#Eurovision semi-final victory and performance order

In part one we examined the relative importance of performance order with respect to Grand Final qualification. The concise finding from that analysis that performance order can improve an entry’s prospects quite a lot, but there are no genuinely hopeless slots. But what about winning a semi-final? Are there any genuinely sweet slots? How important is winning a semi-final if you want to win the Eurovision? And is it possible to do badly—really badly—with a high profile performance slot?

In this article John Egan looks at the questions of winning semi-final slots, the relationship between winning a semi-final and winning the Grand Final, and how badly an entry can do with what is presumed to be the best slot in a semi-final, all in the two semi-final era of the Eurovision.

Method

As we often do, we have gone back to 2008, the first year with two semi-finals. We analysed the performance order and assigned each entry a binary score: one (1) for having won one of that year’s semi-finals and zero (0) for not having won. As previous, we have not looked at actual points—just ordinal rankings. The size of a semi-final isn’t as relevant here: all semi-finals produce a single winner, whether a 15 entry or 20 entry competition.

We then aggregated the number of times any entry won its semi-final from that slot. There were 22 semi-finals in the period (two each 2008-2018, over 11 years), but slots 16-19 occurred less frequently. Nineteenth slot occurred 7 times rather than 22 times; 16th occurred 21 times. This year we have one 17 entry semi-final and one 18 entry semi-final.

Results

Here’s how the distribution ended up:

Draw Winning Frequency
1st 1
2nd 0
3rd 0
4th 2
5th 1
6th 2
7th 1
8th 1
9th 2
10th 2
11th 1
12th 2
13th 1
14th 2
15th 1
16th 0
17th 1
18th 0
19th 2

What does this table show us? Only four of nineteen slots have not ever produced a semi-final winner: 2nd, 3rd, 16th and 18th. Conversely, seven slots—4th, 6th, 9th,10th, 12th, 14th and 19th—have produced more than one. Or, more precisely, two.

No slot has produced more than two semi-final winners. That means 80 per cent of slots have produced at least one winner, 20 per cent have not yet produced a winner.

First or last, best or worst

Let’s look at whether relative performance order—specifically opening or closing a semi-final—tells us anything interesting.

It turns out it does. First the less interesting bit: there has only been one semi-final winner that opened its semi-final. Last year in Lisbon Norway Alexander Rybak took That’s How You Write a Song to first place in the 18 entry second semi-final. However, in the 2018 Grand Final Rybak fell to 15th place, despite a relatively favourable performance slot of seventh.  

However, performing last is a bit of an advantage, in terms of winning a semi-final. Three entries have done so:

  • 2008 Greece Secret Combination Kalomira (19 entry semi-final)
  • 2010 Turkey We Could Be the Same maNga (17 entry semi-final)
  • 2011 Greece Watch My Dance Loucas Yiorkas ft. Stereo Mike (19 entry semi-final)

And…if we were to broaden our criteria to a top three result from closing a semi-final, we get 10 entries. Therefore, we can claim that a strong entry performed last will do very well in its semi-final.  

maNga – We Could Be the Same (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

These were all years where the scoring system combined televote and jury rankings into a single score. Since2016, when the Eurovision moved to a dual televote/jury system—where both scores are aggregated—no one has won their semi-final from performing last. Yet.

Semi-Final to Grand Final

In most years the Grand Final winner also won their semi-final. 2010 is an outlier because a Big Five member—Germany’s Lena singing Satellite—won. In most other years (2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018) the winner also won their semi-final.

But there were exceptions. The 2008 winner, Diman Bilan’s Believe ,was third in its semi-final. In 2011 winners Ell and Nikki’s Running Scared was second in its semi-final. Jamala’s 2016 winner 1944 was second in its semi-final.

Winning your semi is a pretty good indicator of your chances of winning the trophy. Alas, semi-finalists are only aware of having qualified until we get our overall result. 

A less positive analysis

Winning is great…but what about the opposite: who finishes last in a semi-final? Has an entry that opened or closed a semi-final ever ended up last? Indeed, they have.

In 2011 Poland’s Magdalena Tul performed Jestem opened the first semi-final—and, arguably, the entire 2011 Eurovision—only to finish last. In 2013 Latvia’s PeR opened the second semi-final with Here We Go, and also finished last.

PeR – Here We Go (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

Precisely one entry that closed a semi-final has ever finished last: (again) Latvia. In 2017 Triana Park’s Line was performed 18th of 18 entries. Ouch.

In fact, of 22 closing semi-final entries, only the following three entries failed to qualify for that year’s Grand Final:

  • 2009 the Netherlands’ de Toppers Shine 17th of 19
  • 2013 Serbia Moje 3 Ljubav je svuda 11th of 16
  • 2017 Latvia Triana Park Line (18 entries)

Want the best chance to qualify? Perform last. 19/22 entries have done so. That’s an 87 per cent success rate.

Conclusions

Winning your semi-final is certainly linked to winning a Grand Final. But if one semi-final winner becomes champion, the other does not. There have been a few years where an entry improves their ordinal ranking on Saturday night. There are twice as many countries voting in a Grand Final. There’s a much larger audience than for either semi-final, which makes the televote on Saturday fundamentally different.

Performing last in the running order seems to increase your chances of winning your semi-final, but only by a bit. However, performing last makes it very likely you will qualify for Saturday night. While it is unusual to finish last after closing a semi-final, it can—and has—happened.

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