This year, fans had to reckon with a change not unfamiliar in the contest’s long history: a change to the voting procedure.
The new system was given a fanfare as a giant leap forward for fairness. A clear example was touted its favour: the mythical country which places eleventh with both the jury and the televoters. The previous scoring system would award this country nothing, whereas now, it might well be rewarded with a top-ten score under the new rules. This addresses a concern which has dogged fans for years; perhaps, just perhaps, those countries ending in the bottom five were simply everyone’s number eleven?
The scoring change was largely welcomed as a move towards positive change. However, emerging data from this year’s contest might hint that it also poses a new danger to boggle the minds of fans: overweighting and underweighting.
In effect, jury and televoters now have an even greater power to undermine each other. Previously, if a country scored first place with either the jury or teletelevoters, and below tenth place with the other, its average would be reduced, but the damage would be limited. Outside the top ten, all countries previously had the same ‘weighting damage’, in theory all ranked as ‘rankless’ eleventh.
However, this has all changed now. Under the new system, all countries are ranked, top to bottom. Where the results differ wildly – say, first with the televote and last with the jury – the effect may be enough to practically eliminate a positive vote. A country placed dead last in this year’s final, for example, has 26 points of potential damage to do to a top ten song in its rival ranking; and the results can devastate its chances for a high score. More than ever, jury and televoters are pitted in a battle for control of each country’s points.
This is in fact what seems to have happened with Italy’s popular vote for Romania. Consider the recently published televoting results from RAI:
Overwhelmingly first with the viewers at home, Romania picked up just one single point in the combined Italian vote in the final. Compare also how Norway has been raised from the depths of the Italian televote to gain eight points in the combined vote, while Russia has dropped out completely despite gaining fifth place with home viewers. Denmark too wins big in the Italian tug-of-points, swiping the douze after presumably winning big with the jury. Although in the case of Romania’s points, it might be suggested that the jury has done nothing but temper a diaspora vote, there is nonetheless unease at the power one ranking can exert on the other. Questions are now being asked about how fair a system is which may completely overrule a landslide popular choice.
The scale of a popular televote is also important to consider. The sheer numbers behind Romania’s vote share – nearly a quarter of all valid televotes in Italy – is not reflected at all in a system which simply compares ranks. Some may question the worth of a televote, flattened out of its original proportion by this levelling system of ranking. In essence, the opinions of a jury of five – in Italy’s case, also a controversial point considering its composition - have diminished the will of several thousand televoters. With no weighting for the the proportion of televotes for each entry, this important distinction is lost.
Fans call for more transparency
Very few breakdowns have yet been released, and this undoubtedly throws an unfair spotlight on Italy for the time being. It is also worth noting that a jury does nothing wrong by simply disagreeing with televoters. Ramifications for fairness will however only become clearer if and when more data is published, and it shall be interesting to see how far fans’ worries are borne out by the statistics. However, without an official commitment from the EBU to release individual country breakdowns, fans may be left wanting. Understandably, there is growing pressure for data to be released in the name of transparency.
In spite of this, scoring has been an ever-evolving art form in the contest, and remains so. From the primitive one-person-one-vote system of the contest’s early days to the logistical wonder of televoting today, it might seem that scoring is the eternal EBU experiment. It may well be that there is no completely unproblematic method of voting. But fans might take comfort in the EBU’s noble aims of fairness in tweaking and tinkering towards a better system, even though the interim results may not always be perfect.
What do you think? Does the new system tackle unfairness in the old one? Does the jury have a valid role to play? Is the people’s favourite always ‘right’? And is there a perfect scoring system?