Back in May I wrote about the need for voting reform at the Eurovision Song Contest, while also highlighting the complexities that would go hand-in-hand with a much-needed shift. The recent announcement of the first changes to the method of voting since 2010 has shown just how complex reform is and that further reform is desired.
After the widespread voting fraud that marred the 2022 contest, it became almost impossible to argue against the need for changes to how votes were cast and points were allocated in Eurovision. But now many fans find it almost impossible to argue for the changes that have been made ahead of 2023.
Next year two new aspects of voting will be debuted: viewers in non-participating countries will be able to vote online, and jury votes will be combined with votes from a wholly worldwide audience to decide the result of the Grand Final. Also, resurrected from the Semi-Finals of the mid-2000s, 100% televote will be used in the Semi-Finals of 2023. Having viewers at home only decide the outcome of the Semi-Finals is hardly groundbreaking, but it is a remarkable backward step on a number of levels.
The EBU gradually introduced a 50/50 split between televoting and national jury voting in 2009, with that year’s Grand Final results being decided by this balanced method. This was in order to stamp out neighbourly and diaspora voting that made a mockery of public democracy at the contest. 2010 saw this method implemented to the Semi-Finals too after clamour from fans and to “increase consistency” across all three broadcasts.
As the Semi-Finals return to their pre-2010 nature, Eurovision will lose the comfortable consistency across all three shows it has had for over a decade. As a result, I fear for the menu of music that Eurovision will showcase. Broadcasters know the importance of being on the world stage in front of 150 million people in Eurovision’s Grand Final, and thus getting exposure for their countries. Having a voting method that caters towards one group of voters instead of two will force some broadcasters to choose a song that will be attractive to televoters almost exclusively in order to secure an easier path to the Grand Final. With that, Eurovision could end up with a heavily weighted selection of songs that cater to public popularity rather than professional acclaim. Just looking at split results from recent contests there is a clear divide between what the public prefer and what juries prefer.
Further, the Big 5 countries have a bigger advantage now. They can confidently pick songs that will strike the right balance between pleasing televoters and jury voters, and have a better shot at the win in the Grand Final compared to Semi-Final qualifiers that might have chosen to please only televoters.
The reasons given by Eurovision organisers for having two different methods in one contest don’t wash with me. The EBU said using juries in the Grand Final allows entries to be “considered individually…on their broadcast criteria”, which, even after a lot of unpicking, doesn’t make much sense to me. Surely viewers consider the songs individually? Continuing the tradition of “uniting all the 37 participating countries on air with spokespeople” and “maintaining the excitement of the voting sequence” are cited as the other reasons, but they both sound like broadcasting conveniences than anything else. Also, why should spokespeople be protected over the right of music industry professionals in Semi-Finals to judge songs on the same level as televoters?
Eurovision organisers have also said that the Semi-Final Allocation Draw held in January of each year reduces “diaspora and cultural voting” by 50%, with votes cast by national juries further mitigating the impact of such voting. Taking away one of those mitigating factors and being aware of its impact on the results of Eurovision doesn’t sit right with me. It’s like an admission that they’re willing to accept heavily weighted diaspora voting in 2023’s Semi-Finals.
Introducing national juries to the voting method to combat diaspora voting was smart, and it worked. To then rid the contest of this crucial aspect 14 years later and open the door for diaspora voting again is foolish.
The changes outlined by the EBU aren’t all negative. The introduction of a worldwide public vote that is weighted the same as one country’s televote is a vote of confidence from organisers in the growth and popularity of the Eurovision brand.
Over the last couple of years the Eurovision family of events have grown in stature across the world. Eurovision was the world’s first fully international competition in the wake of a global pandemic, Måneskin are still riding high on a global stage after winning the contest in 2021, and the debut broadcast of the American Song Contest earlier this year have all helped brand Eurovision look better than ever. Being in the global headlines for these reasons and more has resulted in eyeballs aplenty on the contest, even if viewership of Eurovision was down year-on-year in 2022. It’s only fair and right that viewers in non-participating countries can have influence on the result of a contest that the EBU wants to grow and grow.
This aspect of the voting changes isn’t causing too much drama, but it could be an added complexity to an already more complicated affair. 2022’s voting irregularities were a low point for the contest in recent years. The changes for 2023 have been made to ensure Eurovision stays “relevant and exciting” and to “protect the integrity of the event”. Having a worldwide televote that won’t be individually visible during the voting sequence isn’t exciting, but it is relevant.
“Protecting the integrity of the event” is an interesting phrase. I can’t see any of the changes outlined by the EBU having a directly positive impact on the integrity of Eurovision. In fact, I can see the opposite happening. Yes, what happened in 2022 with juries conspiring was extraordinary, but if it can happen once, it can happen again. There must be better jury management in place to stop juries from doing the same again in 2023, but the EBU has not outlined any plans for this yet.
Further, introducing online voting – an untried and untested way of voting on this scale – allows for more vulnerability to voting corruption as colluding national juries. It would have been far more prudent to implement a voting method that works and isn’t as easily open to corruption before introducing an online vote, even if the prospect of worldwide viewers voting is relevant and much-needed.
I hope the steps taken by the EBU to reach this point of voting changes were long and thought through, rather than reactive. That said, back in 2009, Eurovision’s official website said “viewers, journalists and dedicated fans…sent the EBU letters and emails to ask for implementation of the [split jury-televote] format in the Semi-Finals”. I wonder if the EBU is looking at the tirade of social media messages of the same sentiment it is receiving 13 years later and will, at least, acknowledge them.
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