Loose Change

Apr 3, 2019 by

Loose Change

The running order for the two semi-finals was finally released yesterday. It is certainly a boost to San Marino’s qualifying chance from semi 1 granted the pimp slot.

It is no surprise to see Cyprus and Armenia opening the 2 semi-finals with their solo female, uptempo pop offerings.

Both of Sweden’s Scandi neighbours, Iceland and Norway, might feel a little hard done by not to be granted the pimp slots, drawn 13 and 15 respectively instead. No favouritism exhibited there by Christer Bjorkman, and no favour shown to Australia this year too, for a change.

It is useful to consider the leeway semi-final running orders give Bjorkman and co in terms of how the grand final running order might end up being mapped out.

ESC voting results from semi-final to final can change dramatically, and trying to figure out how and why this happened will regularly lead the way in the post-mortem dissection.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but what you want to try and do as an ESC trader is be Mystic Meg and spot these potentially significant vote changing dynamics ahead of the final and take advantage of them.

One reason for the changes is simply the fact there will only be 20 and 21 countries respectively voting in semi 1 and semi 2 this year, while all 41 have a say in the outcome of the grand final. Another is the final running order which sets up a different competition compared to the 2 semi-finals.

A jury drop is a noted factor at play which can result in a country doing much worse in the grand final compared to the semi-final. In a nutshell, what this means is, in the confines of a less competitive, smaller field semi-final, a country can do ok on the jury side but in the bigger field grand final, up against stronger competition, the jury deficit can become more marked.

As a for instance, Iceland in 2010 went from 3rd in semi 1 to 19th in the final. It was 6th on the jury side in its semi, but fell to 19th in the grand final. This was also a case of a big televote drop. Hera Bjork enjoyed the advantage of the pimp slot in that semi-final which boosted Iceland’s televote significantly, pushing it into 2nd place in the semi-final. Come the final, up against a stronger field and drawn 16 of 25, Iceland made much less impact on televoters, falling to 15th place.

What you want to try and do as an ESC trader is be Mystic Meg and spot these potentially significant vote changing dynamics ahead of the final and take advantage of them

The converse can also happen – a country improving its result in the final compared to the semi-final. In 2011, Ukraine went from 6th in semi 2 from a poor running order position of 6, before finishing 4th in the final from a much more advantageous running order position of 23 (of 25). This was the year of Mika Newton’s sand artist. A good few of Ukraine’s trusted voting allies weren’t in semi 2 that year so the Ukraine televote was boosted by having those countries in the final able to offer their support.

Another example of this is Austria from last year – 4th in semi 1 and going on to finish 3rd in the grand final. Cesar Sampson didn’t impress as many jurors in the semi-final, well beaten behind Israel on the jury side by 52pts. But granted the bigger field in the final, he became the jury topper and beat Israel’s Netta by 59pts on the jury side, a staggering turnaround and all the more impressive feat given he was drawn early in the final in 5.

Back in 2011, Greece beat Azerbaijan in semi-final 1, only for Azerbaijan to go on to victory with Greece ending up in 7th place in the grand final.

While Greece enjoyed the built-in televote advantage of the pimp slot in the semi-final for the stirring rap/opera fusion of ‘Watch My Dance’ performed by Loukas Giorkas feat. Stereo Mike, Azerbaijan was able to improve its televote come the grand final aided by a running order position of 19, with Greece drawn much earlier in 9.

But it is not just the simple ‘later r.o., better televote’ mechanic at work here as Azerbaijan was also aided by Turkey being knocked out in semi 1 so a diaspora vote which would have gone to Turkey in the final went the way of Azerbaijan instead. Many Azerbaijan backers noted this potential boost ahead of the final and were duly rewarded when Ell & Nikki won.

In 2016, Australia beat Ukraine in semi 2, only for Ukraine to reverse the result in the final and claim victory. This again was partly due to Ukraine’s superior voting strength come the final and having all of its friendly neighbours able to support it.

The semi-finals have a smaller viewing audience and the sway the ESC fan vote has on the outcome of the televote in the 2 semi-finals can be more significant

The political narrative of that year also went Ukraine’s way, certainly in terms of Western European media coverage, with it perceived as the wronged party in Russia’a annexation of Crimea.

Last year, Norway won semi-final 2 despite what you might perceive as the handicap of the coffin slot. In the final Norway finished 15th. Norway did incur a big jury drop but in televote terms opening semi 2 was more beneficial than it might have initially looked whereas buried early in 7 in the grand final, Alex Rybak was largely forgotten.

Semi-final 2 last year was also such a weak affair compared to semi-final 1 that success in that semi was of less worth, and probably ended up becoming more exposed come the final.

The semi-finals also have a smaller viewing audience and the sway the ESC fan vote has on the outcome of the televote in the 2 semi-finals can be more significant, and this can help offset any jury shortfall.

Sometimes, just to add to the delightful quandary of the annual ESC puzzle, things change between semi-final and final, but do not effect the outcome and we might read signs in the grand final r.o. that prove misguided.

The Israel vs Cyprus showdown last year is a good example of this. In semi 1 Cyprus had the advantage of the pimp slot while Israel was drawn in the first half and had a moderate running order position of 7th.

