As has been a trend in recent years, one of the semifinal winners triumphed on Saturday night. As the credits rolled on Tuesday, many pundits rightly assumed that Kate Miller-Heidke’s Zero Gravity had a lot of momentum. And they were right. Australia won the first semi-final, only to finish ninth in the Grand Final.
National final performance (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)
Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé? What happened? A couple of things, it turns out…
First let’s look at the first semi-final results. Australia didn’t top either the public or jury votes. Zero Gravity was second in the televote (140 points) and third with juries (121 points). Miller-Heidke’s was, however, the only entry in the top five with both juries and the public in this semi-final. That is an unprecedent divergence between the jury and public rankings the two semi-final system.
But this didn’t only impact Australia. The runners-up in the semi-final, Czechia’s Lake Malawi topped the jury poll (157 points), but Friend of a Friend only managed sixth with the public (86 points). Iceland’s Hatari topped the televote (151 points), whilst the juries placed Hatrid Min Sigra eight (70 points).
Those aren’t identical splits, but they are broadly similar. Fourth ranked Estonia were third with the televoters (133 points), but only tenth with jurors (65 points). Fifth-ranked Greece were second with jurors (131 points), but only ninth with the public (54 points). These sorts of splits were the norm in this semi-final, rather than the exception.
Still, as the most broadly popular entry, Australia had to be a contender for overall victory, right?
Semi-final performance (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)
The key factor to Australia’s diminished result in the Grand Final is the lack of a proportional pickup of points for Zero Gravity between midweek and the weekend. To win the Eurovision under the current aggregate scoring system, an entry coming out of a semi-final needs to double its points between semi-final and Grand Final—or come closest to doing so.
In 2018 Netta’s Toy netted 529 Grand Final points. Compared to Israel’s semi-final total (283 points), that’s an increase of 86 per cent. When Amar Pelos Dois roared to victory in 2017, Salvador Sobral Grand Final score of 758 points was 105 per cent compared to the 370 points Portugal got in their semi-final. The year before Jamala’s 1944 landed 534 Grand Final points, an increase of 44 per cent over the 287 points from her semi-final.
This year’s champion from the Netherland scored 280 points in its semi-final and followed that with a Grand Final total of 498 points. That’s a bump up of 78 per cent over their Thursday night tally, which was the highest percentage increase in this year’s Grand Final.
Let’s look at the rest of the top 10 from Saturday night and compare their Grand Final and semi-final totals – remembering that Italy didn’t compete in a semi-final, so there’s no midweek data to compare.
Of the nine entries that were qualifiers, only Russia increased their score by a similar margin as the Netherlands. However, Scream started from well back (sixth) in its semi-final. We can chalk that up to Sergey Lazarev having an established pan-European fan base and Russia often being the beneficiary of leading the largest voting bloc from which to draw. In a flat scoring year—and 2019 was a flat scoring year—a motivating fan base and bloc affiliation becomes more important
Of the rest, Norway and Switzerland accrued a bit more than 50 per cent from midweek to weekend. But Zero Gravity had scored 261 semi-final points, but only managed to increase that to 284 points in the Grand Final. That’s only an increase of 23 points, despite having twice as many delegations from which to score jury and televote points. Australia’s accrual was a meagre nine per cent.
Then again, Hatari’s yield was weaker still. Hatrid min Sigra was third on Tuesday with 221 points: in the Grand Final Iceland finished 10th with 232 total points—only a 5% increment!
Speaking of Hatari…
Hate did not prevail either
Iceland’s Grand Final score of 232 points included 186 televote points (sixth) and 46 jury points (sixteenth, since Slovenia scored jury points from more delegations). Hatari’s semi-final score of 221 points included 151 televote points (first) and 70 jury points (eighth). Their televote score increased by 23 per cent even as their ranking fell. Their jury score dropped by 34 per cent and their ranking tumbled accordingly.
Many anticipated Iceland’s fortunes would be in the hands of the public, at the expense of the juries. In that respect, being eighth favourite with the midweek jurors was a pretty good result!
Lessons to be learnt
It is difficult to aim for a high televote score across the massive, heterogenous, and diverse Eurovision Grand Final audience. In recent years only a few entries have racked up a televote score around the 300 point threshold. Norway did so this year with 291 televote points in a 41 entry Contest. They also won Thursday night’s televote (170 points), which was denuded by jurors both times: eleventh with jurors (40 points) on Thursday and eighteenth (40 points again!) on Saturday.
Aiming for a high jury score is a safer strategy for qualification. You have a target of a few hundred jurors rather than many millions of punters. But this sort of “safe” strategy is not a recipe for victory.
And…if you’re over-reliant on either the juries or the public to qualify, it quickly becomes much harder to maintain that momentum—especially with the public—when nearly every entry on Saturday night has already been quality tested midweek. Which lowered Zero Gravity’s prospects accordingly.
But Kate Miller-Heidke is only the second ever Australian Eurovision representative to win their semi-final, after Dami Im did so with Sound of Silence in 2016. Im finished runner-up in Stockholm, however. But ninth in a Eurovision Grand Final is Australia’s equal third best ever result. Not bad at all!