Eurovision 2013: Further thoughts on the rule change

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.

38 comments to Eurovision 2013: Further thoughts on the rule change

  • eurovicious

    I find it difficult to wrap my head round things like this sometimes. You’ve done a superb job here. Especially in pointing out the uncertainties the system brings – certainly not to be underestimated. There’s a danger in superficially thinking “OK, so instead of ranking their 10 favourites, they rank all the songs, what’s the big deal?”. This analysis shows how this seemingly small change, which hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, could have major ramifications.

  • I’m sorry to say this, Daniel, but this analysis is slightly biased. It fails to indicate that the new voting system changes what was, say 70/30 in favour of televoting, for a real 50/50, it balances out the voting. Because just as the juries can kill a diaspora favourite (but they might not; and certainly not all 40 juries will have an evil agenda), televoters can and will kill non-televoting material/countries. In particular nothing can help the microstates which will consistently get negligible numbers of televotes from everywhere, ranking them into a well-spread bottom place. The same for ballads. Another set of televoting numbers is available, I think it was Turkey 2010 (I hope I’m not wrong), and the entire bottom 6 there consisted of the 6 or so ballads in the running.

  • Daniel

    Hi Alexander, I think what you say is a very valid addition to the article indeed. The article itself does tend to focus on the jury side of things as a follow-up to the Netherlands piece which focused on the televoting implications more (wondering how much certain jury-friendly ballads fall down in the televote).

    The point you make about it being difficult for microstates is an excellent one. They do have it much harder, though I think an interesting question is, would the likes of ‘Euphoria’, ‘Satellite’ or ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ have won had they been the entry from San Marino or Andorra?

    I personally think so, which means I believe that if a microstate sends a good enough entry, it can be done. What do you think?

  • Ben Gray

    The most simple way I can think of to describe this change is that the higher number of points in a country’s overall result now go to the songs that are most agreed upon by televoters and juries alike, or to put it another way, the songs which are the most similarly ranked towards the top of the board by each party. As unlikely as it is, a Cypriot jury could now potentially cut Greece out of any points at all. But we must not forget that the public vote is measured in the exact same way, (although each individual voter doesn’t have nearly as much power, of course,) so the cheekily voting public can also silence a jury vote. We should not fall into the trap of thinking that the result will now reflect a jury’s taste more, this new system merely attempts to quell the extremes of diaspora and cultural voting where the recieving songs are not actually all that deserving. The most blatant example here being Spain in years such as 2011.

    If we now want to try to predict high scorers, we should be looking for songs and performances that will win votes from both public and jury, even if for different reasons. This is why I can’t see Italy winning this year. It’s not going to identify with the public, despite its clear wholesome quality.

  • Montell

    Speaking about televoters I think this year we should think not only about each country friends but also about “enemies” in order to get clearer picture of what the scoreboard will look like. For example, we should make list of countries that country X has given least points in the history of Eurovision. By doing that we will know where each country stands in country X televoters table. This is my random thought about the new rule.

  • I shall give my own perspective, and I think I mentioned this before here:

    I do agree with Daniel that judges are as human as televoters, but the environment in which they are voting is completely different.

    I have talked to one of the jurors from the Dutch 5-headed jury panel in 2011, and the first thing he said was quite simple really. It’s an honor to be asked in the public broadcaster’s studio to judge so many Eurovision songs. Moreover, they get paid a small amount of money for their duties. So it’s perfectly logical that juries are a bit more serious and at least trying to be more objective than the average televoter.

    Moreover, a juror can NOT zap with his remote control to a different channel if he gets bored by a song. Because all 5 judges need to focus on a complete ranking. They are making written listings, rankings. They are correcting them, re-arrange them, until the perfect ranking comes out and the chairman can attach the points to it. It makes the judging process even more serious than in the past years.

    Televoters however aren’t focussed at all at making complete rankings. THEY only notice the few standouts and are at most capable of making a TOP 5 and a Bottom 5.

