20 February 2016
Picture it. You’re watching the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final live from Vienna and the jury voting has just finished. It shows Sweden first on 353 points, Latvia second on 249, Russia third on 234, Belgium fourth on 186 and Italy fifth on 171. Next is to add the televote. Latvia receives a measly 88 points from the televote and is immediately out of the running.
As the televote reaches its crescendo, Sweden, Russia and Italy are the only countries awaiting points. There’s a hush in the air. Sweden is called first and are given 276 points. Their lead now is 391 points ahead of Russia and a whopping 454 points ahead of Italy. The big question is can either of those two get enough points to catapult ahead of Sweden. It seems unlikely for Italy, so it’s up to Russia. Shock! Russia is called next and given 286 points. It’s not enough to take the lead.
We know now it’s almost certain Sweden will win the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Italy are announced and get 356 points to just pip Russia for second. It’s almost 100 points less than needed to win. The audience boo and hiss because their voice couldn’t overpower the choice of the juries. Or do they? Sweden are still the public’s third pick, are popular in the arena, and were favourites before the contest started. Italy lost because the jury rating them so lowly, not that the jury promoted a less popular song.
This scenario would have played out last year under the Eurovision Song Contest’s new voting procedure. For 2016, the votes from the jury and televote will be read separately during the broadcast rather than combined at national level for a final rank for each song. The jury will be read by traditional method with each county presenting their 12 to 1. After that, the televote will be read as a bulk result. This system borrows from many national finals, notably Sweden’s Melodifestivalen, except with a fairer use of the televote.
The point of this method is to add more excitement, that the winner won’t be known until right until the last minute. That does, of course, rely on the jury result leaving a relatively close race. A repeat of the mammoth wins by Norway in 2009 and Sweden in 2012 will be obvious from way out. In fact, such a situation might leave the audience agitating to finish the jury votes quickly so the televote can confirm the result.
The other change, though not a headline mention, is the national representatives will only read the 12 points. The rest will slide onto the scoreboard automatically. Previously they read the 8, 10 and 12. While it’s obvious this change is to shorten the voting process (by about 10 minutes) to create time for reading the bulk televote, it will remove much of the suspense of the representatives reading votes. You will only need glance near the top of the leader board to see that if a country is still without votes, it will get the 12.
The scenario as described earlier also precipitated another change. You’d have noted that by Austria and Germany scoring points compared to zero officially. That’s because the raw score is now the final score. Any points you get, it will show on the scoreboard. Whereas the past few years, raw scores of the top 10 for each voting mode were converted into ESC score (12, 10, 8 – 1) and then combined to produce the final ESC score as delivered by each national representative. That would mean if more than 10 countries scored points across the jury and televote, those below 10th on aggregate would get nothing. This system was to create a truer 50/50 – that whether winning a voting mode with a big margin or a small one, it always equals 12 points. The drawback is potentially more ties and resorting to televote to split it, which actually reduces the 50/50. It also favoured countries that scored high in one voting mode over those scoring low in both. That impacted mostly the middle and lower end of the final table, not the top.
Because each voting mode will now be presented separately and the ESC score only allows for 10 countries to earn points, organisers had no choice than to revert to raw scores to decide the final leader board. To convert the final total of the jury to ESC score means that the leader’s score converts to 12 points, second is 10, right down to 1 point for the 10th placed song. Songs below 10th get zero. The televote would similarly be converted with only the top 10 countries getting an ESC score. In the 2015 contest, Sweden would win with 20 points (12+8), Italy next on 18 (6+12) and Russia third on 18 (8+10). While that seems fair, it’s the visuals of it that fails. Can you imagine watching ESC and after the jury vote is finished, suddenly the bottom 15 nations have their scores wiped? Then the top 10 is read from the bulk televote, and still so many countries will finish with “nul points”?
The only drawback with using the raw score is places in either voting mode will not bring the same reward. Example: first on jury with 350 points and second on televote with 250 (total 600 points) will lose to third on jury with 220 points and first on televote with 390 (total 610). Nothing can be done here unless you do convert to ESC score and ESC score transcends “douze points” so there are 25 scoring positions, not 10. A “trente points” perhaps? Old scoring records will also be redundant because combining the scores from each voting mode effectively doubles the total score possible. We’ll probably start talking in terms of percentage of available points to ascertain a record score or most “douze points”.
While borrowing from Melodifestivalen and other national finals, there is an important distinction with ESC: it’s much fairer. That’s because both the jury and televote is counted on a regional basis whereas Sweden only counts the jury by region, leaving the televote to a national count. This creates a huge bias to the televote because Sweden converts it into a score based on the number of juries times 12 points. If it’s 11 juries the total televote is worth 132 points – the theoretical maximum from the jury. Except, to get 132 points from the jury, a song must get 12 points from every single jury! It never happens. At best it’s about 80%, so MF is a 40/60 scenario. In ESC each region (country) delivers its own jury and televote, meaning both are accurately represented on the scoreboard.
Why does the jury get the attention?
Reading each of the jury votes and only the bulk televote does place the jury under an unusual spotlight. Part of this is legacy from the national finals where there’s only ever one televote to award against the many regional juries or panel of experts. Also, the representatives reading the votes typically are representing the jury or themselves, so that makes sense to read their own votes. Mostly, the reason is to create the illusion the people are the deciding factor. It wouldn’t seem appropriate if it was the televote read by nation and then the bulk jury vote added at the end. Imagine the 2015 scenario of Italy leading after the televote and then, bang, the jury vote shifts the crown to Sweden. That would certainly bring out the boos.
Will the new procedure work?
It will work as long as the race is close. Personally a super final would have worked even better. After the traditional voting, the top 3 would go onto the stage whereby the televote alone would be used to decide the winner. In the case of 2015, it would be Italy, and such a process would help placate those that are angry there’s juries at all. These whingers need to accept that the juries are staying because they entice diversity to the contest and create more interesting grand finals. By the point of deciding the winner, arguably they have served their purpose, so that’s why a super final is a nice compromise.
Most importantly with this new system is to give it a try. It does add excitement to those national finals that use such a system, while those with a super final have an extra level of excitement. Maybe one day a super final is in ESC as well. ESC has tried various methods since the juries returned in 2009, and the end result is the winning song remains the same. It would need to be a very close year for systems to provide varying winners. Even then, who’s to know. More importantly, who’s to say which system is right? These things always come down to personal preference of the songs.