Fail To Prepare & Prepare To Fail

Mar 28, 2014 by

Fail To Prepare & Prepare To Fail

Last year’s ESC was the most disappointing one, profit-wise, in the last 4 years for this site. Clear concerns were stated here regarding the new scoring system and how it could change things and make the results harder to predict. As it turned out, this is exactly what came to pass.

Ahead of this year’s semi-finals and final, it is worth reflecting on last year’s results in trying to work out how the old analysis methods, which proved so successful in the previous 3 years, need to be refined.

In 2012, this site correctly predicted 19 out of 20 semi-final qualifiers. And in 2012 we were dealing with larger semi-finals – 18 countries in each. Last year, the strike rate dropped significantly and only 7 out of 10 were predicted correctly in each semi-final – in theory, easier semi-finals of 16 countries and 17 countries apiece.

The 3 countries missed in semi 1 last year were Estonia, Lithuania and Belgium; the 3 wrongly selected to qualify, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. In semi 2, Iceland, Hungary and Romania were missed; Bulgaria, Israel and Albania wrongly selected to qualify.

Romania had the pimp slot in semi 2, just as it does this year – what have they got on the EBU? The thinking here was, juries would put Romania at the bottom of their rankings which would fatally damage its overall points total, while Cezar’s high notes would also leave many viewers running scared from their living rooms. It is worth another look as it really was something to behold:

The jury prediction wasn’t far off – Romania was ranked 13th out of 17 on the jury side of the equation. As for the televote, how wrong can you be? Cezar turned out to top the televote rankings and qualify comfortably in 5th overall. Have we learnt anything new here? Pimp slot and ‘memorable’ remain advantageous in terms of the televote.

Of course, Serbia, with the pimp slot in semi 1, and historically the greatest voting power in semi 1 last year, fell to 11th and was a shock non-qualifier. Part of the reasoning behind siding with the likes of Serbia and Albania as qualifiers last year, was their historical voting strength.

Serbia’s allies deserted them as it finished way down in 12th on the televote ranking when the thinking here was it would likely be in the top 3. Montenegro appeared to take the bulk of the Balkan televote. Mental note for this year: do not bank on historical voting strength helping a song qualify if the song is comparatively weak.

Songs considered ‘contemporary’ appear to hold up well on the new jury ranking – Austria achieved a surprise 5th place jury ranking in semi 1; Belgium 7th. But this perhaps needs to be further qualified as easily accessible, or, ‘radio-friendly’ because Montenegro was contemporary but plummeted to a ranking of 14th place among juries which cost it qualification.

In semi 1 last year, Moldova and Estonia were the only 2 foreign language songs to qualify. Four foreign language songs failed to qualify. In semi 2, 2 foreign language songs – Iceland, Hungary – qualified (Greece’s key sing-a-long refrain ‘Alcohol Is Free’ was in English so it is not included here). Five foreign language songs failed to qualify.

The message coming through here appears to be, tread carefully with minority genres and/or songs in a foreign language – though this isn’t especially helpful this year as we only have 5 semi-finalists incorporating their native language and 3 of these include some English.

Confidence waned regarding Hungary, Lithuania and Belgium’s qualification prospects during the rehearsal period last year despite personally liking all three songs. This is possibly an example of how in-depth live rehearsal analysis, and nit-picking can be over-played. Note to self: be wary of the ‘press centre bubble’.

Andrius’s stage presence was very lacklustre. Belgium’s Roberto Bellarosa was hardly a natural either. It is worth remembering Roberto got to perform his song twice in front of the juries. This unforeseen situation possibly worked in his favour but this was a contemporary entry and this was probably the main ingredient behind its qualification.

Another conclusion to draw from this might be that a certain amateurism on stage isn’t necessarily a hindrance, at least on the televote, if the song is strong enough. Hungary and Lithuania were both ultimately pushed to qualification by their televote rankings.

