Junior Eurovision in Gliwice has been quite a thrill for the viewers and quite a food for thought for the organizers. Among issues brought up most often is casting votes via a website. I have asked representatives of leading Eurovision-related media in Poland about the legitimacy of the system as it is and their suggestions for improvement.
The first ever attempt at the introduction of online voting by EBU was during Junior Eurovision 2014. Looking back at that innovation nowadays, it seems that European Broadcasting Union was unprepared for such a huge online interest in the competition. In a several minutes the platform, which enabled picking your favorites, had stopped working. As a result, the online favorite title was never awarded and for the following years Junior Eurovision went on searching for an optimal voting method.
Junior Eurovision: online voting
The first ever successful online voting, counted in for the overall result, was in 2017. Surprisingly the viewers’ opinion was vastly different from the European and Australian juries’. The online voters were most favorable towards The Netherlands (ninth with the juries) and Malta (as low as thirteenth in the jury voting). The Polish representative, Alicja Rega claimed the seventh spot in the public ranking.
For the last two years Poland has been the winner of the online voting, which ultimately led to winning the whole contest as well. The public discourse concerning the contest has seen some criticism towards the current way of awarding points by the viewers. In search of a golden mean to solve this contentious issue, I asked professionals – journalists, bloggers and vloggers who deal with Eurovision on a regular basis – for their opinion.
Junior Eurovision: system favors the big
The voting system at Junior Eurovision is not fair due to the favoring of countries with huge audiences, but first and foremost ones with huge fanbases committed to the contest.
Maciej Błażewicz, Dziennik Eurowizyjny
As Maciej Błażewicz of Dziennik Eurowizyjny states on top of that, the idea behind this is not bad by itself, however it is the execution that has led to absurdities such as mass voting for home countries and tactical wasting of the remaining two votes for the allegedly weakest ones. EBU and Digame take virtually no security measures for this system and votes from and for countries such as Poland, Spain and France are being spammed from incognito tabs, passing by the IP filter. The most obstinate fans can this way cast thousands of votes from the same address. Surely there is a way to prevent this in the future and even if it is not a cheap solution, it should be implemented. Otherwise, what we may have on our hands is an outflow of countries not big enough to stand any chance for a good result right off the bat.
Popularity vs. population
Maciej Mazański of Dobry Wieczór Europo has expressed a similar opinion: let’s be honest – the current voting system used at Junior Eurovision favors countries like Poland. You can safely assume that the number of Poles voting for Poland will always be greater than, say, Albanians voting for Albania. One reason for that is the population of both of these countries. Another one is the interest in the competition and readiness to rally for the voting. However it does not mean that big countries will always excel at Junior Eurovision. Poland is again a good example, being as low as eighth on the combined scoreboard in 2017, despite online voting in effect. All in all countries such as Poland will always be at greater ease to achieve a good result, especially with the representative being popular back home and his countrymen believing in the final success. In that case they are mobilized and more eager to vote.
So big countries having the upper hand is what I deem the greatest drawback of this system. What is for the better is that it is free and convenient – all you do is open the website, where you can take a look at all the participants and cast your votes fusslessly.
Maciej Mazański, Dobry Wieczór Europo
No rummaging for codes and phone numbers displayed on the TV screen. No costs too, says Maciej Mazański. This enables more people to take part in voting than with the televote. It is also worth noting that online voting largely cancels out the influence of bloc and political voting as well as boosts from having a huge diaspora. It is a result of all the votes being „mashed together” regardless of country they have been sent from.
Victory for the online community to decide?
On the other hand, Sebastian Mnich of Destination Eurovision points out that it is not thanks to favorable voting that we keep winning. It is hardly a wonder that anyone is bitter of doubtful about the legitimacy of the current Junior Eurovision voting system. Our country does benefit from the solution currently in effect, but there is more to it, which many seem to be forgetting about. First of all, regards should go to the excellent Roksana Węgiel!
Her triumph has shattered the wall of indifference to the topic of JESC and undoubtedly proved that Poland is capable of winning this music show. The class of both our winners as well as the power of their acts and stagings are neither to be forgotten. After all, even such a massive gathering of their fans would never provide the ultimate victory in the contest without a huge approval from the viewers and also this year – juries from all over Europe and Australia. Roksana and Viki have made a wonderful history. Are we capable of keeping on turning our future participations gold though? I’d love to see that!