    I organized a party last year, actually, a huge Eurovision party. And part of the task was make your TOP 10 prediction. Wow, I was surprised how many people were struggling with it. I had to add an entrance fee which was added to a pot, so people could actually win money. Only that got them a tiny bit more focussed.

    Most of my friends at the party are not fans. And you could consider them ‘the average televoter’. Without incentives, without a stimulating environment the only thing televoters will do is using Eurovision as an evening of ‘bad entertainment’ in which the ‘worst shit’ will show up.

    They put Eurovision on as some kind of extra, while they are still talking about their week at work, the latest family gossip. Televoters will easily go to the toilet, smoke a cigarette outside or make some more snacks if a boring song shows up.

    That’s were the points will most likely be distributed with more discrepancies on the scoreboard, causing worse point totals in the BOTTOM 5 and much better point totals in the TOP 5 compared to the ranking of juries IF there still was 100% televoting.

    Anyway, this difference between televoters and juries and the necessity of TOP 26 rankings from both televoters and judges make the contest even more unpredictable.

    STILL, I do believe you can compared current day jury panels -5 people- in Eurovision with judges in The Voice, X-Factor and Britains Got Talent. That’s why it isn’t that much of a surprise that the Russian grandma’s in 2012 ended up 11th in the jury tally. Something I more or less predicted. Because sympathy votes are kicking in here too. I call it ‘The Susan Boyle-factor’. So don’t get demoralized in predicting what the juries will do Daniel :-). There’s still quite a bit of accurate predicting you can do here (Find your ‘Albania 2012′ and Estonia 2012’).

  • There seems to be a consensus here that televoters were more powerful than the juries under the previous system (and that it will now be evened out). Since the scoring was completely symmetrical (barring the televote’s tiebreaker), I assume the reasoning must be that the voting patterns of the respective group caused this uneven power situation. But I’m not sure I understand completely… given a stable jury favorite (Belgium 2010 or Italy 2011 comes to mind), the jury has a lot higher impact on the final placing than the televoters (Belgium’s 2nd with juries and 14th with televoters rendered them a 6th overall, and .Italy’s 1st with juries and 11th with televoters landed them 2nd). Same goes for televoter faves, of course.

    Not saying you guys are wrong here, would just like to understand your reasoning 🙂

    • Daniel

      Hi squall, I tried to address this issue before the 2011 event, so the following article helps explain my thinking on why the televote still mattered more up until this year:

      I’m going to put an addendum to this comment so people don’t have to go back and read the article in full: it was only an outstandingly good jury score that had the effect you describe.

      • An excerpt from the article (which served as a reminder that I should re-read your excellent old Eurovision articles, btw):

        “Looking at the figures, one of the reasons is an interesting one I haven’t touched upon before in my previous article on this topic: the juries are proving less decisive than the televote, or in other words they are spreading their votes around more widely. Countries are more closely matched in the jury vote than in the televote.”

        I fully agree with this pattern. But shouldn’t it still persist under the new system?

        • Daniel

          Hi squall, and thanks. I had to laugh at myself for predicting a tight race at the top of the jury vote in 2011, and 2012 turned into a landslide too.

          Nonetheless, despite these exceptions the pattern has largely continued. And yes, I think it will continue under the new system too.

  • Justin

    Surely we can be more diligent and be wary of which specific juries are more likely to have a dramatic effect on the overall points awarded to big televote scorer. I dont think its a ‘one-size fits all’.

    What I am saying is that the Cypriot jury are not going to place Greece 23rd, the Armenian jury are simply not going to place Russia last – exactly because of the geographical/historical proximity between the countries. Juries are inevitably biased by such links too.

    It more likely to have big effect where a high televote is due to high emigration like in your example of the Italian jury to Romania; or the UK jury to Greece. But I cant imagine such an effect with the Moldovan jury score to Romania.

    Just thinking aloud really but I think the likes of Serbia with their more ‘local’ allies may not be at risk as much as say Turkey would have been had they taken part this year. Turkey’s friendly network is cast much wider and more reliant on large Turkish populations in distant lands like France, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Belguim etc. where the juries have no bias towards Turkey.