ByeAlex had a unique charisma and this sort of x factor can push these borderline entries to qualification. Andrius, Roberto and ByeAlex were, in their individual ways, charming solo males. This no doubt aided Malta too – Gianluca’s warmth and likability came across loud and clear during the staging, helping ‘Tomorrow’ achieve an 8th place finish in the final, overcoming a pretty ordinary draw in the 9 slot.

Some of the biggest differentials when comparing jury and televote rankings in last year’s semi-finals were Austria (15th televote ranking; 5th jury vote ranking), Montenegro (4th televote ranking; 14th jury vote ranking), Moldova (11th televote ranking; 3rd jury vote ranking), Romania (1st televote ranking; 13th jury vote ranking), Switzerland (5th televote ranking; 16th jury vote ranking), Bulgaria (6th televote; 17th and last jury vote), Georgia (5th jury vote; 13th televote).

Under the old scoring system, in the previous 3 years, there isn’t a single song that achieved as high as 5th place in its semi on one side of the 50/50 voting equation and didn’t go on to qualify. Obviously the semi-final ‘rankings’ we have to go on in 2013 are different from semi-final ‘points’ totals in 2010-2012.

Even so, Malta (Glen Vella, ‘One Life’) finished in 6th place on the jury side in 2011 in its semi but failed to qualify in 11th overall. Finland (Kuunkuiskaajat, ‘Tyolki ellaa’) finished 6th in the televote in 2010 in its semi but failed to qualify in 11th overall. Last year, we had Austria 5th place jury ranking (14th place overall), Montenegro 4th place televote ranking (12th place overall) and Switzerland 5th place televote ranking (13th place overall).

The message which looks to emerge here is, entries that are a resounding hit with televoters, or popular with juries, are more vulnerable under the new scoring system of not qualifying if failing dramatically on the other side of the 50/50 voting equation.

One of the biggest surprises last year was Greece achieving a 3rd placed ranking on the jury scale in semi 2, finding more favour with juries than Norway in semi-final 2. How did that happen? Instrument playing on stage didn’t help Bulgaria which was ranked last by juries, and Norway had the contemporary card in spades.

It seems to be the easily accessible rule at play here, aiding Greece and hurting Norway. The Greek song was a catchy, feel-good number and jurors reacted positively to it much in the same way televoters did. There was no anti-diaspora effect despite Greece’s voting strength in this semi, and juries considered it a worthy 3 minutes when the thinking here was, it might be punished by juries.

A similar example to this is Russia’s Buranovskiye Babushki with ‘Party For Everybody’. This was anticipated to be punished by juries but it held up well enough on the jury side of the voting equation to win its semi in 2012, admittedly under the old scoring system.

Safe, middle of the road entries appeared to prosper last year, Malta surprisingly topping the jury ranking in semi-final 2. What you might call ‘ethno’ heavy – Bulgaria, Macedonia, or non-mainstream music ‘genres’ – Montenegro, Croatia, Latvia – were significant losers last year and these type of entries now need to be approached with caution.

This year, the semis are even smaller – 16 and 15 strong respectively. They should be, in theory, easier to work out, but after this week’s running orders were revealed both semis look very tricky indeed and at this early stage the initial assessment is, there are a lot of borderline qualifiers.

Sometimes, you try and find trends and patterns, and vague new rules emerging from previous results when there aren’t any. Ultimately, you are having to try and generalise an enormous amount of subjectivity, especially when it comes to the tastes of juries. The UK jury ranked Norway 21st in the final, and when you see a result like that, you may as well tear up the entire rulebook.

History also tells us that 4 of the last 6 songs to perform in each semi-final have qualified in the last 4 Contests – it was the same in 2009 but this site is uncomfortable analysing ESC data in-depth prior to 2010 as EntertainmentOdds wasn’t in existence back then.

All you can conclude from this is, looking at the running order of this year’s semi-finals, this stat is going to be seriously tested in both semi-finals this year.

Has this analysis helped solve the puzzle of this year’s semi-finals? Maybe a little but there’s a long way to go yet…

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13 Comments

  1. Gert

    I like this article. I truly do Rob! The very fact that ‘predicting the outcome’ has become more difficult, should be welcomed if you ask me. For the people who are betting on Eurovision, this is perhaps not that good news. But for the actual people sitting at home, with a bowl of Lays chips, and who are simply watching TV, this is good news. I welcome that.