As long as we do not get to see significant changes to the online voting formula, however, each one of our young representatives will be undeservedly subject to criticism. Therefore I would suggest to make the voting system the same as what we see on adult Eurovision.
Sebastian Mnich, Destination Eurovision
There is no perfect format
Maciej Grajzer of INFE Poland thinks that there is no ideal way to choose the Eurovision winner and it must be taken into account. On the other hand, it should be considered if the current system is the best possible. A second JESC win in a row is certainly a reason for joy. Especially since we have been appreciated by the juries for the first time in ages. But take that away and the victory would still be ours for the taking. The Internet voting, cause that’s what it’s all about, was supposed to be the way to address the expectations of younger audience, as well as a sort of test before its introduction to the „adult” competition should it ever even happen. Just before the Sunday final show EBU officials were all sunshine and rainbows about this system. After all, even if we wanted to vote for our home country, we would have to put it together with two others. Long story short, nothing was supposed to be certain. Meanwhile for the second time nobody was our equal in the online voting. It is not hard to imagine more and more countries withdrawing from the contest, because in the end of the day, Poland wins no matter what.
As a likely host of next year’s contest (and this year’s sure winner), we should take advantage of our position and start a debate on reforming this system. The fans have often brought up the idea of a so-called geo-blockade, which would prevent voting for home countries similarly to the regular Eurovision.
Maciej Grajzer, INFE Poland
Whether or not such solution would be effective remains of course an open matter, Maciej Grajzer reflects. After all we do see minor abuses also currently. Voting by text message is still an option to consider as well. It remains the most effective way of casting votes despite its obsolescence. Possibilities are vast and they must be discussed. The online voting in its current form is attractive to us, but at the same time destructive to the contest. So it has to be considered whether or not it pays off to win at all costs. Viki Gabor deserved the title, the aforementioned juries have appreciated her. What the future will look like though – you never know.
How to improve online voting?
Robert Bulczak of the YouTube channel Byle Do Maja also criticises the recent voting formula. The current voting system at Junior Eurovision has been convtroversial from the very beginning and was provoking a fundamental question: „Is it fair?” Well, yes and no. By forcing the viewers to vote for at least 3 countries EBU wants to reduce mass voting for home countries, which causes a wider distribution of votes and smaller or less engaged countries are able to score some extra points. However we are perfectly aware of the practices having developed since the introduction of online voting – casting votes in private mode and this is where fairness vanishes in oblivion. Some will say: „but Polish people vote for themselves at ESC too” and that’s right, but don’t forget each vote costs money and I don’t think anyone of us goes out of Poland exclusively to vote for ourselves. We don’t know for sure if „incognito” votes are counted in, but nevertheless I don’t believe Poland’s 2018 and 2019 victories to be far-fetched – the songs and performances left no room for complaints, especially Viki Gabor’s second place with the juries confirms that.
In my opinion online voting is a good system that needs some improvement. If we want to keep the contest alive, everyone must be kept happy. It is extraordinarily difficult, because there is no golden mean.
Robert Bulczak, Byle Do Maja
Many systems were tried in the 65 years long history of Eurovision – some successfully, some not. Despite the history of the children’s edition being much shorter, it also has seen changes in that matter. EBU will not come back to voting by text message and they will never start charging money for online voting. Junior Eurovision is significantly less popular than its adult counterpart.
If Jon Ola Sand called me today and asked: what should we do? What to change? I would say: split the votes between voting countries – just like at ESC. Some will ask – but how do we find out how many votes have been sent from Serbia, and how many from Russia or France? Vote confirmation by phone number.
Robert Bulczak, Byle Do Maja
Let’s say you need to enter your phone number to which you receive a text message with a vote confirmation code. This way a phone prefix (+48 for Poland) lets us determine what country the voter is from. It also limits the numberof votes cast by an individual. Points would be counted just like in viewers voting at ESC, i.e. Poland gives 12 points to Ukraine, 10 to Italy and so on, all according to the numbers of online votes. This way every countryis treated equally regardless of population, popularity of the contest and audience’s commitment. Junior Eurovision develops year after year, having becomea worthy counterpart for the „big” May competition and so it would be a shame to see its sudden death due to an underdeveloped voting system.
Junior Eurovision: some are more equal than others
In my opinion, the online voting at Junior Eurovision in its current form contradicts with the preachings that „everybody is equal at Eurovision”. Obviously we will never find a perfectly fair system, but in a children’s competition, possibly the best equality of chances should be guaranteed in particular.
