Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Running Order Research Paper

Today we take a break from Eurovision song reviews and present a short research paper. This is the first research paper we have produced here at The Best Eurovision Blog. It is short – because I don’t have the time to research heavily on the contest. And I don’t think the average reader really wants to read a thesis. I know there are some who would just love if I did this but you can go and do your own research. This research is not meant to be especially academic; however it is from that place in the world of Fandom that is somewhere between over knowledgeable fan and academic.

The focus of this piece is to discuss the results of research carried out by me on the importance of the running order in The Eurovision Song Contest 2006-2011. This piece is split into two parts; the first part discusses the importance and trends in the running order in contests that have less than 20 songs, specifically the importance of the running order in relation to the Semi-Finals 2008-2011. 2008 saw the introduction of a new smaller style of semi-final which no longer takes from the main show itself.
The second part will discuss the recent running order trends in the finals 2006-2011 and the semi-finals 2006 and 2007. These are larger than the other shows and contain 22 songs and up. Given that the EBU reference group has rejected the idea that voting from the start of the show influences the vote that possibility has been disregarded here too.
Unfortunately there is not enough data in existence to actually look at how much the jury voting may affect the results.

Fan Theory
Four slots, above all others are studied strongly by fans. These are the first, second, second last and last slots. It is considered that a song in the second (or death slot) will not do as well as it might in other slots. Many fans point out that no song that sung from the second slot has ever won the competition. In a piece of analysis of the running order by ESCToday in 2009, they believed that the first slot was a poor position to be drawn in and suggested that this in some way was similar to the second slot.
The last slots have often been said to have the opposite effect. The second last slot is often seen as being the strongest slot to be in. Many countries have won the contest from the second last slot. Similarly the last slot is seen to have similar behaviour patterns to the second last slot.
Overall the general consensus is that the later in the running order you are drawn the greater chance you have of winning. This is a logical argument, given that a song performed later in the running order should be fresher in the voters mind. I also remember when I was not a fan per se but I was watching Eurovision, I’d start and decide say, that the fifth song was the best. But then would come song twelve, which would overtake song five and this would be repeated a few times more as the evening progressed. If this is the routine then the songs performing later should have a better chance.

Results I
In order to assess the success of songs in a particular slot the first and last ten songs in both semi-final one and two of each Eurovision Song Contest 2008-2011 were averaged out. This gave us a total of 8 contests to look at. Fans generally accept that the importance of running order does differ in the Semi-Finals; however no one has developed ideas about how this occurs.
We begin by looking at the average results of the first 10 slots

Fig 1 shows the average points awarded to songs performed in slots 1-10 (2008-2011)

As we can see from the graph there is no clear pattern emerging. While the average score is trending upwards there is no real explanation as to why there would be such a difference between songs singing in slots beside each other. The most notable aspect is that the second slot is above the first slot and is sixth out of ten in terms of average score. However when we look at the standard deviation an interesting trend emerges.

Fig 2 shows the standard deviation for the averages above.

For those who do not understand deviation: This shows the average amount the data is from the average. The lower the deviation, the more consistent the results from that slot are in the contest.
Interestingly the three highest scoring slots are 6, 9 and 10 however they also have the lowest deviation which means that they are strong slots. So when the awkward moment occurs at the draw in March that a country has to select a slot in the first part of the semi-final, these are the numbers to go for.
The other point that the results show is that the number two death slot does not exist. In fact it shows that while the slot is not a bad one its score is on average below the average number of points needed to qualify (62 points). However the high deviation would suggest that the results there are very volatile. Only slots 4, 6, 9 and 10 have an average greater than 62 points.

Results II
Part two looks at the average scores for the final 10 ten songs in a semi-final (Smart Maths types out there might point out that there is an overlap with results I here. I understand but this is the easiest way of presenting the results.) The results are shown here in fig 3.

Fig 3 shows the average scores of the last 10 slots
Please note: This graph has to be read right to left i.e. 2 refers to the second last song. 5 refers to the fifth last song.

The most important trend here is the last two slots. Here the graph rises steeply towards the end. This is a trend that emphasises the importance of being drawn in the last two slots. On average these score over 100 points each, with the last slot scoring 4 points more than second last. The number of songs that have won from singing last is also quite remarkable such as Greece in 2008 and 2011 and Turkey in 2010. Only one song has failed to qualify from this slot (Netherlands, 2009). Six slots score more than 62 points; they are the last two, the sixth, seventh and eighth last and the tenth last slot.
Though I have not published the Deviation of the scores, the results are notably more consistent than those in the first half.

Results III
We now turn our attention to the third section to looking at the opening of the longer show (Semi-Finals 2006 and 2007, Finals 2006-2011). This gives 8 longer shows to look at. 

Fig 4 shows the average scores of the first 10 slots in a long show (>20 songs)

This once again shows very little. However it show confirm the number 2 death slot theory, but notice that slot 4 is slightly lower than slot two; however slot 2 also has a much lower deviation to slot 4 (32.5/56.7) - meaning slot 2 has a more consistent low score. Slot 7 does appear to be the strongest however it has a very high deviation compared to the other high placed slots like the first slot. Despite being one of the hardest slots to get out of in the semi-final first does appear to be a strong place in the longer show.

Results IV
Finally we consider the importance of the last ten slots in the longer show or final. These results are summarised on the chart below. 

Fig 5 shows the average scores of the final 10 places in a longer show.
Please note: This graph has to be read right to left i.e. 2 refers to the second last song.

There is clear advantages in the running order can be seen in this graph. In the first ten songs the average did not go above 90 except in one slot. Here only two songs average below 90 points. While there may seem to be advantages to singing from the position of eighth last, when the standard deviation is considered slots 5th-8th last are strong enough to reach for a serious position from. Second last is also a very good slot. However this graph, overall, would not suggest that there is a perfect slot. Instead comparing fig 4 with fig 5 would point to an overall trend that the later you sing in the final the better.

Overall we have discussed the ideas around the running order and have highlighted the importance of the running order. However in reality the data would suggest that there is no perfect slot to sing in to win. It takes a good song with a great singer for Europe to fall in love with it. We have proven that where you generally appear in the running order in the final can impact on your scores. The “number two death slot” may exist in the final but in the semi-final this is not visible.
Personally speaking I think the running order ultimately did affected the outcome of last year’s contest, as most strong songs were placed in the first half of the final which we have proven is not as successful as the first. I also believe with the advent of the semi-finals people are more likely to follow a song they voted for in the semi-final in the final and this has diluted the real sting in the running order that existed before the semi-finals were introduced. But there is a clear problem when the winning song has not sung in the first half of the contest since 2004.
Unfortunately there is not enough data in existence to actually look at how much the jury voting may affect the impact of the running order on results. However in 2009 and 2011 three out of the top five placed songs came from the first half of the show. It is logical that, given that the juries should have listened to songs in advance of the contest then the running order should be irrelevant to them.

Future Trends
My guess is that in the future as the juries continue it should allow songs to score better in the first half. However given that public support will be needed to win overall then the winner will generally come from the latter half of the show. I think as time passes and we can assess jury impact on the semi-final in this regard then the running order will become less important in the semi-final but the last two slots will retain their strength.

We hope that you have enjoyed our short research paper. It does take quiet a lot of patience to get the  maths behind this right and then takes time to type up. If we have the time we hope to do another piece on neighbourly voting between Ireland and the UK. The speed at which that happens overall will depend on how it is received so if you liked it share it with other Eurovision fans. Rules on reproduction of pieces on website can be found in the Contact Us! section. Comments, as always, are welcomed.

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