    I also like the fact, that unpredictable elements, like “emotion”, “charm”, “contemporarity”, “originality” and “X Factor”, have become more important again. And because of that, the ‘smaller’, ‘simple’ songs (You call them ‘middle-of-the-road’) stand a reasonable chance of doing well in Eurovision. That was certainly different in the period 2004 – 2008.

    Does that mean that the more ‘extreme’ entries will never score again? No. But….more than previous years it is also important for those larger stage acts to excell in every aspect. And I think this only enhances the quality of the competition. Anddd……I sincerely believe this is only a good thing for a contest that still calls itself the Eurovision “SONG” Contest. Like in the past, this is great news for the people behind the songs (composers, lyricists). Because do not forget, in the history of Eurovision the composers/lyricists received the actual trophy, not the performer.

    So again, for me as a deeply, passionate, music lover, this is….the best article you’ve written Rob ;-). Eurovision is more about the “contemporarity” of the songs and about “emotionally touching” televoters and jurors alike.

    Now regarding Hungary, Belgium and Lithuania. I have been writing as an editor for http://www.esfmagazine.nl (Go go my colleagues!). And every year we are doing the Article Series “Glazen Bol” (Crystal Bowl). And in all blatant honesty: I predicted Hungary, Malta, Belgium ánd Lithuania to do well or/and to qualify (http://www.esfmagazine.nl/?cat=845).

    First of all, all these four songs were more or less contemporary (Do not forget, the writers from Azerbaijan 2011 also wrote Belgium 2013). I completely agree with you here. But it wasn’t only that. I truly believed that ByeAlex, Gianluca, Roberto and Andrius had a certain “X-Factor” in them.

    ByeAlex: First remark of my colleagues: “He lacks any charm” and “He looks like he fell out of bed”. There it immediately went wrong. This aspect in the end was his strength and completely suited the indie-feel of the song (which IMO was a favourite from the very start).

    Gianluca: Same here. There’s also a physical aspect. Gianluca has got “sweetness” written all over his face. Looks are still important and are part of the “X-Factor” in the new Eurovision too. But it was also these sincere happiness and uplifting spirit of the song. And then there was this stage performance. Simply wunderfull.

    Roberto: I don’t know if performing really helped Belgium. As mentioned before, it was a contemporary song. But I also believed in Roberto as a performer. Both his performances (semi-final and final) had cuteness written all over it. I even got some goosebumps, because trust me “Love Kills” (*sigh* 🙁 ).

    Andrius: Perhaps from this list, the least likely contender for TOP 10. And it turned out that way. But this “The Killers”-like song worked. And despite his vocals, Andrius was oozing charisma if you ask me. He looked into the camera and actually tried to drag me in the TV. And he was cute.

    So, in the end, the total package is still important. But, whatever genre we are talking about, the composer/creator of the song needs to excell a bit more now in the post-2013-format of Eurovision. In such a way that he/she actually helps the singer/performer too.

    And, also important for people who are betting, aspects like “emotion”, “being touched” or “goosebumps” have become more important as well. Not so nice for the ‘betting professionals’, but for me a welcome change. It makes it even more important to dig into the actual core and soul of….music.

    The above entries as perfect examples of such music. And they are undoubtedly present in this 59th edition of Eurovision. I think Rob, you know what entries I am aiming it. The songs that are, right now, underestimated:

