Lisbon 2018 Retrospective: Semi-Final One

There are few aspects of the Eurovision for which a consensus view emerges. But in 2018 there seemed to be one: that the first semi-final had more than 10 qualification-worthy entries.

A corollary of this is that the second semi-final only had a handful of strong entries. This imbalance was accidental—due to the random allocation of delegations to either semi-final, based on the “pot” system in place for several years.

Even before rehearsals started, many fans were anxious about who would miss out. Once rehearsals started—where a couple of other entries for the Tuesday night show really lifted their games—semi-final one’s results became more ominous.

The good news: we ended up with 10 qualifiers that absolutely were deserving of their places in the Grand Final. The bad news: there were three other entries that, were it up to me, would have advance in lieu of the 8th, 9th and 10th qualifiers from Thursday night:

  • Switzerland
  • Croatia
  • Armenia

But what do I know? It turns out the highest ranked of these, Switzerland, ended up 12th (10th with juries but only 15th with the public). My next favourite Croatia were only 17th (13th jury; 17th public) and Armenia were 15th (14th jury and 14th public). Were Belarus in the second semi-final I would have been OK with them qualifying with that neo-goth/EMO pap: the staging was just…remarkable. By the end of Alexeev’s first rehearsal the press room was silent. Gobsmacked. Stunned.

Let’s drill down into the results from the first semi-final.

Overview

There were 22 voting nations for this semi-final: the UK, Spain and hosts Portugal all voted on Tuesday night, along with 19 participants. The Thursday semi-final had one fewer entry, making the crowded field on Tuesday seem particularly unfair. The final top 10 was:

Country Total Score Total Jury Total Public
Israel 283 167 116
Cyprus 262 89 173
Czech Republic 232 98 134
Austria 231 115 116
Estonia 201 81 120
Ireland 179 71 108
Bulgaria 177 107 70
Albania 162 114 48
Lithuania 119 57 62
Finland 108 35 73

Cyprus massively won the televote with 173 points; Israel massively won the jury vote with 167 points. Israel, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Estonia all scored at least one point from every single delegation. While both Israel and Austria earned 116 public vote points—and both also received a single douze points in the televote—Israel earned televote points from every country except Croatia: in terms of the televote that ranks Israel them ahead of Austria.

Only a couple of entries were consensus entries, those that broke the 100 point threshold in both scoring components: Israel (116 public and 167 jury) and Austria (116 public and 115 jury), though the Czech Republic only narrowly missed this benchmark (134 public and 98 jury).

The jury favourites were Albania and Bulgaria. Juries placed Eugent Bushpepa third (114 points), but his public support was a much lower 48 points. Equinox were ranked just behind Bushpepa (107 points), but were a bit higher with the public (70 points). Belgium was 8th with the juries (71 points), but their 20 televote points consigned them to 16th (and 12th overall). Lithuania’s 12th place with juries (57 points) was overcome by its slightly higher televote score (62 points).

The televote pumped up the scores of qualifiers Estonia and Ireland, but both were in the top 10s of juries as well. La Forza was 3rd in the televote (120 points), but only 7th with the juries (81 points). Ryan O’Shaughnessy was 6th with the public (108 points) and 9th with juries (71 points). Greece was the only non-qualifying entry ranked ahead of Albania in the televote (53 versus 48 points), but Greece’s jury score was a paltry 28 points.

The overall scores from this semi-final break into four bands: the leaders, those with strong support, those with variable support, and those that limped across into qualification.

The leaders

Our top two entries were well ahead of the rest.

Israel ended up 21 points ahead of Cyprus (third placed Czech Republic another 30 points farther back). Cyprus and Israel each topped one of the two scoring components: Israel was the jury favourite by some 50+ points (167), while Cyprus won the televote by nearly 40 points (173).

Cyprus’s mean public score was 8.23 points: that means Fuego earned an average public ranking of 3rd overall across all voting delegations. Toy’s monster jury score—a mean score of 7.95 jury votes per delegation—puts them at an average of 4th overall with juries. But both entries were less popular in the other scoring component: Cyprus’s 89 jury points ranked them 6th, while Israel’s 116 public vote points ranked them 5th.

Israel’s jury advantage over Cyprus was 78 points; Cyprus’s public advantage was only 57 points over Israel. Thus Israel won the first semi-final.

Strong support

The next band of entries (3rd-5th) each had significant support from across most (or all) delegations and netted particularly strong scores in at least one scoring component.