Kamil Polewski, Polscy Fani Eurowizji
Meanwhile the last three years have shown that the results form this system depend largely on the scale of promotion (this year Poland and Spain were great examples), popularity of the contest itself (The Netherlands) and high viewership (as every year in the case of Portugal). That is why the possibility to vote for one’s own country is what I regard as the main fault of online voting. It can be patched up, but this is an expensive path as the simplest solution would be in my opinion to establish a separate voting platform in each country and limit its activity to that country’s territory only (as it was done by British and Czech broadcasters in their respective national finals). Another idea is to lock voting down to one vote per IP address, but that would imply additional costs. EBU has chosen a cheaper system, common for the whole world, but this is a „shortcut” solution which in practice fails miserably. Its main advantage is the ease of reaching young audiences. I find it a lesser evil to risk older people having trouble voting by the Internet than children having trouble paying for traditional televoting. The idea of online voting itself is by all means correct at Junior Eurovision, but when it comes to execution, it is better to wait a few more years for it to become cheaper and simply optimize it.
Guest Votes and Bonus Votes
A whole bunch of ideas for the organizers has been prepared by Szymon Stellmaszyk, author of the Let’s Talk About ESC blog as of today. What in his opinion should be changed in the current system?
First of all: no voting for own song! Professional juries of different genders, ages and experience levels remain and assign half of all the points impartially. Online voting should be limited to picking three songs from other countries. A perfect solution would be to allow casting only one set of votes for each device. Points would be awarded the old-fashioned way (from 1 to 12) by each participating country. Overall public vote scores for all countries should be announced in the ascending order. This distinction of the public choice is necessary as a sign of respect towards viewers for whom this event is being made. An innovation to the public voting would be to add Guest Votes to it. They would be a traditional (1 to 12) set of points awarded by viewers voting from outside any of the participating countries (different IP address). So they would be able to vote for all the competing songs.
A whole new thing on its own would be so-called Bonus Votes, i.e. a traditional 1-12 set of points for the most active countries. It could be awarded together with the jury points. The ranking for these points would be decided based on ratios (highest to lowest) of the number of all votes sent from each country to the population of that country calculated for the last day of the previous year. It would be a way to reward participating broadcasters for drawing the largest interest of their respective audiences. This way they would improve the odds of their entries, but it also would be a nod to the audience which likes JESC the most.
I do not know if this is the perfect solution. Perhaps there is a technical difficulty which prevents introducing such a voting method, but… opening up to audiences from outside the participating countries would be all according to the spirit of EBU’s competitions which enjoy a huge global popularity. On the other hand, the rivalry for the extra points between broadcasters would encourage them to promote the event on air by themselves, but it also would limit negative influence caused by the sheer size of certain nations in favor of rewarding their activity with respect to proportion.
Szymon Stellmaszyk, Let’s Talk About ESC
Junior Eurovision: are we really about to see changes?
My colleagues have touched many interesting topics realted to Internet voting. I do share the opinion that the current system favors countries with large populations, boasting high viewerships of the contest. Ideas suggested by Szymon are surely worth considering as they would undoubtedly spice up the entire show.
Having said that, I prefer to exercise the „less is more” principle and appreciate the importance of simple solutions. In my opinion, the key issue is to rule out the voiting for own songs. In this situation, the contest fans would not just support their home artists, but truly vote for entries they perceive as the most interesting.
Mieszko Czerniawski, eurowizja.org
Of course it would not solve the problem of mass score boosting from incognito browsers that Maciej of Dziennik Eurowizyjny had mentioned. This is where Kamil and Robert come to the rescue, each having suggested their methods of technical votes verification. These ideas should undoubtedly be a path for EBU to make Junior Eurovision follow. A question remains however, if EBU genuinely cares about changing this voting system. I think we might not get to see such change in the next year’s edition of the contest. Not unless broadcasters start signaling to EBU that they are considering withdrawal from the event in its current form.
One must remember that locking away the possibility to vote for home country will heavily affect the total number of votes cast. At the same time it will decrease the contest viewership on the global plane and this might be of greater importance to EBU than concerns about the fairness of contest’s results.
Mieszko Czerniawski, eurowizja.org
Translated from the original Polish article by Mieszko Czerniawski.