    –> GERMANY: So far Elaiza isn’t the best songer. But her song has a lovely, warm cinematic feel to it. And, ever since Germany won in 2010, the Germans know what is contemporary again. I hear a bit of “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” in the instrumentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2-1u8xvk54
    –> FRANCE: Ever heard the warm produced electro/dance of Belgian artist Stromae? I think….they could be a mix of “Greece 2013” and Stromae: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiKj0Z_Xnjc. And from what I’ve seen from Twin Twin’s new videoclip, I’m quite confident we get a nice total package.
    –> NETHERLANDS: When I first heard it, I was pleasantly surprised. But the overall reactions in Holland aren’t that positive. I think this is new-age country that could work. And the performance could have a very warm feeling, like Ireland in 1994. Reminds me slightly of The Civil Wars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ad0AAtveWM.
    –> MALTA: This is, again, a song that only the Maltese can send. Lovely, warm, sincere, up-lifting country song. I need to take a deep bow for this micro-nation. Reminds me of Mumford & Sons. Especially this song “The Cave”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6rYPHmSzcE

    • Rob

      Thanks for your kind words, Gert, & thanks for your latest post. It will be interesting to see those entries that come to life when performed live in Copenhagen.

      I think there are quite a few that have the potential to charm the audience. Regarding The Netherlands, I posted before that I felt the song needed a position in the last 3 slots. I am pleased it has got this as it improves the song’s chances. Let’s see what Ilse & Waylon can bring to the stage… one I am very interested in seeing 🙂

  2. Guildo Horn Forever

    Hi Rob,

    Great article as always, though much of it goes over my head, I’m afraid. I still don’t understand the lack of love for the Bulgarian entry – so my ESC knowledge hasn’t really improved!

    A question: I backed the UK EW at 22s today because I love our song and I liked the odds on offer. Does the UK have a chance of breaking the top 4?

    You see, the trouble is that: Molly does nothing for me. You mention about the power of a charismatic performer to boost an entry’s ranking. Will Molly, with her unengaging and frankly snooty facial expressions drag a great song down, or is their hope yet?

    • Rob

      Hi Guildo. Like Ben says, we are going to have to wait until rehearsals to see if Molly can bring the song to life live.

      If the UK had Ukraine’s track record with staging, I would be quietly optimistic that the song will shine. My concern would be, the UK has criminally failed with its staging of songs at Eurovision over the last few years, & if it’s in the hands of someone like Arlene Phillips again, then you have to worry.

      Molly will need to bring some charisma and a solid live vocal. The usual caveats apply in the sense the UK ideally needs a 2nd half draw in the final to have a chance to push towards the top 4, but in a weak year, it’s not inconceivable this will happen.

      If nothing else, I can envisage positive media coverage around the UK entry this year and with Betfair being a UK-centric betting exchange, a good chance the UK price will drop significantly – so an opportunity, if you choose, to lay the UK at shorter odds than 22-1 (or the 25 currently available to back on Betfair).

  3. Ben Gray

    Thanks Rob for a great read. It’s always good to take some time to reflect on where we went wrong before we can move on. I especially like your first mental note about banking on voting power alone. I’m applying that theory to Greece this year and I expect it to be very divisive between the two sides. Might just squeeze through but too early to know for sure.

    Guildo, I believe I can answer your fears about Molly’s engagement. Consummate professionals like Engelbert and Bonnie were coached and choreographed down to every step they took and everywhere they turned their head. Molly will be too. She’s not used to performing on TV, so wait until rehearsals… since we can’t see the screens, we’ll need some really keen eyes in the press centre to tell us if she’s emoting the lyrics and approaching the stage with just the right mix of confidence and vulnerable warmth.

  4. Rob

    Apologies for a few typos in original article – corrected now.

  5. Gert

    Still, do not overestimate the rehearsals either. Many countries already have a -more or less- final audiovisual product that will be copy-pasted from their national final/internal selection to the already massive stage design in Copenhagen.

    Also, have a more detailed look at each delegation and which producers/directors/choreographers they import from their home nations. And do not underestimate the power of videoclips. They sometimes too can be translated to the big stage.

    Having said so, I think the following countries will do (very) well, will most likely qualify and have a (very) good chance to enter the TOP 10:

    –> DENMARK: This is like Norway 2009 and Denmark 2013. I can’t see how this will be worse on the stage in Copenhagen. Very nice total package and already nearing perfection. Serious contender.