Come the final, both Netta and Eleni landed 2nd half draws and the producers decided to give Cyprus the later running order in 25 which was perceived by some as a sign of Cypriot favour, with Israel placed 22.

Maybe Cyprus won the semi-final so the producers had to give it the later r.o. again. And maybe TPTB favour the possibility of a Cyprus victory over an Israel one, went the thinking among those who saw it as advantage Cyprus.

In reality, while Cyprus managed to beat Israel on the televote in semi 1 by a substantial margin, a bigger margin of victory for Israel on the jury side saw Israel win semi 1. Not only that but in the bigger field grand final, Israel was able to surpass Cyprus on the televote. The later r.o. for both allowed both to improve their televote points hauls while Israel also maintained its superiority on the jury side, though Eleni did close the gap.

As this highlights, we can only ever second guess how the final might play out differently to the semi-finals, as we never know the precise semi-final results until after the grand final. But you can get a grasp of fan favourites that might not have fared particularly well with juries while over-performing in the televote in the semi-final in the process of qualifying for the final.

A good example of this would be Austria’s 2016 entry, ‘Loin d’ici’ by Zoe, which managed 2nd place on the televote in semi-final 1, but dropped to 8th on the televote in the final. This, combined with a jury drop, resulted in it finishing 13th and missing out on the top 10.

Croatia 2017 is another example – Jacques Houdek’s ‘My Friend’ was 5th on the televote in semi-final 2 but fell to 9th on the televote in the grand final which, again combined with a jury drop, saw it miss out on the top 10 in finishing 13th.

In 2015, Serbia’s entry ‘Beauty Never Lies’ was a big fan favourite, managing 7th place on the televote in semi-final 1. Many traders noted it as an entry that had virtually no chance of making it into the top 5 in the grand final but that didn’t stop it trading very short. It also looked a solid top 10 lay but in this instance it snuck in in 10th place with a very low score of 53pts despite a massive jury drop and faring worse on the televote in 10th.

The grand final is an entirely different beast with the Big 5 and host country also added to the mix. Proof of the extra competition this brings is highlighted by the fact since 2008 at least 1 automatic qualifier has made the top 10 every year, and in the last 9 years 17 automatic qualifiers have made the top 10 – an average of close to 2 per year.

If you are able to spot the key potential vote changers from semi to grand final you have the chance to profit because we only see the grand final running order in the early hours of the Friday morning, following semi-final 2, and the window to assess how things might play out differently is short, and the markets can get many things wrong.

Since 2008 at least 1 automatic qualifier has made the top 10 every year, and in the last 9 years 17 automatic qualifiers have made the top 10 – an average of close to 2 per year

Post-semi-final, the Outright market will also be impacted by ESC Tracker and other social media measures observed during the 2 semi-finals. While useful you should never let these variables dominate your thinking. With Eurovision, gut instinct and applying simple logic still play a huge part.

There can be some crazy hype that builds pre-final and during the final itself, and it is a time for cool heads. Being able to differentiate between a red herring market move post-semi-final, like Ireland last year, and during ‘in-running’ trading in the grand final itself, like Austria last year, are such occasions when common sense can be your strongest weapon in the ESC trading armoury.

In the grand final we will see a change this year with televote scores read out sequentially based on the jury points totals from last to first. There is always room for countries that do very well on the jury side to under-perform on the televote but the Betfair ‘in-running’ market is regularly deceived. In the last 4 years the eventual winner has always placed in the top 3 on the jury side but you can virtually guarantee ‘in-running’ trading will, once again, see some wild price swings.

In all instances the way the scoring changes from semi-final to grand final can be summed up thus: different show, different audience, different night. And throughout that manic ESC period that exists between the semi-finals and the grand final, and then during the grand final itself, it helps to keep the famous pre-World War II slogan at the forefront of your trading mind – ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’.


  1. neomichael

    Nice article Rob. The only thing that still baffles me is regarding Norway’s last year’s performance. I understand that 7th position in final isn’t beneficial but 1st position (in the semi) is not considered beneficial (in general) either . That said I am wondering if there is one more factor that explains the difference between semi & final and that I believe could be the surprise factor. In terms of last year’s Norway’s difference, I think that many people caught by surprise in semi final by watching the most recognizable euro-vision winner performing once again , whereas in the final the surprise factor has faded out.

    • Rob

      Hi Michael. I agree some Alex Rybak familiarity possibly helped him in the semi-final. And as an opener it had impact.

      I think we also have to factor in the poor quality of semi-final 2 last year, compared to semi 1 which was highly competitive and much stronger. Come the final, the added competition saw Norway slump on both the televote and the jury side.

      It was a song that also perhaps didn’t benefit from a repeat listen come the final. We need to consider how songs can be ‘growers’ from semi-final to final. It’s not discussed very much but some entries do improve on 2nd listen & this must alter the jury side of things.

  2. I’m up in Liverpool ahead of a trip to my first National tomorrow. Made me smile earlier when one of the bars in town was blasting out Fairytale as I walked past. Didn’t see many people in there.

    Enjoying all the recent analysis, Rob. Look forward to hearing how Amsterdam sounds.

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