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XTRA Debate: Should the Grand Final running order be 100% producer-led?

For most Eurovision fans, the running order is an all-important part of the contest. Understandably so, it is how we consume and digest the Eurovision Song Contest. There will always be rumours, arguments and debates of how much power the running order has to make or break a song… but should there be a radical shake-up? Something to make the contest even less predictable and harder to predict. Should we consider scrapping a ‘first’ and ‘second’ half format in favour of blocks of four? Or perhaps find an alternative arrangement to 100% producer led draws?

Luck of the draw?

For many years, the running order for the final was determined by sheer luck. Typically, this involves pulling a country and performance slot out of a hat. In 2003 for example, the running order was decided all the way back in November!

During the 2004-2007 era, the countries who had already qualified for the final (generally Big 4 + Host + top 10 from the previous year) were picked at random in advance. The missing slots were filled in by the qualifiers during the live broadcast of the semi-final. While the qualifying countries were announced in a random order, the static running order of the final was not. So in essence, the qualifying country was tied to whatever space was left, with the final qualifier getting a much later slot in the running order.

However, after a few years it became obvious this system was not optimal. 2006 and 2011 being standouts. The former had a top-heavy first half of automatic qualifiers. Meanwhile the latter, in the current era of a two semi format, had several successive high-energy pop songs back-to-back:

Hungary, Ireland, Sweden and Estonia all in a row…. Party for everybody! Considering all four countries were fan favourites and all bar Ireland were in the top 5 for the bookies (Ireland 11th) the running order did not help with the stress levels of fans. Indeed, there remains an argument that the four songs somewhat cancelled one another out. What do you think?

Power (and problem) of producer-led running order

In 2013, random order was scraped in favour of a producer-led running order. The thinking was to reduce a potentially awkward running order as above, while also upping the musical and stylistic diversity of songs to make each stand out. It also gives the production an implicit voice. In the age of huge props, projections, pyro and other effects, spacing out these big numbers gives production a chance to prepare in a safe manner. We can generally agree these are strong points that have contributed to the the quality of a strong show.

However, as I suggested in a previous debate, after a few years there is a level of predictability. We can safely assume for example that a pop/uptempo will open the final, with a ballad/slower/sadder song performing second. As a tv show, the zig-zag approach works well to distribute sounds, images and energy levels.

However, therein lies the problem. This stable structure flares up arguments of the running orders influence to success on the scoreboard. Nathan for example was FURIOUS when it was announced Malta was set to open the final. I wonder if Michela would still have performed first if the current system in place doesn’t dictate an uptempo song as song 1? A ballad opening the show may seem counter-productive to an energetic, party vibe. However, I think it can be equally as poignant. See the 2012 second semi as a case in point:

Quarter-finals?

One proposed solution briefly mentioned within the team is the idea of splitting the first-half/second-half into smaller blocks. Presuming the producer-running order stays for the near future (which seems pretty certain!). Splitting the two halves into two could provide the spontaneity the contest will soon need to keep it from being too formulaic or predictable. I’m torn on the idea though.

No change?

Of course, any adjustment to the way in which the running order is crafted can and probably would change how the contest operates. However, the producers would still be in charge, just with an added element of ‘random’ selection. It could provide a happy medium to provide a more diverse and interesting contest as a whole.

There is an elephant in the room: the Big 5 and host country respectively. In this hypothetical quarter model model, the host country will still pick a slot at random to prevent any skulduggery. Insofar as the big 5, they would still draw a quarter (as they currently do with a running half).

But would this change be beneficial or problematic for the contest? Lets see what other people think!

What the others have to say

Costa: The EBU need to commit either way

I saw a lot of ideas float around during the final stretch of the Tel Aviv coverage. One of these was splitting the draw into four instead of two ‘halves’, and reverting back to a 100% random draw was also discussed. The debate itself was born out of concerns that show producers had the ability to put a song in any of 13/12 slots in a half. The idea of splitting the options into four is either the best or the worst of both worlds, really. The draw system is only ‘fair’ if you’re of the believe that halves don’t actually dictate the outcome.

The element of a ‘random draw’ still being present at all is an important one on face-value, but in practice, it’s not that random. Michela, who seemingly keeps popping up in our debate pieces of late, is the example that springs to mind. During the press conference for second-semi qualifiers, she had the privilege of reaching her hand into a bowl with a piece of paper that had ‘first half’ printed on it. Why? Because the other 25 acts had drawn their halves before her.

This is even more ridiculous considering that this was circumstantial as Malta were the last qualifier announced…in a random order. Likewise, Luca Hänni from Switzerland had a 50% chance of a second-half draw, because there were only two pieces of paper left in the bowl. This is a bit ridiculous if you genuinely believe that the random half draw is the fairest option.

The idea of drawing quarters is only a slight improvement from the current system if you do not trust producers to do their job. It seemingly takes another chunk of power away from producers, who can only place a song in a possible 6/7 slots. However, it would create a higher possibility of 6 songs being clustered together that should categorically be kept apart. You could end up with six uptempos drawing the same quarter. Or six ballads. Or the top six bookies favourites drawing the first quarter. Don’t even get me started on the fact that 25 and 26 don’t divide equally into quarters or halves…

Does it matter at all?

This is an important question. I cannot wholeheartedly dismiss the fanfare regarding the first half draw being a disadvantage, because I believe it somewhat. From the prospective of a viewer, I want the second half to be better than the first, albeit slightly. The idea of a progression will always be preferable to a plateau. I think the 2016 running order was a fine example of a show consistently showing great songs, but also progressing and flowing towards a thrilling climax. And yes, I may be somewhat bias. On the other hand, the concern with the first half is that there is a higher chance that televoters will forget you if you perform earlier in the running order.

However, an important thing to note with 2019 and the running order was how well the first half did. Interestingly, the majority of the left-hand side of the scoreboard performed in the first half. This includes the eventual winner, Duncan Laurence, who performed in slot 12. He won with a comparatively early slot, and with staging that many members of the press and fans alike (plus MARUV) deemed boring and unimpressive. With Duncan included, the average placing of songs in the first half was 12.5th, and was 14.5th for songs in the second half. Note that four out of the bottom five countries (Spain, Israel, Belarus and United Kingdom) performed in the second half.

In summary, stop fighting the inevitable

Even if the concept of quarters was implemented for 2020, we need to be honest with ourselves. Any modification to the draws and allocation system would only act as a stepping stone towards a 100% producer-led running order. This would be my preferred option, as it would be the most conducive to producing the best-quality show possible. These people aren’t random members of delegations, nor are they crazy nationalists who’s sole purpose at the EBU is to destroy X country’s chances. They are professionals and I have every faith that they would produce a better running order if they were free from the constrains of drawing halves. It goes without saying that there must have been songs in recent years that would have made better openers and closers to past Grand Finals, but were were denied those moments due to odd formatting choices. It’s time to move beyond that.

Oh, and I know I sound like I’m obsessed with those damn bowls, but they really need to go. I refuse to watch grown adults rustle around bits of paper in a bowl like it’s some kind of primary school raffle and the prize is a hamper that one of the mums donated. Enough is enough. The best part would be that the removal of the draw altogether would render the press conferences after the semis obsolete once and for all, and the acts might actually get some rest after their semis. What a concept!

What do you think? Is there a better way of dealing with the running order? Or is this the least problematic way of dealing with the draw? Be sure to stay updated by following @ESCXTRA on Twitter@escxtra on Instagram and liking our Facebook page for the latest updates! 

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