  • trollgirl

    Just a random thing I noticed, after rewatching in the last few weeks finals from the last few years, or at least the votings : the votes of the countries that dont qualify to the final will reflect more likely the taste of the diaspora living in the country than what we expect from the natives… Lets say like switzerland wasnt in the final in 2012, gave the top marks to albania and serbia, or netherlands also rewarded the likes of serbia and turkey highly… not always though, like portugal still gave the well expected 12 to spain both 2011,2012… But it could be something to take in consideration too, when asesing chances for the final.

  • Boki

    Many good points in the article and in the comments too. My simplified version of the new system consequences (up to this point at least) was:

    Jury gets more power to bring down non-friendly televote favorite while televoters also get more power to bring down a jury favorite.

    Same thing from another angle: both jury and televoters get less power to promote a certain song which is doing great only in their own category.

  • Alexander S.

    Boki summed it up well; indeed one of the reasons EBU had for introducing this change is to avoid big hitters who do well only with one voting site but are ignored by the other.

    However, there is a second, slightly ominious reason for the new rule, and that is to conceal what was bound to happen (and maybe still is) – the televoting winner losing the competition. With the current system EBU can no longer reveal separate jury and televoting rankings (there are no points attached to them at all). That is actually very handy for avoiding uneasy situations. In the last 2 years it was the juries who decided the winner: in 2011 the actual televoting winner was Sweden (substract the votes of San Marino who didn’t use televoting) and juries decided Sweden would not win. In 2012 the televoting difference between Sweden and Russia was very small and again juries decided which one of them should win. It’s a matter of time until the juries totally override the televoting results and produce their own winner, and we know that would cause rather big scandals which EBU would want to avoid at any cost (they emphasise way too much on “people’s favourite song” and such phrases).

    • Timoteus

      I disagree on the notion that we won’t be getting split results, or, at the very least, the reasoning for it.

      The split totals have always been an extra step in the procedure. The results are combined on a country-by-country basis, not from the televoting and jury totals. The split totals are only tallied and published for informative purposes.

      There’s no legitimate reason for the EBU to stop doing this now. They can translate the national televoting rankings into the Eurovision scoring system as they’ve done for 15 years and publish the results.

      The rule change can be an excuse the EBU clings to if the 50/50 system produces pathological results but it’s not an excuse anyone should accept.

    • Boki

      Or they can simply show the split rankings from first to last without points, anything would be better than nothing.

    • eurovicious

      A winner partly decided by the jury is no issue. It wasn’t in 2010-12 and won’t be in future. Why have a jury otherwise?

  • Alexander S.

    I’m sorry, but “translating” 39 full jury rankings into 39 Top 10 rankings with points from 1 to 12 makes just as much sense as translating them using the pre-1975 system. The jury total you’ll get in the end will be nothing else than “what if the old system was used”.
    Same for the televoting rankings. Boki is right that they might only present some totals without points, if they bother to combine all full rankings. Everything else would be possible, but not “legitimate” at all.

    • Timoteus

      The split totals *already are* how-the-results-would-look-like-under-the-old-system lists. Why else would they use the jury results as a televoting back-up in the split rankings?

      Publishing the split results Eurovision style as they’ve always been published makes the comparison between the 50/50 result and the component scores the easiest, so that’s how I still expect it be done.

      Publishing split rankings without points attached to them is a no-goer and leaves us with more questions than answers. There’s no inherently obvious way to calculate the split totals, so how would they do it in this scenario? If they add up all the placing points, they can publish the sums (or averages) too. Why wouldn’t they?

      I would, in fact, prefer split results with full placing points to split results with Eurovision points. That’d be more informative. I just don’t think we’ll see them.

  • Alexander S.

    Yes, as you said it would be the easiest way, but far far less accurate than what they’ve been doing for the split totals till now (even with adding San Marino’s votes twice). An extreme, but excellent example: imagine that Belgium ends 11th with all juries and all televoters. With the current voting system that should make for some mid-table result, or even Top 10. Then they present the splits, translated according to your suggestion, and you shockingly find Belgium dead last with 0 points with both juries and televoting. This is why the translation might be easier, but does not relate to the actual results in a computable way.

