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XTRA Debate: Which televoting sequence is best for Eurovision?

It is now almost expected that every year, the Eurovision Song Contest changes or amends something to keep the show fresh and engaging for an audience. Some have been less obvious to audiences, like amending the jury vote to an ‘exponential’ model last year. This year, one of the biggest changes was the way in which the televote voting sequence was presented to audiences. However, does this new sequence actually benefit or hinder the contest at large?

Context:

Prior to 2016 the jury and televote were ‘tethered’, which though it had its merits led to years of anti-climatic voting. For landslide victories, it became obvious far too early that no other country could catch up. Untethering them in 2016 made for a more exciting voting process! The contest has become less predictable and as a result gained a sense of legitimacy. In broadcasting the individual jury votes across Europe, there has been a reduction of problematic claims like ‘political voting’. I think this format in itself should stay the same.

This year, rather than announcing the televote according to who scored the least to most, the organisers tried something different. Instead, points were announced based on the jury scoreboard. In essence, any potential televote points for Spain were announced, then Israel, the UK etc.

Jury scoreboard of 2019 contest

Even though the hosts did explain this a few times, watching a few live reaction videos you could tell it took a while for the general public to ‘get’ the change. As human beings, we are all resistant to change. But for me, I don’t think this change benefited the contest at all.

Tonal change

One of the big reasons I don’t think this system should continue to 2020 is the huge tonal shift the voting sequence undergoes. The world, frankly, is kind of a terrible place. The Eurovision Song Contest is often used either as a respite from the diverse horrors in reality, or in more recent years used as a platform for commentary for some of these issues. From both perspectives, music and the honing of an acts craft should be at the forefront. We should finish the show on a high, positive note.

I don’t think this new system is designed for any of the above.

Glancing back to the televote sequence of Lisbon, the hosts whizzed through 13 countries televote in around three minutes. The hosts then remind audiences (and the acts!) that the following countries have scored the top 10 points with the public. The pace is dramatically slowed down, building a sense of tension. As each set of points were announced, the camera cuts to see the reaction of the delegation. Importantly, this process only showed 10 delegations. It was obvious MELOVIN, who surprisingly came last in the jury, was not going to win. Nevertheless, whatever the number of points he was about to receive, a sense of vindication was created. His failure to grab jury support was ignored and somewhat erased, as the wider narrative of the voting sequence prompts an audience to focus on televote success.

Spacing and placing emphasis

As an audience member, the new system made it much more difficult to follow how well any act actually did in the televote. Norway won by a comfortable margin, but this system had no space or time to celebrate KEiiNO’s success. Coming 15th with the jury, it felt as if the contest just randomly cut to watch their reaction, as opposed to outlining to everyone ‘oh by the way, you got the most points with the public!’. In essence, they were robbed and audiences were shielded from that moment of victory.

The old system would have allowed for a ‘moment’ to celebrate Norway’s success.

Previously, the old system would have already announced Sweden’s 93 points, and his disappointment would have been buried under the rising tension of the remaining countries – such as Norway. Now, a fair counter to my argument would be under the old system, the hosts would have had to say something along the lines of ‘Norway needs 446 points from the televote to beat The Netherlands… can they do it?’ which would have lost a lot of suspense. Clearly, there is no perfect solution for all situations. However, what we ended up with was an awkward split shot between Duncan and John (the latter who only came 9th with the televote!).

John Lundvik at Eurovision 2019 – Tomodo Photography

Screening humiliation?

The 2016-18 system would have already eliminated Sweden as a potential winner. I couldn’t help but feel we were implicitly engaging in a sense of ‘screening humiliation’ that John/Sweden couldn’t translate jury momentum into the televote.

Even the premise of awarding points in the order of the lowest jury score to me is iffy. In some sense it makes sense, and in the event the televote and jury scores almost match identically it makes for easy viewing. But the contest does not work like that. The emphasis on the lowest leftover country creates a sense of anxious failure and cruelty. Delegations who are at the lower end of the scoreboard, like the UK and Spain, are desperate for a big televote number to not come last. Failure to do so creates a double negative, and is mutated to become ‘entertainment’ or create big reactions of shock or involuntary grimaces for audiences. It moves the contest towards an X Factor/The Voice-style contest I thought the Eurovision actively was not trying to emulate.

Malta?

