Hello Dear Readers!
The 2016 Contest brought with it a new points format. The jury and televotes would no longer be combined on the country-level, as they had been since 2009, but each would be totaled individually before being combined to achieve the final results. While this reduces the bolstering of the middle-placed songs we saw under the previous system, it puts small countries that lack the population to support a televote at a disadvantage. In 2016, San Marino, a country of just 32,500 (fewer than the nearly 38,000 that attended Eurovision in 2001), which has historically always used 100% jury votes due to its small size required a televote in order for the new system to work. The solution? Create a composite score using a selection of countries (a list which has not been revealed) that stands in as San Marino’s televote. The EBU told us that this was to be employed if any country lacked either a jury or televote. San Marino is the only one for which this procedure was used. Understandably, the Sammarinese broadcaster, SMRTV, is not satisfied with this arrangement and has supposedly created a proposal to resolve this situation. How the EBU proceeds could be an influencing factor for how other small countries to continue participation (such as Albania and Moldova, both often use 100% jury as well in the past) and for others to return (such as Luxembourg, who is starting to see renewed fan interest in returning).
While we don’t know SMRTV’s exact proposal, which I have dubbed the #SanMarinoPlan, there are three likely avenues which SMRTV will pursue.
Have Digame, the televoting partner, craft a new algorithm for smaller countries.
Right now, televoting depends on a certain raw number of votes to be certified. San Marino, with its modest population, just can’t reach the necessary threshold. However, San Marino has its own area code that differentiates it from Italy (0549), so it would be very easy to determine who is calling SMRTV’s numbers from San Marino. Whatever the current algorithm is for determining a statistically strong televote could be readily modified to fit a smaller scale. What makes this proposal difficult is that, with a smaller televote threshold, San Marino opens itself up to vote manipulation – a group could sponsor a bunch of folks to cross the border and use Sammarinese cell phones to vote for a particular country.
Allow San Marino to create a second jury of non-professionals to create a televote.
SMRTV could gather a selection of citizens or hold official watch parties in the City of San Marino, Dogana, Domagnano, and/or other major population centers where they can collect votes and use those for their televote. It is incredibly easy to have people attend an event and cast ballots, collect these votes, and report the final results to the EBU. The biggest challenge with this proposal would be the increased cost to SMRTV. Hosing these events would cost money and they would need to have two (one for the semi-final and one for the Grand Final) in each chosen city. SMRTV would have the added difficulty of gathering fans (the largest cities only have a few thousand residents) and volunteers, as San Marino lacks its own OGAE (though, I’d gladly attend and host an event as a member of OGAE Rest of the World – we support San Marino and all the countries without their own OGAE).
Create a system in which viewers in non-participating countries can vote to create stand-in televoting scores
The easiest way to reach the threshold would be to expand those eligible to vote through creating a portal through which those with IP addresses in a nonparticipating country could vote online/through the app. This would allow the EBU to have interactivity opportunities with new markets (like the US or China) without letting them participate. Depending on the popularity of this, they can institute it as some kind of back up televoting for all the countries that may need it (by randomly dividing received votes across all the countries that need a televote stand-in). The biggest difficulty, of course, is the vulnerability to being tampered with. More than that, though, it hurts the EBU’s chances for getting Luxembourg, Turkey, and other former competitors to return, as there would now be a way for interested fans to stay engaged without those broadcasters having to participate.
Personally, I think option two (SMRTV hosting viewing parties across San Marino) is the best choice. It engages fans with the Contest and ensures that the televotes are coming from within the country, reflecting the will of the Sammarinese public. However, the most realistic option would be to open voting to non-participating countries. This would allow the EBU to replace any country’s televote as needed (through randomizing the received votes). Additionally, it has the added bonus of engaging fans in countries not participating in the Contest without expanding the boundaries of the ESC. Now viewers in the US, Canada, Mexico, China, South Africa, etc., would be able to engage in the Contest on the same level as Europeans (and Australians) and the ESC would not have to allow those countries to compete. Furthermore, this can be facilitated through the official ESC app and would not significantly increase the cost to the EBU or require an in-country telephone partner.
What about the reverse situation? What if a country loses its jury vote?
Currently, the only solution for the loss of a jury vote is the composite scoring process detailed above. However, this is a more acceptable solution for this situation. The reason for the jury vote is to provide the perspective of music professionals to counterbalance the televote. It would be much harder to have a reserve of jurors in the event that a jury vote is nullified. Additionally, just as the EBU cannot duplicate the jury votes to generate a televote, it cannot duplicate the televote to achieve a jury vote. Nor can the EBU just discount the 58 points, as the new system is dependent upon an equal number of points in the juries and televotes.