Editorials & OpinionStockholm 2016

The new voting system: Some pros and a VERY big con

From now on, some votes from some countries in Eurovision will now be MADE UP by the EBU.
The above is absolutely true, but we’ll get to that in a minute – we’d better start at the beginning…
For those who aren’t aware, it was announced this morning at bang on 10:00 CET, that the contest will undergo what is being billed at the biggest change to the voting since 1975.
You can click on the above link for the small detail and a handy video explanation, but basically instead of each country providing a combined televoting and jury result, they will now give separate sets of results for televoting and jury (each 1-8, 10 and 12 points). The national spokespeople will take it in turns to present the jury results and then after that is wrapped up, the host will announce the televoting results in one big block, starting with the total number of points for the country with the lowest televoting score, to the highest.
If you can’t quite understand it, imagine how the Melodifestivalen voting looks and you won’t be far off. It’s basically to make the voting process more exciting and keep some suspense about the winner going until the dying minutes.
It’s had a mixed response since being announced, which makes sense as we have mixed feelings about it ourselves. Here is a rundown of some ways this new system will improve the contest, and some ways in which it could be, well, a bit crap.

New Eurovision voting: The Positives

The return of the voting cliffhanger
This is the biggest one, and really the motivation for the producers making this change in the first place. Because the televoting result is being bundled into one big cluster of points and being held back until the end of the voting (although never fear, the broken down votes will still be available after the show for all you number-crunchers out there), nobody will know for sure who has won until the very end. We’ll be dealing with big numbers here, so the televoting results could alter the standings drastically (and this is a good thing, as the presenters can really hammer home how the public’s say could change everything).

See the best ever cliffhanger vote under this very similar voting system
Imagine this system had been in place in 2011, when Raphael from Italy dominated the jury vote and would have been sitting pretty atop the leader board with a 70 point lead after the juries had had their say. Now imagine the gasp in the arena when he finishes a mere 11th in the televoting and blows the contest wide open in the last moments, only for Azerbaijan to rise up and snatch the victory.
The same goes for 2014, when Conchita, Sanna Nielsen and The Common Linnets would all have been within 20 points or so of one another after the jury votes. The final standings wouldn’t have been clear until the hosts reached the very highest reaches of the televoting results when in the end, Conchita storms the public vote and destroys her competition.
Because the last televoting scores will literally be hundreds of points, nobody will be able to say with any certainty who has won, even when the winner looks fairly obvious, so this looks like it will accomplish the goal of increased excitement.
The juries can’t ruin the public’s fun any more
The new system also eliminates a problem that many had cited with the current scoring system. Because all of the televoting results from each country would be ranked 1-25, and the same with the juries, that meant a low ranking with one half of the voting could cancel out a high ranking in the other half.
Basically if a song finished at the very top of the televote but the national jury put it dead last, it would be completely possible that the song wouldn’t get any points at all from that country, and this happened several times, most notably with Poland’s entry, ‘My Słowianie’ in 2014. Under the new system, this would finish 8th instead of 14th.

Relive the glory of Cleo & Donatan!
Now, the public’s favourite will always get 12 points in a country’s televote, and even if the jury don’t like it, they won’t be able to negate it as they have their own separate set of points to give out, and can only give points to their top ten. If a jury all place a song at the bottom of its rankings, it will no longer skew the results against the song thanks to the opinion of five individuals.
It could save time
This might seem counter-intuitive, but stick with us here.
The main motivation this new system is increased drama, not time-saving. Therefore the producers are seeing the extra five minutes it will take to read the televoting results at the end of the show as a worthwhile sacrifice, although one that brings a chill those with clear memories of the 1am finish in Vienna.
However indirectly, this could save time elsewhere. Remember that the jury votes are cast based on the previous night’s dress rehearsal, so will all be calculated and ready to go before transmission. Because there is no need to combine the results with a country’s televote to come up with a national score, the show can cut to the chase and start the results process much more quickly.
The phone lines can close, and instead of the 15-20 minutes of padding we’ve become accustomed to while the votes are being calculated, the jury results can start straight away, with the televotes being collated in the background while this is going on. So whilst the voting process could have an extra few minutes at the end, there is potential for much more than that to be saved elsewhere in the show.
The producers do seem to have thought of another way to save time, although we’re not to keen on this…which brings us neatly onto…