One curious moment during the televoting sequence was a cut to Malta receiving 20 points. I want to speak about Michela’s role in the contest in a future piece, but insofar as the final I found this very strange. There may have been a reason for this reaction shot… but it did not fit in with the rest of the sequence. Malta came 22nd in the televote, so according to the old system, we should not have seen the reaction of the delegation. However, Malta came 10th in the jury… but by the time we had reached that point in the televote, we would not have automatically understood that. The hosts failed to outline or guide audiences as to why we are getting these additional reaction shots, as by this point the scoreboard looked muddled.

Of course, this is the first year of this new approach. Like anything, there will be teething problems that future broadcasters will have to address. The new system undoubtedly makes for great tv. But I am unconvinced this new method harmonises well with the positive principles that act as the foundation to the contest.

Nick: Ultimate suspense

There’s no need to beat about the bush about this: Coming from the country that won the Eurovision Song Contest last Saturday, the voting sequence was a terrifying experience with a wonderful result for us. Looking at everything that is said above, I wonder how I actually perceived it.

Oliver’s point of Norway is a good one. A sentence saying “Norway need 446” would have pretty much killed all suspense, so in last year’s system, my home would pretty much have opened the champagne at that stage. Now, we saw points of 250, 260 and 290 flying around, meaning I, without a calculator, still had no idea where Sweden were able to overtake The Netherlands. It was incredibly exciting until the very last second.

Looking at the video posted above, I think I very much prefer the new system, despite its flaws. Yes, we see less of the actual televote result, but suspense builds. The moment Italy took the lead last Saturday, no one quite knew whether they would be able to hold on to the lead or not. Had the 2018 systeem been used, we would’ve seen that The Netherlands scored better in televoting. We therefore would have known Duncan Laurence would pass Mahmood again.

I don’t see it as a humiliating moment for John Lundvik. I thought it was much more embarrassing for Benjamin Ingrosso last year, when they were ruled out so often, sliding down the board. It turned into a proper meme and will stick to Benjamin. I doubt whether this ‘losing at the last second’ moment will stick to John’s image in a negative way.

Costa: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

In life, change is inevitable. We may not like it, but things have to change because the world is not stationary. Specifically in the context of Eurovision, the contest must evolve and move with the demands of its viewers in order to remain relevant. HOWEVER, there was absolutely no point in changing a voting sequence merely three years after it was introduced, especially since it had worked so well.

The 2016 system was the perfect compromise between suspense, tension, surprises and, most importantly, celebrating success. Even though it highlighted the disparities between the televote and the jury vote in a very public way, it never felt particularly exploitative. The most shocking moments never came at the expense of the artists. For example, Sweden’s iconic 21 points in 2018 did not then have a hard cut to Benjamin’s face crack. This year, by contrast, felt like misery porn. The 20-second fixed camera shot of 18-year-old Michela realising she had underperformed was just one example. Further, in a year full of bad camera work, I was alarmed to see that KAN’s finest moment of cinematography came in the form of the dramatic zoom into the faces of the Czech delegation learning that they had spectacularly flopped the televote.

Appeal to transparency

As much as I care about the public humiliation of artist, I care even more about transparency. One of the many perks of the 2016-2018 system was its transparency. Having lived in a state of bitterness over injustices such as Bojana placing 24th in jury vote in 2015 (and placing top 10 with televoters), 2016 was a refreshing change. I mean, without that system, we would never have gotten the ICONIC moment where Michał Szpak rocketed up the scoreboard in 2016. It also highlighted moments of bizarre jury bias and poor taste in the most vindicating way possible (see: Isaiah’s 4th place in the jury vote in 2017, followed by a pathetic two televote points).

Australia

I think perhaps the biggest issue with this new system, which as been highlighted previously, is the lack of clarity. It was IMPOSSIBLE to know if acts had done well. When the hosts were saying ‘X, you received 75 points!’, it always felt like they were mocking them? I mean, Serhat placed 10th in the televote. However, he looked disappointed because there was no indication that this was a good score.

This was equally frustrating as a viewer. I had ZERO clue if my favourites had flopped (spoiler alert: most of them did). Beyond that, the system robbed KEiiNO of their moment. Although we got virtually the only celebratory shot from the sequence (besides Duncan’s) from KEiiNO, they didn’t know they had won the televote until after the show.

To summarise, I need more clarity, less misery and more shots of happy and drunk Norwegians.

What are your thoughts? Did you like the new way the televote was presented, or do you prefer an older system? Let us know in the comments and on social media @ESCXTRA!

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