Eurovision season has well and truly begun: this weekend Malta will add its selection to the six we have already. We’re yet to hear the final version of some, and I haven’t yet felt the need to write a lengthy, pre-rehearsal analysis for any of them.
But like other Eurovision punters, I’m already making calculations. The semi-final allocation has taken place, and the good people at Esctoday.com came up with a predicted scoreboard for each heat based on previous semi-final voting.
The beauty of betting on Eurovision is the wealth of statistics and the need to carefully interpret them. I’m going to use this well-intentioned Esctoday forecast as an example of how to approach such stats, and an interpretation I’m going to focus on is the concept of ‘hard points’ and ‘soft points’.
Bear with me, I’ve made up these terms myself.
Esctoday is open about some of the difficulties with their numbers. Points given in the final were not taken into account. Had they been, it might have helped fill in the gaps: 14 pairs of countries will meet each other in the semi-finals for the first time; and the scoreboard is not full because in some cases there weren’t ten countries to give points to as a result. For example, in the second semi scoreboard, Austria only gives out a 12, 10, 8, 6, 4 and 2.
To be fair, there is a reason why it might be useful to focus on semi-final votes alone. In some cases the audience is much reduced and voting patterns thus slightly different. For example, in the United Kingdom, where it’s watched midweek on BBC3 by a far smaller amount of people than the Saturday night final, migrant groups have a bigger impact in the semi-final televote.
Concentrating on semi-final votes alone isn’t the main concern of this article, however. It’s a more general warning about taking stats such as these at face value. One only has to compare Israel’s highest scores in this 2014 second semi-final chart with its points from those countries when failing to qualify in 2013: the prediction is 10 from Finland (in reality, 2 last year), 8 from Georgia (5 last year), 7 points from Norway (0 last year).
This is where my idea of ‘soft points’ and ‘hard points’ comes into it. The concept is that ‘soft points’ are given for song strength and performance alone, rather than the more concrete voting alliances which create ‘hard points’. Soft points come and go; hard points are more likely to reoccur year-after-year, no matter what the performance.
Norway provides a good example. It is fourth, one place above Israel, in Esctoday’s second heat scoreboard, based on excellent previous showings from the likes of Maria, Alexander Rybak and Margaret Berger – strong entries that received plenty of ‘soft points’ across the board.
But weak vocal performances from Stella Mwangi and Tooji indicate how many ‘hard points’ Norway can rely on in tough times, and the answer is: not many. Tooji squeaked through thanks to a 10 from Sweden and an 8 from Estonia; Stella failed to despite a 10 from Iceland and an 8 from Finland.
Finding a country’s weakest previous entries and looking at which allies, if any, still gave it points, has been an invaluable tool for me. These are the ‘hardest’ points of all. Of the four that stood by Norway in its flattest moments, only Finland is in its semi-final. Send a poor performer to Copenhagen, and Norway will struggle to qualify, let alone manage fourth.
In one sense, the growing power of the jury vote eats into this concept of ‘hard points’. In my previous article, the example I used indicated Spain’s points for Romania were no longer ‘hard’ based on the five-person jury’s power to put a country at or near the bottom of its rankings. (This ability to rank and thus treat an entry negatively is not open to televoters – who merely register a positive vote.)
Juries thus have the potential to soften any ‘hard points’, but some are more enthusiastic than others. One reason for the Balkan wipeout in last year’s semi-finals was a lack of jury love from some televoting allies. In semi 1, the Slovenian jury negated the televoting power of Serbia (given 5 points), Croatia (2 points) and Montenegro (0). In semi 2, the Swiss jury did the same with Albania (5) and Macedonia (4).
In Esctoday’s historical study, Macedonia is bottom in heat two despite 12 points from both Slovenia and Switzerland. I’ve just indicated that the Slovenian and Swiss panels show no loyalty to televoting allies. Therefore, Macedonia has no significant hard points in this year’s semi at all. It’s in an even more difficult position than indicated.
In other cases last year, ‘hard points’ held up more robustly depite the new system. In the final, Georgia’s average jury ranking was middling and its average televote ranking was very low. But it still managed decent totals on the leaderboard from its traditional allies (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia and Greece), where presumably its jury rankings held up much better, even in a field of 26.
We can use these ideas and return to the Esctoday semi-final tables. There’s no way that Iceland has more ‘hard points’ than Ukraine, yet it comes out one point ahead in the first semi-final chart based on past performance.
In the 2008-13 semis, Iceland scored 68, 174, 123, 100, 75 and 72 points respectively, due to performance rather than voting allies – Iceland is geographically remote and doesn’t have many. Ukraine has had plenty of memorable performances during that era too, but even when its televote score was negligible in 2012, its jury vote held up where it mattered. Therefore, I have more confidence in Ukraine’s score being higher should both send similar quality entries.
There is a big caveat for 2014. A tightening of the rules this year, with more announced yesterday (putting the burden of sanction on individual broadcasters if irregularities are uncovered, even if no direct link can be found), may affect certain recently established patterns in televoting and jury scores. Punters should be aware of where anomalies have existed and be warned – these can change quickly.
But the caveat reiterates the central message of this article: statistics only take you so far when punting on Eurovision. What counts is looking at entries and scoring patterns on a case-by-case basis and not taking too much for granted. Let us know your thoughts on these and any other Eurovision-related points below.