  • tpfkar

    Just a thought on the ‘Five angry men’ point, do the juries work like that? Every panel I’ve been on will aim to reach consensus and if one panellist has a radically different view of a song, they could be persuaded (or if it comes to it, outvoted) to go with the majority view. The article suggests that it’s simply a sum total of the individual views, which would seem unlikely to this outsider. Do we have any evidence on this?

    • trollgirl

      Ive heard that the German jury does work separately, there was in interview in one of the years Lena was on, I remember it was said that they only ad it at the end, dont discuss. But they are german. 🙂

    • Daniel

      Hi tpfkar, I’d love to know what goes on among juries in practice but the rules state they should each vote independently:

      All members of the National Juries shall receive their own voting sheet (to be distributed by the pan- European televoting partner) and shall be required to send a form, duly completed, in which they confirm that they will comply with the voting instructions, as well as a signed declaration in which they undertake to vote independently.
      After the presentation of all the songs in a given Show, each jury member shall rank all songs which have been performed in the Show in question in accordance with the system described under Section 1.1.3.

  • Alexander S.

    tpfkar, good point! There have been reports in the past that the Turkish jury never does separate rankings for each member, they all sit around a table and discuss their work. I know this is against EBU’s rules, but so many juries work like that.

  • SirMills

    “They have been asked to judge the vocals, the quality and originality of the songs, the acts and the overall impression of the performance.” I think that’s interesting. Do you think there are three columns with equal importance (vocals, song, act) or five (vocals – quality of song – originality – act – overall feel?

  • SirMills

    What do you think weights more from the jurors point of view the construction of the song or the performance, and do you think lyrics will play any role in their decision?

  • Boki

    Zlata officially a second favorite now which understandable concerning the recent news about potential wow staging. What I don’t get is why is Russia shortening also. Btw Zlata’s odds to win semi1 suddenly look a bit too high @Boyle, if the staging goes right she should beat Russia with ease imo and supposed the Denmark is not the false favorite there might still be not enough western countries in semi1 to push Emmelie to the top.

    • eurovicious

      The issue is still the song. Russia’s, while insipid, is much more accessible and universal. Ukraine’s song is just, well, strange. As such, I don’t think it’s comparable to Mika Newton’s Angel in 2011, elevated to 4th place thanks to the sand lady. I can’t rule out Ukraine doing the same, but I certainly can’t see it winning. Musically it’s just all over the place, which Mika Newton’s “Angel” wasn’t.

      • Totally agree eurovicious. I believe there was more of a song in what originally appeared to be the shambles of Angel, than in Gravity.

      • Boki

        I agree about the song guys, always did, but if (big if though) it can produce some kind of wow staging I could see it winning its semi (was not talking about the final here).

  • Alen

    Page 4 Point 1.3 of the rulebook states:

    “If it appears that votes are casted only in the intent to abuse the voting system or to false the final results, the EBU Permanent Services, in consultation with the Pan-European televoting partner and the chairman of the Reference Group reserve the right to remove such votes for allocating the ranks.”

    So therefore Armenia jury could not vote Azerbaijan on the last place probably. I wonder though how quick they can change that and what “remove votes” means. What would they do? Would EBU just rank Azerbaijan higher?

    • eurovicious

      Realistically the EBU is not going to be able to do anything to persuade Azerbaijan and Armenia not to put each other in last place. I wouldn’t expect these rules to be interpreted that strictly.

      • Ben Cook

        Yeah it seems pretty unlikely that they will enforce it in this case. It’s difficult to imagine how they can ever enforce the rule. Perhaps if there is a country that really wants to win and all 5 jurors put all of their nearest rivals in the bottom places it might look a bit obvious.

  • dicksbits

    I read one one site that if you added the jury scores to the televotes in 2012, it wouldn’t have made that much difference to the total result. So I’m unconvinced by the above arguments. Can someone explain it more clearly?

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