Eurovision 2017: The Big 5 decide

Hot on the heels of an exceptionally early UK selection, the rest of the Big 5 – the largest financial contributors, granted a free pass to the final – followed suit in the last week or so. As did Switzerland.

This time last week, the earliest known entries hadn’t excited the betting market. (That’s often the case, and can lead to hype building around a half-baked contender, such as Croatia last year, or Slovenia in 2015). But the conclusion of Italy’s Sanremo Festival late on Saturday brought a surprise result and a new favourite for Eurovision, in the shape of Francesco Gabbani and his dancing gorilla.

At the time of writing, punters are queuing to back Italy at under 5-1 on Betfair. Is the market just monkeying around?

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Eurovision 2017 Semi-Final Allocation Draw

The draw dividing the semi-final participants into heats of 18 and 19 has just taken place. You can see the results here. From the six automatic qualifiers, Italy, UK and Spain will vote in the first heat on May 9; Ukraine, Germany and France in the second on May 11. Hopefully, Betfair qualification markets will be with us shortly.

In the meantime, we have had four further songs chosen to represent various countries, and they deserve some early analysis. I don’t feel particularly enamoured with any of them, though I may be unduly worried that four of the five chosen so far are rather downbeat (and coincidentally, female).

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UK Eurovision National Final 2017

This morning, BBC Radio 2 revealed the six British Eurovision hopefuls going forward to Friday’s national final. You can play the songs here.

The BBC have gone to greater lengths to find a good entry this year. As well as having another national final, they preceded it with a songwriting camp in Copenhagen. Hopes were raised when it was announced the final was to be held on BBC2 rather than BBC4, and as early as late January.

On first listen, the finalists (all of whom are X Factor alumni) offer up pretty generic material from what seems like a Eurovision song factory. Musically, there’s little that’s distinctive; lyrically, a lot of it is pretty close to “Love, Love, Peace, Peace“. My initial reaction was disappointment.

At this stage I would favour Lucie Jones with ‘Never Give Up On You’, which has staging potential, and is the most distinctive song. But we don’t yet fully know how Friday’s vote will work (there is a panel, and a 50/50 split between a jury and televote). Meanwhile the BBC is well versed in the dark arts of talent shows, knowing just how much the British public love a pimp slot and respond to “expert” opinion.

Let us know your thoughts below.

Eurovision 2017 Introduction

Eurovision on-season has begun. Albania kicked proceedings off choosing Lindita and ‘Bote’ – as always, we can expect a significant revamp. There may not be any more chosen songs to hand, but plenty of artists have already been internally selected. 43 countries take part, one more than last year. Portugal and Romania return, whilst Bosnia withdraw.

Today’s rumour, reported all over the Greek media, is that their national final will feature just one artist, Demy, singing three Kontopoulos compositions. The latter is the songwriter behind Eurovision podium finishers ‘You Are The Only One’ (Russia 2016), ‘Hold Me’ (Azerbaijan 2013), and ‘Shady Lady’ (Ukraine 2008).

It was thus no surprise to see Greece nibbled on the Betfair outright market today. Reassuringly, there is decent early betting activity. The next national finals are just over a week away – Gerogia and Belarus on January 20 – followed by an uncharacteristically early UK national final on January 27.

That gives us plenty to talk about already. You can expect the usual weekly round-ups, then coverage of pre-Eurorivison gigs, followed by rehearsals in Kiev leading up to the Grand Final on May 13. Do let us know your early thoughts below.

The Voice 2017 Discussion Thread

The Voice starts its new life on ITV at 8pm tonight, after five largely underwhelming outings on the BBC. When it was announced in November 2015 that ITV had acquired the rights to the show, there was speculation that it could replace the X Factor – but it’s since been confirmed that the X Factor will stagger on until at least 2019. To what extent sharing a channel will affect the evolution of either franchise remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Beeb are launching Let It Shine, a Graham Norton-fronted show featuring XF alums Gary Barlow and Dannii Minogue in casting a musical based on the songs of Take That. It’s currently unclear (reportedly including to Cowell’s lawyers) how exactly the format will work – but there are apparently live shows, so there might be something for bookmakers to price up.

If you’re watching either or both, do let us know what you reckon below.

CBB 2017 Discussion Thread

A happy new year to all Sofabettors. Tonight sees Celebrity Big Brother 2017 start on Channel 5. The line-up is yet to be confirmed at the time of posting. For those who are tuning in, please feel free to use this as a discussion thread.

X Factor 2016 Voting Stats: Was Matt Terry an Accidental Winner?

It turned into a frustrating season of X Factor: from about week 7, it’s felt difficult to read producers’ intentions. The market swings during last night’s show were unprecedented. And even now, with the stats to hand, it’s hard to be sure what producers intended to achieve over the final weekend. Broadly, two schools of thought have been advanced in the Sofabet comments.

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Matt Terry Wins The X Factor 2016

Producers, you win: if the aim of the last couple of weeks has been to keep punters guessing, you managed it right up to the moment of the reveal. Saara and Matt repeatedly traded places at the head of the market throughout the Sunday show, even though Dermot never mentioned the vote being close, as he surely would have done if it had been. Several astute observers in the Sofabet comments section were sure Saara was way ahead, others were confident that Matt had it in the bag.

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We’ve joked before about the comments to the winner’s single usually making it obvious what’s about to be released but this year – oddly – the final performance wasn’t the winner’s single, which meant Louis couldn’t helpfully observe “that sounds like a number one hit record”. Matt came into favouritism again after his song, then Saara after hers, then Matt again, then Saara, then Matt. It was insane – I’ve never seen anything like it. When the vote closed, Matt was trading at 1.66 and Saara at 2.48.

It’s not been a good series for me financially – I’ve ended up down on the outright this year, frustratingly so as I’d had a very healthy-looking book up to about three weeks ago. Now the wait begins for the highlight of the Sofabet X Factor year – the voting statistics. These normally pop up on xfactor.itv.com at some point during the evening, sometimes quickly, sometimes late [update: see them here]. We’ll digest them and post a review in due course. In the meantime, do commence the post-mortem in the comments below.