Last week saw the EBU announce the ‘split vote‘ results of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, proudly declaring that both the televote and the juries had voted Loreen’s Euphoria as the winning song.
It has led to a huge amount of discussion in Eurovision circles, both around the areas where the televote and the juries disagreed, the merits of the 50/50 voting system, and whether we should continue to have the juries involved.
But there’s another worry in the back of the minds of us here at ESC Insight. Confidence in the jury system has never been fully tested, and when you look at the potential problems, the EBU need to be thinking proactively to protect the integrity of the Eurovision results.
It’s worth reminding ourselves why the juries returned for the 2009 Contest. Due to the lingering issues of cultural similarities, diaspora, and musical tastes, many people felt that the result of the Eurovision Song Contest was decided not by the show on the night, but by other factors in human nature.
Look at the run of winners of the 100% public voting structure in the final – Israel, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Turkey, Ukraine, Greece, Finland, Serbia, Russia – it’s hard to spot any justification for complaints about a bias in the results towards a specific geographic region. It’s only when you look further down the results table you start to see issues beyond the quality of the song having an effect, and especially in the context of qualification out of the semi-finals.
This came to a head in the semi-final of 2007, the last year of a single semi-final, where none of the qualifiers came from the ‘Old Western’ countries. In the words of many, something had to be done. Doubling the number of semi-finals provided a more geographically diverse mix of qualifiers, and the back-up juries started to come into play, being used to choose the final ticket to the Final.
After Russia’s victory in 2008 was greeted by many as “a political result”, the return of the jury to the Grand Final was almost assured, with the EBU settling on the 50/50 format in use.
Speaking in 2009, then Executive Supervisor Svante Stockselius explained the reasons for returning to a 50/50 vote: “…in the past years the back up juries and televoters have disagreed more about the results, and to try and cut back the effect of so called diaspora voting.” With the equal weighting of jury and televotes now in place, the victory of Norway and good results from the ‘old west’, their return was heralded as a success. Now, after the 2012 Song Contest, there is talk of changing the voting system because the juries are not working.
Well I’m going to disagree here. The jury system is working exactly as many want it to. But there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s look at some of the positive effects that have come from the jury system over the last few years.
Even on a 100% televote, Lena’s “Satellite” would still have won the Contest in 2010, and we wouldn’t have seen a different winner because of the jury. What we have seen is a slight re-organisation of the lower rankings. It’s rather subjective, but the generally-better songs are getting slightly better results post-2009. Take Spain this year – Pastora Soler performed a very technical song, was rewarded by the juries, and gave Spain their best result in years. France also received strong jury marks, pulling them up from a potential nul points from a televote.
Eurovision songs can be more than three minutes of accessible fluffy pop with a strong irrational fan-base that will always get the televote for them just because of who they are (cough, ‘Waterline’). Songs that reach beyond the bubblegum pop should be doing well at Eurovision. That’s one area where the Jury can help. If you send a bad song, or perform badly, the Jury will tend to mark you down. On the flip side, send a good song and perform it well, then you’ll tend to get the marks from the jury.
You’ll still need to have a stonker of a song to claim victory, but take the Contest seriously with a respectable song and performance, and you should (hopefully) get a respectable result, diaspora and cultural voting aside. I don’t think the Jury system will be leaving Eurovision in the near future.
While the EBU have released ‘the split result’, it’s a nice little piece of misdirection. The numbers given out by the EBU show two score charts… what would happen if the televote was 100% of the vote, and what wold happen if the jury vote was 100% of the vote.
Unfortunately that’s not how the combined vote at the Eurovision Song Contest works. There is no direct or indirect formula to take the ‘televote’ of 343 points awarded to Sweden in this year’s Contest, and add it to the ‘jury’ vote of 296 points, and get an answer of 372 points (the final mark Loreen achieved). That’s because the combining of the jury and televoting happens not at the very end of the process, but at the national level, allowing each country to rank the entries and allocate their ten scores at that point.
To give a slightly silly example, you could have a country top the voting from 30 juries, giving it a score of 360 points in a published ‘jury split’. You could have a different song score 360 points in the same way (thirty douze points) from the televote split published by the EBU.
Okay, two countries with the same vote in the two splits (as released by the EBU). But what could the result on the night be? When you calculate the 50/50 split at the national level, it’s possible for the song that tops the televote poll to get thirty of the top marks for a final score of 360 when added to the jury placings. At the same time the jury favourite could have no support from the public, and end up with just 60 points.
How about the question of voter distribution? It’s impossible to tell if a nation’s hypothetical split score is due to receiving a high number of points from a small handful of juries or televotes, or a small number of points from a large number of countries. By hiding this working from the public, and making it almost impossible to extract the original jury and televote intentions from ’the split’, the EBU fails to provide a clear and open picture of how the jury and the televoters are acting in each country. A huge imbalance could point to diaspora voting, a huge cultural vote, or in the case of an unbalanced jury, something more subtle at work.
Thankfully many broadcasters have released their own splits, to which we can only say “thank you”. By making it harder to see how the voting is going, the EBU are shielding the Song Contest from the dissent and anger that many saw in the results generated in the 2004-2008 period, but by doing so they could create a very incendiary situation in future contests.
We have a winner for 2012, we have some numbers from the EBU, so why should we have more numbers? Why should the EBU take time to release all the voting information?
Any competition derives confidence from having a result that is fair and equitable to every entrant, and the Eurovision Song Contest is no exception. At the moment, the 50/50 voting system is one that is generally accepted, but there has never been a question over the result. What if the 2011 result had been subtly different and the victory given to the jury favourite of Italy, even though the televote was for Azerbaijan? One day, there may well be some spirited discussions
That is the moment where confidence in the scoring system will be needed most, and the opacity of the current jury system stands in the way of this. It would be far better to implement changes that promote transparency and clear rules in advance of any awkward situations. Therefore, I believe three changes need to be made to the Jury system.
There should be total transparency in how the scoring is calculated. The EBU should release the rankings from both the televote and the jury on a country by country basis, and it should not stop at the top ten scoring positions, it should go from the first to the last country. And there should be a commitment to release these within five working days from the end of the Contest.
The minimum number of jury members should be raised. Currently juries are made up of five members. This places far too much power in the hands of one person. I would think that a jury of at least ten, preferably twenty people, with a mix of ages and gender dictated by the EBU (as it once was), and with some from inside the music industry, and some from outside, again to a ratio put in place by the EBU.
Clear instructions should be given to the jury and published in advance. There is a mythical idea of what juries are asked to look for, what should be rewarded, and what should be ignored. The truth is far more mundane – it’s five people in a room asked to rank the songs. I think Eurovision should demand more from their juries. Be it technical skill, presentation, choreography, relevance to the modern charts, the criteria for judging should be laid out in full and made public.
The jury system does work, but it has the potential to cause an upset. The EBU should be pro-active and think about ways to improve the jury system before that upset happens.
The three steps above would be a good place to start.