I’ve learnt to expect the occasional shifting goal-post when ante-post punting on Eurovision. In the all-televote 2009 semis, my spreadsheets indicated that Armenia’s allies guaranteed it qualification. I’d built up about £15,000 of liabilities for a 30% return when the EBU announced it was allowing Armenia’s reliable ally Spain to switch voting to the other heat due to a vital parliamentary debate on the night in question.
My initial reaction was, “Never mind a Spanish parliamentary crisis, what about my spreadsheets!” Once I’d calmed down and got a sense of perspective, I worked out that ‘Jan Jan’ was most likely still going to the final, which it eventually did. Incidentally, Spain didn’t even end up live broadcasting the other semi, which meant there was no televote at all, just a set of jury points.
This was a salutary lesson. Still, I was glad of having few liabilities when on March 10 the Eurovision community came to the realisation that this year’s rules included a wholly new way of working out each country’s 12-10-8…etc. I informed my readers with this comment, pointing them towards the explanation on page two of the rulebook. I then wrote in greater detail about its implications in my piece on this year’s Netherlands entry.
Here are some further thoughts.
1. RIP Eurovision’s Age of Diaspora 2003-2012
Re-watch the voting from any contest during the high age of diaspora voting, from 2004-2008 in particular. The predictability in the way many of the points are allocated stands out. This was what turned my Eurovision betting from a two-figure slice of harmless fun to a six-figure commitment.
From the 2009 final onwards, the decision to allow juries 50% of the vote slightly diluted the diaspora bias. But a televote 12 was still a huge advantage. That’s no longer quite the case.
As an example, take the 2012 final’s Italian phone poll, the full figures for which we know. The big Romanian diaspora there ensured over 28% of the televote went to Mandinga, more than twice as much as televote runner-up Albania. Despite seemingly not being among the Italian jury points, that was enough for seven points overall.
If we hypothesise that this new system was being used last year and that the Italian jury would have mirrored Romania’s overall jury placing of 20th, then Mandinga would have got a point or two at the very most. Considering ‘Zaleilah’ received the support of more than a quarter of Italian televoters, that is remarkable. A diaspora vote alone can be completely undermined, depending on those five-member juries.
2. Five Angry Men
In the classic film ’12 Angry Men’, a juror played by Henry Fonda manages to win round the rest of a sceptical panel to his point of view in a murder case. What will be the impact of the new system on Eurovision juries? Previously the five-member panel only had to each provide a top ten, and these were added together to form an overall top ten. Now an individual juror can vote negatively by putting an entry at the bottom of the pile.
This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the new system. To take a reasonable and hypothetical example, four jurors could each place the same act somewhere in the middle of their top ten in a 26-field final, but if the ‘fifth angry man’ puts that act last, it will struggle far more.
The 50/50 system put power in the hands of these five-member panels. Now even single members of that panel wield considerable power.
3. Rank stupidity
Having panels rank each of the entries also seems likely to add a good deal more randomness into the mix. I think when most people watch the show they can pick a handful of songs they like, a handful they dislike, and the rest pass them by. Now each juror will have to rank even those which would ordinarily pass them by. How do you decide whether a middling entry should be 12th or 15th or 18th?
To take another reasonable hypothetical, imagine one juror is agonising about whether to put song Z 1st or 2nd, while another juror is wondering where to put song Z between 12th and 18th. The decision of the first juror, who has a strong opinion on the song, is going to be outweighed by the decision of the second juror, who doesn’t.
Back in 2011, Sofabet contacted the EBU to ask what criteria by which the juries have to judge the songs. We were told that, “They have been asked to judge the vocals, the quality and originality of the songs, the acts and the overall impression of the performance.”
One Sofabet reader with a contact who has done Eurovision jury duty reckoned there was a positive to the new system, as jurors would now be forced to pay greater attention from the beginning rather than lose focus during dull early entries. But jurors are still human beings. Is it really realistic to expect them to agonise to the same degree about who they put 15th-16th-17th as who they put 1st-2nd-3rd or 24th-25th-26th?
As has been pointed out, what matters more to doing well under the new system are consistently decent rankings among jurors, and between jurors and televoters. A couple of friendly televoting allies or indeed a couple of friendly juries are not going to be so effective as they were under a previous system, where coming first in either a national televote or jury vote guaranteed you a decent overall score from that country.
In theory it should help competent, middle-of-the-road entries, whilst a lack of allies shouldn’t be such a hindrance. But the increased power it gives to juries and individuals within each panel does make predicting an even more arbitrary exercise overall. That’s especially the case this year, when we have no precedent to work from. My betting bank is bigger this year compared to 2012, but I won’t be surprised if I end up risking less than I did last year.
How have your thoughts evolved on the new system and its impact on our betting strategy? Do let us know below.