    –> AUSTRIA: We have seen that latest live performance from Conchita. Powerfull Bond-ballad, great lighting, spots and ticker-tape in the end. I have this now as a TOP 10 contender.

    –> BELGIUM: Ballads are way more easy to get the staging right. And while this is true, it mostly works perfectly as well. I like the female dancer and the close-up shots, with the dancer in the back, from Eurosong. TOP 10…thus far.

    –> SWEDEN: I saw some stage plans for this entry from WiWiBloggs. And allthough it won’t win, this is another ballad having a good chance to enter the TOP 10 (Sjee, are the 90’s seriously back again :-)?).

    –> FRANCE: Lovely videoclip on YouTube. Twin Twin knows how to get the rythm in the choreography. This could very well be the “Ireland 2011” of this year. Sincere fun and happiness. Bit copy-paste of Stromae. TOP 6.

    –> ESTONIA: She was NOT playbacking in the EestiLaul final. A bit of a Loreeon-clone. But does it matter? Not really with an already great choreography…and perfect vocals. TOP 6.

    –> NORWAY: A silent gem a la “Netherlands 2013”. Bit to “indie” to do a TOP 5 IMO. But if Carl touches us, then this is around TOP 12. Still, I have Austria, Belgium and Sweden slightly higher.

    –> UKRAINE: From the “Great Eastern European Quartet” (Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Armenia & Russia), I have “Tick Tock” as a contender for TOP 10. Great charismatic singer, who already knows how to play the microphone (videoclip).

    Then, slightly trickier. But based on latest updates on what these performers will do on stage, they could enter the TOP 15. Some of them are right now doing quite bad on polls and on Oddschecker, but do NOT let them dictate your own expertise:

    –> RUSSIA: They have hired that ‘damned’ Greek choreographer :-). The videoclip from the twins look rather static. I have not ruled this out yet. Pretty anthemic entry. Mixture of Norway 2008 and Spice Girls.

    –> HUNGARY: Yes, I love the staging. Everything seems to be nearing perfection stage-wise (Based from what I saw from the Hungarian Final). Still, does Andras have the charm and “X Factor” to really get into the TOP 5?

    –> ARMENIA: I don’t understand the hype about this entry. Especially not why it’s starting to win every poll so far. Yes, the staging of this rather artistical entry could be wunderful. But, like Norway last year, bit too alternative to win. TOP 5 at most.

    –> NETHERLANDS: Too low in the polls. If someone would have known Ilse & Waylon, then they are upper-class singers in this years contest. Waylon is the only Dutch singer carrying a precious Mojo Records Contract. This will be a goosebumpy, dark-lighted performance with dry ice.

    –> AZERBAIJAN: The most pure and “soulful” entry ever from the Azeri if you ask me. Based on the clip, I have a feeling Azerbaijan will show us their classiest entry to date. The “Italy” of Eastern-Europe.

    –> MALTA: I do not understand why this is doing awfully bad in polls. The Maltese have a talent for performing with “purity”.

    Reservations for these entries, because from what I saw I was a bit underwhelmed by their vocals. Still, these songs could greatly improve once rehearsed properly:

    –> GERMANY: I’d like to forget what I saw/heard in the German National Final, vocally. Still, the song is unique, has a cinematic lightness and could flourish given the fact that the Germans have gotten a talent for good staging concepts since Lena won.

    –> SPAIN: Pop-ballad by numbers, but still….once sang perfectly, this could slip into the TOP 10. I truly hope Ruth can control her vocals.

    I think these entries will not do it:

    –> POLAND
    –> ROMANIA
    –> UNITED KINGDOM
    –> GREECE
    –> FINLAND
    –> ITALY
    –> IRELAND

  6. Boki

    Bwin has top10 up.

    • Rob

      Thanks Boki. At least bwin is offering markets. Rest of the bookmakers very slow pricing up markets this year. Paddy Power’s ‘to qualify’ prices have to be seen to be believed.

  7. Boki

    Laughable indeed from brave PP who offers only ‘to Qualify’ bets. And yet they managed to provide value in 2nd semi since they opened Slovenia at 3.0 .

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