Selecting a winner: national selections and televote bias

This weekend a number of participating broadcasters selected their entries for Stockholm. With the meeting at which entries are locked down less than a month away, there will be a surge of such selections in the coming weeks.

One that I watched was Friday’s UK national selection. I was impressed with the overall show, though in reality there were perhaps 3 entries with any hope of not continuing the UK’s persisent lameness this millenium. After this performance I though the Sassanachs were in line for a top 10: Bianca stormed the stage vocally and visually. Instead they went with these guys. Who sang well an OK song. I’d love to see the final vote tally because my gut tells me it’s around 5% or less–what I call the reality TV premium.Joe and Jake met whilst on the UK’s franchise of The Voice. They didn’t win it, but they did come into the UK selection with a constituency.

I’ve been ruminating on this result most of the weekend (data+nerd+eurovision=rumination). In recent years only one Eurovision winner came out of a totally televoted national selection (Denmark 2013). But that’s only “recently”. What sorts of patterns or trends, if any, help us ascertain if selection method for a participant predicts the likelihood of a win?

Many years, many methods

Televoting started in 1997, though juries have also continued to play a role in every year. But all sorts of methods have been used to choose entries. To make my analysis somewhat meaningful, I’ve identified 4 such methods:

  • Public vote alone
  • Mixed jury/public vote (with either jury or televote used as a tiebreak) of entry
  • Internal selection (of artist and song) by broadcaster
  • Hybrid internal (internal selection of artist; public selection of song)
  • Jury vote alone

Bear in mind that any national selection that is ostensibly decided by the public (wholly or partially) still has its entries screened by some sort of working group, committee or team.

Let’s jump right in. And credit to Wikipedia for its handy list of winners of the Eurovision.

Jury vote alone

An international jury selected Estonia’s representative for every Eurovision betwen 1994 and 2003. And it’s a method that brought consistent top 10 results all but three years–including their sole victory:

  • 2001 Tanel Padar Dave Benton & 2XL Everybody (Estonia)

They won because of televote support, but within a few years–as televotes were integrated into their all-jury selection system–Estonia would be in the ESC wilderness for several years.

Public vote

Whilst a public televote seems like it’s been the norm for Eurovision (and national selections), it hasn’t been a prescient way of selecting winners in the televote era. Our three televote-selected winners were:

  • 1997 Katrina and the Waves Love Shine a Light (UK)
  • 2002 Marie N I Wanna (Latvia)
  • 2006 Lordi Hard Rock Hallelujah (Finland)

It’s interesting that two of our run-away winners were selected this way: 1997 and 2006. But in 1997 only 5 countries used a televote for Dublin, one of which was the UK. So it’s something of a paradox, that a televote was used to select a jury-driven runaway victory. Marie N’s victory in her national final was convincing; her triumph in Tallinn was much closer.

Internal selection

With three winners, this is an approach that works sometimes–and it saves money. No shows to produce, no juries or televotes to manage. Our three internal selection winners have been:

  • 1998 Dana International Diva (Israel)
  • 2004 Ruslana Wild Dances (Ukraine)
  • 2014 Conchita Wurst Rise Like a Phoenix (Austria)

Dana was selected privately, though other artists and songs were considered. Ruslana was the biggest star in Ukraine, and handed the opportunity on her own terms. Conchita was invited by a broadcaster struggling to find succes (read: qualification out of semi-finals) using a public selection process. Different reasons; same strategy.

Many countries use internal selections to get a good result–top 10 or better in the Grand Final–but few win this way.

Hybrid internal

We have seen three winners using the hybrid internal process, where an artist is selected, then a suitable song is chosen. And if you are an established artist, why would you risk embarasment by losing during a national final? The winners have been:

  • 2003 Sertab Erener Every Way That I Can (Turkey)
  • 2005 Helena Paparizou My Number One (Greece)
  • 2011 El & Nikki Running Scared (Azerbaijan)

However, these were all different selections. Sertab Erener presented four songs Helena Paparizou sang several songs during a national final, from which televoters chose the song (one song was deemed ineligible). The Azeris seemed to like giving the appearance of a public selection, though acts were added, removed and advanced for all sorts of reasons. In the end, two soloists were paired together and a song chosen by the  host broadcaster.

Mixed public/jury

This is a common route to victory, though it can be operationlised any number of ways. Nine victors came through a mixed selection process, mostly from the Scandinavian bloc:

  • 1999 Charlotte Nilsson Take Me to Your Heaven (Sweden)
  • 2000 Olsen Brothers Fly On the Wings of Love (Denmark)
  • 2007 Marija Serifovic Molitva (Serbia)
  • 2008 Dima Bilan Believe (Russia)
  • 2009 Alexandr Rybak Fairytale (Norway)
  • 2010 Lena Meyer-Landrut Satellite (Germany)
  • 2012 Loreen Euphoria (Sweden)
  • 2013 Emmelie de Forest Only Teardrops (Denmark)
  • 2015 Mans Zemerlow Heroes (Sweden)

And the winner is

With nine champions out of 19 years, a mixed public/jury vote is obviously the best way to select a Eurovision winner. With only one champion, a jury only vote during a national final is the worst. Bear in mind, however…different mixed jury/televote versions have produced these winners:

  • Equal weighting to both components, with televote score as the tiebreak
  • Equal weighting to both components, with jury score as the tiebreak
  • Televotes weighted more heavily than jury scores more
  • Juries scores weighted more heavily than televotes
  • Jury votes awarded under the douze points system; televotes based on proportion of total televotes (a/k/a the Swedish Melodifestivalen model)

Had the UK used a mixed system last weekend, I suspect  we might have seen Bianca get that golden ticket to Stockholm. We’ll never know, alas. But if the Beeb wants to take a serious crack at Eurovision glory again, a televote only national selection is not the way to go.