, 95.5% were watching Eurovision – and Iceland were not even in the final! The host country of Austria had 59.9% watch the Eurovision final. Australia? A paltry 12.1%. There really is a long way to go before ESC can even remotely be described as popular here.

SF1 LIVE 0500 Wed: 75,000 – RPT 0930 Fri: 500,000
SF2 LIVE 0500 Fri: 61,000 – RPT 1930 Sat: 640,000
GF LIVE 0500 Sun: 263,000 – RPT 1930 Sun: 592,000

2015: 592,000
2014: 476,000
2013: 595,000
2012: 531,000
2011: 511,000

The biggest boost in exposure actually came from the mainstream media, specifically about Guy Sebastian, Australia’s chances in general, and general information about the event and other artists. It was all very informative and occasionally educational. This was a giant leap forward compared to other years when articles were mostly of the token and derisive type, mocking these silly Europeans with their silly songs and costumes. As predicted, with Sebastian involved, this sentiment had to change to something more serious and respectful. Let’s hope that continues, because it’s the only way SBS can truly grow the audience.

It was difficult to gauge viewer response other than to note two letters published in Melbourne’s famous “Green Guide” newspaper insert. The first letter was “aghast” at Australia’s participation, labelling it as as an “abomination” and queried “Is nothing sacred?”. The other letter said the “fabulous” show was spoiled only by Julia Zemiro’s incessant chattering over the commentary. For the final time, Australia was a special guest, and, yes, a little bit of Zemiro does go a long way. Overall, as noted in the reviews of the shows, Zemiro and Sam Pang did ok.

Mr Eurovision Awards

Note that the Eurovision Song Contest has the Marcel Bezencon Awards for best song as judged by the press, commentators and fellow composers. They went to Italy, Sweden and Norway, respectively. For my awards, we’ll convert these into best song, presentation and artistry, and carry forward some extras from last year.

I’ll also honour each award after the current best ever – similar to the Barbara Dex award for the worst dressed artist. Incidentally, Trijntje Oosterhuis from the Netherlands won the Barbara Dex award with her glorious parachute-like dress. Personally, Moldova was the worst “dressed” this year. Trijntje was quite ok and the dress was much better than the zigzag cleavage monstrosity she wore at her first rehearsal. That dress went on to be worn by Edsilia Rombley when she read the Dutch votes. Ha!

The Cool Vibes Award for Best Song

Russia. A brilliant song and one of the greatest performances ever. I still get emotional when watching this and it will shoot into my Top 5 Eurovision songs of all time. What is my Top 5? Click the “About” at the top of the page. It’s been set at that for some years now, and might need to be expanded to a Top 10. Filling out my top five for 2015 are Estonia, Slovenia, Spain, and Greece.

The Goodbye To Yesterday Award for Best Presentation

Estonia. This is the most flawless representation of a song, ever. So good that “Goodbye To Yesterday” gets the inaugural honour to name is award. France and Belgium also presented really well, while credit to San Marino for the beautiful vista with their lighting.

The Tornero Award for Best Artistry

Latvia. The most unique song this year, sung brilliantly and presented well. I’m even beginning to accept the flickering background lighting that Aminata used. Spain were also brilliant.

The Open Your Heart Award for Best Pure Song

Slovenia. The first listen I was intrigued, the second listen I was in love, and on the third it went straight into my Fab Five at number one. There it remains, fending off even the late Russian onslaught of “A Million Voices”, which would jump to number two in a revamped Fab Five. It’s a shame “Here For You” was overwhelmed on the Eurovision stage by the many more spectacular entries. It doesn’t matter. Eurovision is also about discovering wonderful, new artists, and with Maraaya, we’ve found a beauty. Interesting footnote is that Raay from Maraaya wrote Slovenia’s excellent entry last year.

The Lenna Kuurmaa Award for Best Voice

Greece. I still get goosebumps hearing Maria Elena. A sultry, husky tone to her voice, and she can really sing. Guy Sebastian said she’s Greece’s Delta Goodrem. It’s a reasonable comparison – especially for Delta! Monika from Poland with her sumptuous warm tone is next, followed by the exquisite control of Elhaida from Albania. We can’t ignore the distinctive style of Marjetka from Slovenia either. As someone that is easily enchanted by the female voice, this was a stellar year.

The Igranka Award for Biggest Surprise

Switzerland. This was really low on my radar, being quite a bland, uninteresting song. Melanie Rene, with a great performance and nice staging, and her exotic beauty, really transformed this to the point that I believed it might be a shock finalist. Alas, “Time To Shine” finished last in the second semi. Credit also to the Czechs, who turned their generic ballad and contrasting voices into a very pleasant entry, and were undeserved to finished 13th in that same semi final.

