A Relic Of The Past? The Future Of Jury Voting At The Eurovision Song Contest

Staff prepares the stage during the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) national selection show, broadcasted by STB and UA:Pershyi TV channels, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 22 February, 2020. Ukrainian band Go_A with song Solovey will represent Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) that consists of two semi-finals, to be held on 12 and 14 May, and a grand final taking place at the Rotterdam Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on 16 May 2020. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

After the 2020 competition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurovision 2021 is set to take place in Rotterdam this May. After a year without Eurovision, however, is it time to reflect on the nature of the competition as a whole?

When Eurovision began in 1956, televoting was not yet possible. Each country sent a jury of industry professionals to represent them, and it was through the jury votes that the winner was decided. However, in 1998 when at-home phone voting became possible, the jury remained, and the winner was decided by a combination of jury votes and televoting. In 2003, the competition made the move to exclusively using televoting. The jury returned however in 2009, with a country’s points reflecting a 50/50 split between televoting and jury votes.

Though the jury was a necessary part of Eurovision’s past, it no longer fits in its future. As an example, San Marino’s 34,000 people have the same number of points from the jury to give as Russia’s 145 million. This means countries that are rarely visible on the world stage are given a voice, but when half that voice is given to just five people, the message of uplifting these voices is diluted.

Furthermore, even a small country will usually receive thousands of votes, meaning the televoting results typically reflect the general tastes and interest of the population as a whole—or at least, the Eurovision-watching population. The small juries however are more likely to reflect individual biases and affiliations. After all, the jury may be industry professionals, but they are still people. This means that half a country’s points are dependent on the likes and dislikes of five people who, no matter how hard they try, can never be truly objective.

Perhaps the most obvious reason to get rid of the jury is the fact that they have very different tastes to the at-home audience. This became particularly clear in 2016, when jury votes and televotes were first announced separately. With this change it became clear, even to casual Eurovision fans, about how weighty and important the votes of a few hundred people are. One of the clearest examples of this discrepancy was Austria’s 2017 performance, which gained a respectable 97 points from the jury but received the dreaded nul point in the televote.

To casual viewers, Eurovision may just seem like a silly bit of yearly fun, but for die-hard fans—particularly those from countries less represented elsewhere in the entertainment industry—the competition and its results are important. The contest also acts as a yearly reminder of unity in a diverse continent often shrouded in conflict. 

Without the national juries, Eurovision would not exist in its present form, but the outdated system no longer fits the modern competition. For the sake of its future, Eurovision should look forward so as not to fall back.

Words by Kitty Grant

This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.

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