The Czech Republic and Austria were virtually tied when all scores were aggregated: 232 versus 231 total points. Lie to Me was second in the televote (134 points) and fifth with juries (98 points). Nobody but You was second with juries (115 points) and fifth with the public (116 points). A bit further back on 201 points was La Forza, including 3rd place in the televote (120 points) and 7th with juries (81 points).

In other words, Austria earned near identical scores across both components, while the Czech Republic and Estonia two were much more popular with the public than with juries.

Variable support

After the top five, the scores begins to lose any sense of coherence. Arguably the 6th and 7th ranked entries’ scores are mirror opposites of one another. Ireland’s 179 points were skewed towards public support (108 public versus 71 jury points). Bulgaria’s 177 points were skewed towards the juries (107 versus 70 points). The symmetry is nearly perfect.

Albania also relied on jury support for much of their total score and 8th place overall. Mall earned 114 of its 162 points from juries—third, in fact, with juries—only a single point behind jury runner-up Austria. Bushpepa’s public support was much lower: 48 points.

Limping across

Our last two qualifiers were 40+ further back. Lithuania had similar levels of public (62 points) and jury (57 points) support from the public and juries. When We’re Old was the 9th favourite with the public, but only 11th favourite with the juries. Finland’s support was mostly—73 out of 108 total points—from the public. Juries ranked Monsters 15th.

Finland’s “X-Factor gambit” led to YLE dumping hundreds of submitted entries to an ostensive open national final, in favour of internally selecting Saara Aalto. The assumption was that her having finished as runner-up in the UK X-Factor would deliver a very high score from the UK (who were voting Tuesday night) and possibly from Ireland as well. D’oh! The UK awarded Monsters 10 points in total (7 public, 3 jury); Ireland gave Finland 11 points (6 public, 5 jury).

It seems fair to say that the high-risk strategy of binning all those submissions by YLE was a fail. Qualification is good, but there was no largesse of UK and Irish points collected (in the Grand Final it was worse). It will be interesting to see whether YLE struggles to get artist traction for their 2019 call for submissions.

Looking up

In terms of the 11th ranked entry, Azerbaijan’s Aysel was 14 points behind Finland, so it was not close. X My Heart had, in a mathematical sense, a perfectly balanced score: 47 points each from the public and juries. But they didn’t “just” missed out. It wasn’t close.

At the other end of the table, Iceland earned null points from the public and 15 from juries (2 Macedonia, 1 Belgium, 7 Belarus, 1 Switzerland, 4 Czech Republic). Macedonia only fared a bit better: 6 public vote points (5 Bulgaria; 1 Croatia) and 18 jury points (3 Greece, 6 Azerbaijan, 8 Albania, 1 Israel).

Which is interesting, since each of these entries was drawn from an ostensive voting bloc. Hmm…

Bloc’d Out

The current “pot” system was designed to flatten out skew related to “friends and neighbours” inflating the scores of unremarkable or weak entries. There are three persistent voting blocs in the 21st century Eurovision that are the main targets of the pot system:

  • The ex-Soviet states (plus Israel)
  • Scandinavia
  • The ex-Yugoslav states (plus Switzerland)

Let’s take a look at how each bloc’s members did in the Tuesday night show.

Ex-Yugo

It is worth noting that much of the antipathy in the pre-pots, single semi-final era was aimed at the ex-Yugoslav bloc. Between 2004 and 2007 seemed that regardless of quality, all but one bloc member would appear in that year’s Grand Final (usually Slovenia was excluded; when they did qualify in 2007 it was Croatia that was excluded). Through a series of withdrawals and variable quality entries, this is now arguably the worse performing bloc.

In addition to ex-Yugoslav republics Macedonia and Croatia, the large Yugoslav diaspora in Switzerland was also at one time a reliable deliverer of bloc televotes in years past—but that traffic was decidedly one way. Minorities in Austria sometimes have given a wee bump too. But, just as Russia is the main beneficiary in the ex-Soviet bloc, Serbia (or Serbia and Montenegro) has been the beneficiary in this one.

Macedonia did terribly this year; 1 televote point from Croatia was all the bloc delivered Eye Cue. Austria did very well overall, but aside from douze points from the Swiss televote, the ex-Yugo bloc blanked Cesár Sampson. Interestingly, the Swiss entry did a bit better from the bloc: 11 televote points across Austria (8), Croatia (2), and Macedonia (1) and 6 jury points (5 from Croatia and 1 from Austria).

