The organizers of the Eurovision song contest have extended voting to its global audience and reduced the role of juries, following voting irregularities that marred this year’s competition.
In the most drastic rule changes in its 67-year history, the winning song will be picked by viewers across the world, in combination with a jury of music professionals, the European Broadcast Union (EBU) announced on Tuesday. Juries will not, however, be involved in how countries are selected for both the semi-finals and final, which will be hosted in Liverpool next year. Qualifying countries will only be decided by the votes of viewers.
The changes, which have been approved by the contest’s reference group, come after “irregular voting patterns” were identified in national jury votes from six countries. As a result jury votes were removed from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania and San Marino.
Sietse Bakker, a Dutch member of the reference group and former producer of the event, said the changes were made to ensure fair play in the future.
Writing on Twitter he said: “Following the unprecedented voting irregularities we saw this year, we looked at ways to protect the integrity of the competition. The problem occurred in the semi-finals, this was the best way to end it. Also, difference of who qualifies in public v public+jury vote is minimal.”
He added: “I’ve been around in the Eurovision community for over 20 years and I’ve seen uproar and backlash about changes to the format over and over again. And look where the contest stands now; stronger than ever!”
Bakker also defended the new system against claims that audience votes would produce unfair results. He tweeted: “It *is* fair, just not objective. No measure is, in a contest that is ultimately judged by people’s personal taste and, in case of the juries, professional evaluation of artistic elements.”
This year’s apparent vote rigging was played down by the EBU when it emerged in May. In a statement it said: “The EBU takes any suspected attempts to manipulate the voting at the Eurovision Song Contest extremely seriously and has the right to remove such votes in accordance with the official voting instructions, irrespective of whether or not such votes are likely to influences the results and/or outcome of the voting.”
Martin Österdahl, the Eurovision Song Contest’s executive supervisor, said the rule changes were made to reflect the globalization of an event which drew a global TV audience of 160 million.
He said: “Throughout its 67-year history the Eurovision Song Contest has constantly evolved to remain relevant and exciting. These changes acknowledge the immense popularity of the show by giving more power to the audience of the world’s largest live music event.”
He added: “Everyone watching the show, wherever they live in the world, can cast their votes for their favorite songs.”
Österdahl suggested the changes would mean the winner was selected more on musical merit than parochial European concerns.
He said: “By also involving juries of music professionals in deciding the final result, all the songs in the grand final can be assessed on the broadest possible criteria.”
Introducing global voting is a bigger change than a controversial decision in 2015 to allow Australia to enter the competition. It is likely to fuel speculation that more countries from around the world will be permitted to enter the competition in future.
Österdahl said: “We can also maintain the tradition of traveling around Europe and Australia to collect points and ensure a thrilling voting sequence with the winner only revealed at the very end of the show.”
“Those watching in the rest of the world will be able to vote via a secure online platform using a credit card from their country, and their votes, once added together, will be converted into points that will have the same weight as one participating country in both of the semi-finals and the grand final.”
Audiences in all participating countries will be able to vote by text, phone or the contest’s app.
Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won this year’s contest with their song Stefania, a folk-rap ensemble they dedicated to all the country’s mothers. But Ukraine could not take up their right to host next year’s event because of Russia’s invasion.
Liverpool was announced as next year’s host city on behalf of Ukraine after the UK’s Sam Ryder was the runner-up in this year’s contest.