Back in November, Eurovision organisers the EBU shocked fans of the competition by revealing a significant change for 2013. The running order, previously sorted by drawing lots, would instead be decided by Swedish producers SVT – with the exception of the host country, whose slot will be managed the traditional way.
The stated reasoning behind this is to improve the televisual experience of the two semis and final. It’s designed to ensure there won’t be a repeat of the 2012 final, when the first five songs were downbeat numbers. The idea instead will be to provide a more varied run of songs.
Fans were not happy because the complete transparency and fairness that accompanied the old system has been sacrificed. But what are the implications for punters?
1. The need for greater patience
We won’t know things so soon. Previously, in mid-March we got the full semi running order and the slots of the automatic qualifiers in the final. However, last week we were told that the 2013 semi-final positions would be announced in April (though we do already know if each country is in the first or second half of each heat). As for the final, we won’t get the traditional drawing of lots straight after each semi. Which leads me to the next point.
2. More uncertainty
A draw by lot is a done thing, a human decision is open to tinkering. There are barely 16 hours from the end of the second semi to the first final dress rehearsal, during which time everyone involved will need a good night’s sleep. That’s very little time to agree on how the jigsaw is completed.
During Friday morning presumably, producers will put together a final running order and go to the EBU Reference Group (a kind of executive committee) for approval. A more interesting reaction may come from certain Heads of Delegation when they find out the news. I can’t believe that some won’t want to alter what has been decided. Will there be changes made at this point, around the time of the first final dress rehearsal, or will producers hold firm?
I’ve heard a good suggestion that perhaps lots can be drawn after the semis to decide whether countries go in the first or second half of the final, as has already been done for the semi. This gives producers less of a headache in those hours of decision-making and binds their hands to an extent that may placate a Head of Delegation who could otherwise be very unhappy at finding their country at number two in the running order (from where, famously, no entry has ever won).
But there is no official suggestion that this will happen. And what if an accident of the lots saw most of the downbeat songs in one half and upbeat songs in the other half? Unlike in previous years, we’ll just have to wait and see how this is all going to work and the amount of flexibility producers decide to give themselves.
3. Trying to read producers’ intentions
Punters will go into overdrive speculating about producers’ intentions. We can be confident that SVT will want to start with a fun, upbeat number, and they’ll want to end it that way too. They don’t need to be the biggest songs of their kind, however. If I were deciding the running order last year, I’d have opened with something like Moldova’s Pasha or Cyprus’s Ivi – two good alternatives for getting the party started.
It’s worth bearing in mind that SVT shouldn’t know what the semi results are (this is supposed to be the EBU’s secret). So there shouldn’t be any potential bias based on these.
But it’s also worth wondering if there may be bias based on other factors. Take Loreen, the heavily-hyped favourite last year. The Azerbaijani producers, if placed in the position of choosing, would surely have kept her till towards the end. Maybe they’d have done the same with the other most hyped entry, from the Russian grannies.
Will there be a bias towards any similarly hyped entry this year? Previously, ante-post traders could justifiably worry about the likes of Loreen or Rybak getting a horrible early draw. With hindsight, it wouldn’t have stopped either from winning. But for punters eyeing the vicissitudes of the Betfair market in the long-term, I’d personally be a little less worried about a very hot favourite getting a bad draw and drifting as a result.
Then there’s treatment of certain countries. Consider the ‘Big 5’ (the UK, Spain, Germany, France and Italy) who pay most towards the contest. Their participation in the contest is recognised as important. Does this mean continuing the favourable treatment they get as automatic qualifiers?
The same can be asked of individual nations. Take the contrasting cases of the Netherlands and Azerbaijan. Who are Swedish producers subconsciously likely to favour more if both are in the final: the liberal western European nation who pays more than most in participatory fees yet has failed to reach the final for nine years and has no voting allies; or the far-flung dictatorship who won in 2011, has never been out of the top ten and has many voting allies?
This kind of speculation became inevitable when the decision was taken to let producers decide. How much of it do you think is valid? Let us know your thoughts below.