#eurovision 2020 Pots: An Analysis

This year the EBU has refined the pots system used to allocate semi-final spaces. The pots, which are a thoughtful but coarse method to denude the impact of voting blocs, was instituted in Belgrade 2008. This has increased the qualification record of some ostensibly perennially struggling delegations. But it is but one of many tweaks to how the Eurovision is produced, structured and scored. 

Let’s take a look at some of the changes.

A work in progress

The allocation pots have been in place since we’ve had two semi-finals. Rather than randomly assign each country to either semi-final, pots were created to bifurcate each bloc of voters across the semi-finals. In the Eurovision context a bloc could be really small (Cyprus-Greece or Moldova-Romania) or really big (Ex-Soviet/Russophone or Yugosphere or Scandinavian). Not all bloc operates in the same ways, nor do they have the same impacts. But they all have enough potential impact that the EBU saw fit to mitigate risks around dominance.   

Largely, this system has worked. Having pots has made a difference to smaller, non-aligned countries’ chances of making a given year’s Grand Final (so too has the aggregate public and jury votes scoring system). 

If nothing else, the pots system has given smaller delegations hope once again, which is important: delegations with hope make an effort. Making an effort, in terms of artist and song selection, and production values, means better quality entries. It’s a virtuous cycle. 

And that’s what we want all want, right? A suite of shows with mostly strong entries and a really great winner. 

So, what’s changed for the 2020 pots? Read on…

The Past

There has also always been an additional, less consequential seventh pot: the automatic qualifiers. That’s the Big Five: Sweden Russia Ireland Ukraine San Marino France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK, plus the host nation (the Netherlands for 2020). Their pot is only used to voting (and entry preview) slots in one of the semi-finals.

Previously, we have had six pots per year from which all semi-final entries are allocated one of four placements for the semi-finals:

  • Semi-final one – first half
  • Semi-final one – second half
  • Semi-final two – first half
  • Semi-final two – second half

Within these four placements, the producers still choose the order of performance. 

With six pots, most pots have six members. There is a nice symmetry to that (6 X 6) that hasn’t actually been as tidy as it could have been.  In fact, in 2018 I wrote an article for ESCInsight that pointed out having fewer, larger pots would be more precise. In that article I proposed the following as potential pots:

Yugosphere +Scandinavia +RussophoneMiscellaneous 
AlbaniaCroatiaNorth MacedoniaSerbiaSloveniaSwitzerlandAustriaGreece Montenegro [if they return]Bosnia & Hercegovina[if they return]DenmarkFinlandIcelandNorwaySwedenIrelandAustraliaMaltaCyprusArmeniaAzerbaijanBelarusGeorgiaRussiaUkraineIsraelEstoniaLatviaLithuaniaMoldovaBulgariaHungaryRomaniaPolandNetherlandsBelgiumCzech RepublicSan MarinoTurkey [if they return]

Admittedly, these four lumbering pots did seem a bit unwieldly. So, I am pleased the EBU has accepted the spirit of my analysis (you’re welcome Jan Ola), but further refined it.

New Pots

Here are the 2020 Rotterdam pots, which mostly have seven members each:

Yugosphere +Scandinavia +RussophoneMiscellaneous 1Miscellaneous 2
AlbaniaAustriaNorth MacedoniaSerbiaSloveniaSwitzerlandDenmarkFinlandIcelandNorwaySwedenAustraliaEstoniaArmeniaAzerbaijanBelarusGeorgiaRussiaUkraineMoldovaBulgariaCyprusGreeceMaltaPortugalRomaniaSan MarinoBelgiumCzech RepublicIrelandIsraelLatviaLithuaniaPoland

The names are mine, but it’s interesting how much the overlap from the 2018 article. The Yugosphere+ pot is almost perfectly aligned: only Greece is missing. Of course, if Montenegro or Bosnia return, it remains to be seen if both would be added to this pot, and if Austria (more likely) or Switzerland would be shifted to a miscellaneous pot.

The Scandinavia+ pot only has Australia added, with Cyprus and Ireland split across the two miscellaneous pots. Estonia’s firm validation as a Nordic nation must please ERR! The fair bit of Scandilove between the Aussies and Eurovision’s most powerful voting bloc is probably in-play here.

For the Russophone pot, Moldova’s inclusion is a bit of a surprise: Israel arguably might work better instead.  Thus, Moldova and Romania are not in same pot, but Greece and Cyprus are. In reality, we have not seen any of these four countries qualify from their semi-final solely because of their historical vote swapping: binary swaps aren’t efficient when compared to bloc swaps. 

Ireland Poland Lithuania and Latvia are in what could be called the “Irish televote mini-pot” since these three consistently hoover up Irish televote points. Belgium, Czech Republic and Israel had to go somewhere. But why those three—along with Bulgaria, Malta, Portugal and San Marino—were split across these two miscellaneous pots isn’t obvious, nor of consequence.

Implications

It is important to remember that the pots system is about qualification from a semi-final, rather than overall Grand Final placement. The pots aim to mitigate diaspora and shared cultural sphere voting skews and to give unaligned delegations hope for a Saturday night appearance. This has always been about the last 2-3 qualifiers from each semi-final, not about who does really well (i.e. Grand Final top 10) overall. 

It is worth noting that four of the five pots have seven members each. That means these pots will not split evenly across two semi-finals. Will there be an effort to ensure that a single 2020 semi-final does not end up with 4 members from each pot? If 8 of 17 in one semi-final were from the Scandi, Yugo and Russophone pots—and those entries all qualified, including a couple of marginal qualifiers at the expense of unaligned delegations—what sorts of delegation complaints might there be? 

That is for the reference group to sort out. 

The allocation draw happens in Rotterdam at 16h10 (CET) on 28 January. You can tune in on the official YouTube channel (and it should not be geoblocked). 

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