Croatia sent an artist with a strong regional profile in Franka. And while her 17 televote points must have been disappointing, the bloc did its bit: 10 from Macedonia, 4 from Switzerland and 2 from Austria. Jury-wise Crazy got 46 points, but only Macedonia gave them 6 points: the Swiss and Austrians blanked Franka.

Ex-Soviet

There were five former Soviet republics in the first semi-final, along with bloc member Israel (which has a large Russophone minority of its own). We should note that Lithuania has never really functioned as part of this bloc: Russophones have always been less than 10 per cent of the population and there are more Polish speakers than Russian speakers in Lithuania.

Israel did very well this year across all delegations, which makes it difficult to disaggregate to any refined level how much support was bloc-based. In the televote, both the Azeris and Belarussians gave Israel 10 points; Armenia gave Netta 4 and Estonia 1. From juries Armenia gave Toy douze points, Belarus 6, and the Azeris 4. The Estonian jury blanked Israel

Armenia and Azerbaijan are reliable bloc members, but their consistent blanking of each other’s entries means neither tends to be the top bloc vote getter when they’re in the same semi-final.

Estonia has a large (almost 30 per cent) Russophone community. However, bloc voting traffic tends to be unidirectional and focused on points flowing to Russia (rather than to Estonia) and perhaps the next most popular ex-Soviet bloc member in a given semi-final. Lisbon was only the second time a Russophone Estonian has represented Estonia. Tanja didn’t get out of her 2014 semi-final, but 20 of her 36 points were supplied by Latvia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Did Elina Nechayeva fare any better this year? The bloc provided 18 public (7 Israel, 5 Armenia, 3 each Belarus and Azerbaijan) and a paltry 9 jury (8 Armenia and 1 Azerbaijan) points. But Nechayeva was much more popular around the rest of Europe.

The final bloc member is Belarus, which tends to do well in the bloc. Alexeev is Ukrainian and has a relatively high profile in the Russosphere. The bloc did provide him with most of his points, but it was not enough on its own to lead to qualification. In terms of televotes, his 45 points was mostly from the bloc: douze points from Azerbaijan, 10 from Armenia and 6 from Estonia. Thirteen of his paltry 20 jury points came from the bloc: douze points again from the Azeris, plus one from the Armenians. It is very unusual for a country to get a “double douze” and still end up with such a low score.

Scandi

From 2008 onwards the Scandinavian bloc has consistently delivered a Grand Final slot to 2/3 of its members, in terms of qualification from the semi-finals. The random allocation across the 2018 two semi-finals meant that the Scandinavian bloc’s three main players (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) were all in the second semi-final. In most years, support from other bloc members for Iceland and Finland is often noticeably lower. Ireland’s inclusion in the bloc this year did not make much sense before we got to Lisbon. Here’s the easy bit: Iceland was blanked by the bloc.

Finland and Ireland both qualified from this “pot”. Finland earned televote (10 Iceland, 6 Ireland) and jury (5 Ireland, 4 Iceland) points from other bloc members, but not an excessive amount. But reduced these bloc points by 50 per cent (to 8 and 5 points for a total of 13 points rather than 25) and Finland still qualifies…assuming none of those points would have been redistributed to the Azeri entry.

But did being in the Scandinavian bloc impact Ireland’s semi-final qualification? Together netted

10 televote (6 Finland, 4 Iceland) and 12 jury (8 Iceland, 4 Finland) points from the bloc, but these weren’t out of line with what other delegations awarded Ireland this year. What perhaps did help Ireland is the three heavy hitter Scandi nations—Sweden, Norway and Denmark—all being in the other semi-final.

Conclusion

Clearly this was the stronger semi-final in 2018. In the Grand Final, the top 3 were all from this semi-final. After Big 5 members Germany and Italy, the Czech Republic was in 6th place. Put another way, the highest placing earned from any of this year’s second semi-final qualifiers was 7th place.

At the other extreme, Finland finished 25th in the Grand Final. The next lowest placement for a semi-final one qualifier was Ireland in 16th place. Nine of 10 first semi-final qualifiers finished in the top 16. Factoring in that three of the Big 5 (Germany, Italy and France) were ahead of Ireland, only three of the second semi-final qualifiers ended up on the left hand side of the leaderboard.

More on semi-final two coming up…shortly!

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