The negatives of the new system

Only douze points will be read
It seems from the video explanation on the press release we’ve linked to at the top of the page, that the national spokespeople will have their stage time cut even further. This will particularly sting for old school viewers who are used to each country having its moment in the spotlight and reading all of its results right from 1 point in all their glory.
In recent years this has been cut to just 8, 10 and 12 with the rest of a country’s results flashing momentarily on the screen, and now it seems that the producers want to speed the jury portion of the voting results up by just having the spokespeople announce the jury’s 12 points and nothing more.
This is a bit of a shame, and given our point above about how the time could be saved, it seems like an unnecessary step. Now several countries could go for the whole show without ever getting a namecheck, even from their closest neighbours, there’s less potential for spotting patterns, and with only the 12 points from each jury being read it could get very repetitive. However if they feel the need to do this, then so be it – it’s not the worst thing about the new system.
Goodbye nul points
This is just a small niggle, although for many fans it could be a bit of a sad day as the “Nul points hall of fame” is a nice bit of infamy to get your song and an endearing quirk of our beloved contest. Because there will be twice as many points on offer (we’ll easily be seeing countries winning with points in excess of 600 now – another one number crunchers might find hard to handle), the chances of anybody coming home with absolutely nothing is extremely small, even smaller than it is currently.
That being said, it’s still much more possible for a country to score zero in the televoting or with the juries, which could have happened several times in the past few years. Imagine the shock, the comedy, the utter shame when Petra Mede opens the envelope with the televoting results and raises her voice to begin by proclaiming “Royaume Uni, nul points!”

Is this the last time we will ever see a nul pointer at Eurovision?
Yes the chance for somebody to score zero overall is much slimmer, but it has introduced a whole new fun way for nul points horror to be inflicted, and on the off-chance a country does manage to go the whole process without scoring a single point from anywhere, it will truly be as bad as it can possibly get. So we suppose this isn’t a real negative. Unlike our final observation…
Some points from a country can be plain made up
Yes you read that correctly, and it’s a point you may have missed in the small-print this morning. What happens when a country doesn’t meet the televoting threshold? This happens every year for tiny San Marino and usually one or two more for whatever reason. The EBU has an answer:

In order to secure the 50/50 balance between jury and televoting a national jury result cannot be used as backup result for the televoting. Therefore, if – for whatever reason – a country cannot deliver a valid televoting result, a substitute result is calculated by the audience result of a pre-selected group of countries.

So basically, unlike previous years, the EBU is saying a country’s result cannot be made up solely of jury scores (and the reverse is true if a jury’s vote is somehow invalidated). Instead, they will take the scores from a group of countries who have previously shown similar voting tendencies to the country in question, and apply similar votes to the ones that have been cast in those countries, to the country who can’t provide a televote / jury result.
This might seem like a small point, and indeed the EBU has tried to make it so by hiding it away in the “questions and answers” section at the bottom, but it could be the difference between a country qualifying and not qualifying. The fate of a country could rest on votes that have been completely fabricated.
OK so it’s all supposedly very scientific and there are supposedly good reasons for choosing the countries upon which votes are based, but take San Marino for example. San Marino has never had a televote, so how can we possibly say who has “similar voting traits” to San Marino? Last year they gave their 12 to Latvia – does this mean their televote will be based on televoting results from Lithuania or Ireland? The year before they voted for Azerbaijan. Basically from now on, half of San Marino’s scores will be completely fictional, and if they are decisive to a song’s result in some way, we can see a major fuss being caused.

So EBU, in general, we like the new system, but…

…the one crucial last point needs to be ironed out. It puts a massive downer on what is really quite an exciting innovation. There’s no real legitimate reason why a country’s jury vote can’t be used as a back-up for a failed televote, or a televote for an invalid jury result. It has been done many times in previous years with no complaints because at least those votes are real.
If that can’t be done, then why not base a county’s televote on the televoting results from across the whole continent? It’s a bigger sample size and whilst not perfect at least it’s more logical and wouldn’t skew the overall result based on a dubious calculation.
If this one niggle can be ironed out, then we can really get on board with the new idea, and the much-needed excitement it could inject into the currently very stale voting procedure. It used to be the main event that people tuned into the contest for, and now it finally looks like it will be once again!

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