The La Mia Citta Award for Biggest Disappointment

Malta. Want to destroy a song by going too crazy with lighting and background effects? Watch this. Poor Amber drowned in a sea of distractions when, as the sole performer on stage, she needed to be the focus. FYR Macedonia also let themselves down with the strange use of their backers and unnecessary “choreography”. The song was good enough to stand alone. Denmark, for a really catchy song that emerged from a quality national final and brought the same winning performance, somehow proved forgettable.

The Piret Järvis Award for Hottest Girl

Boggie from Hungary. Other than contemplating different ways to decide Eurovision winners and finalists, this has been my big puzzle from day one. Boggie wins because she’s so damn cute. Even Mans Zelmerlow said he was “in love” with her. Close behind were Melanie from Switzerland, Elina from Estonia, Marjetka from Slovenia, Elhaida from Albania, Monika from Lithuania and Ann Sophie from Germany. They all had something interesting and it was so difficult to split them. Monika from Poland was in a category of her own for her pure beauty. I think with Boggie there’s been something intoxicating about her since first seeing her in the Hungarian final. The glamorous beauties like Maria Elena from Greece and Edurne from Spain seem too fake, with dyed hair, heavy make-up and probably implants. That’s not to impugn their hotness.

The Mr Lordi Award for Hunkiest Guy

Mans from Sweden. No contest! A great bod, a winning smile and he seems such a pleasant chap. Interestingly, before the final, Mans thought either Russia or Italy would win and he would have been happy with that. Humble too! Seeing his raw emotion when he was mathematically announced the winner, that will remain a great memory.

The Nina Sublatti Award for Best Outfit

Georgia. Again, no contest. Nina the female warrior, with her feathers, ultra high boots and that pointy thing her head, if only the song was as good as she looked, and sounded, she would score a perfect 468 points to win the competition. Nina is also honoured with the inaugural name for this award.

The Petr Elfimov Award for Best Interview

Knez from Montenegro. This guy was a classic and clearly in Vienna for a good time. You saw it in his performances and even more in the backstage interviews. Asked by the official website if he expected to reached the final, he said “Yes. Yes, because we are very good, we are very good, very unique, very special, look at these beautiful girls, look at this.” Excellent! No diplomatic crap here.

The Stacked Shipping Containers Award for Best Postcard

Spain. This one involved Edurne mushing adorable huskies. So cute! So were the dogs. Next best was Guy from Australia surfing in a creek, particular the irony of travelling so far for something done far more successfully and easily at home. Romania and the harness racing with horses would have been so much fun to do! It took until the second semi final to even understand the purpose of these postcards, that the artists were being offered activities to do in Austria. Then I realised its good the Austrian mail service is reliable because asking Monika from Poland to go rock-climbing would be strange. Also strange to most Australians were the cyclists without helmets in several postcards. Totally illegal in this crazy nanny state country.

Best #AskEurovision Question

Australia. Guy Sebastian was asked: “Do you feel like a ‘black sheep’ among the other European contestants?” I couldn’t help laugh at the unintended racial overtones here. Guy seemed slightly bemused too. He answered that he felt really welcomed by everyone that he met, and it’s been a great honour for him to represent Australia at Eurovision.

For the record, mine as submitted via twitter and the official website:

To Elina and Stig of Estonia: Do you find each other sexy?

To Amber of Malta: If your Warrior song was in a fight with Georgia’s Warrior song, which would win and what would be the decisive blow?

To Slovenia: Do plan to release your own range of custom “Maraaya” headphones for the public to purchase? I would buy a pair!

To Monika and Vaidas of Lithuania: Please rate each other between 1 and 10 on kissing ability.

Strangest Start To A Song Ever

San Marino and the word “No”. Come on! Who starts a song just by saying No? Even funnier was the audience’s attempt to “sing along”, just being a tad late with their timing.

Check the “About” for more about the award categories


Let’s rejoice in this one time participation of Australia in this year’s contest. It’s unlikely to happen anytime again, at least not soon. This was a special occasion, with a well regarded artist sent, and with a good song. Ideas of a permanent involvement would quickly prove sour, as soon enough it will be B-grade reality TV stars going, songs of dubious quality, and embarrassing failures. Nearly all ESC countries suffer this already, except they are mature enough to accept it. Australians, as the precious lot that we are, would turn on the contest in an instant, and mock it far worse than ever before. It was a wonderful Eurovision. One with so many tears, and so many emotions, and so many unforgettable memories. Let’s leave it at that.



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