Eurovision 2013: Final predictions

After Tuesday night’s disappointing result, I was somewhat worried about the changes to the model for this year, and considered reverting to last year’s model. However, this would be both intellectually dishonest and, more importantly, a lot of work, so I decided against it. In any event, the second semi-final threw up fewer surprises than the first, and the model did fairly admirably, predicting 8 out of 10 qualifiers. This is better than random by quite a bit, but not an improvement on last year’s model. 14 out of 20 overall is respectable, but nothing to write home about.

Let’s get this out of the way

We now have all of the information we’re going to get before the final itself takes place on Saturday night. That means it’s time to make some forecasts.

As Macedonia failed to qualify, this will be the first Eurovision final since 1985 not to feature any (former) Yugoslavian entries. It will definitely be interesting to see what this does to the voting, as all of these countries’ points become up for grabs. The former USSR, on the other hand, will be there in strength, with only Latvia letting the side down. This is probably not great news for any of the ex-Soviet states, but Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan can probably weather the storm.

Winning probabilities

Now that they’ve qualified, Azerbaijan have retaken the top spot from Russia, and even extended their lead. This is probably because they’re better at drawing votes from outside the former Soviet Union, whereas Russia will now be competing somewhat with the other eight former Soviet republics. Scandinavia is also very well represented in the final, which may be a blow to the chances for everybody’s favourite, Denmark (now at an implied win probability of 55% on Betfair).

Overall, the chance of an ex-Soviet winner is a very respectable 47%: with nine entries, they must have a decent song in there somewhere.

Are you as good as you think you are?

Of course, all of these probabilities are based on a very vague idea of what each song’s quality level is. The model hasn’t heard any of the songs, so there’s some very important information missing in these calculations.

It’s possibly more interesting to ask, rather than “who will win?”, “how good does a song have to be to win?”. If we have an answer to that, we can apply our own judgment to the songs which we hear tomorrow night. I’ve plotted the quality level a song has to reach before its country has a 50-50 shot at victory. As the model’s quality units are a little abstract, I’ve also included five recent winners (and one not-winner) for comparison.

Threshold qualities

For reference:

By this measure, Russia have the easiest run of things, but they’ll still need a better song than they’ve ever produced to reach this level. In fact, only five countries have produced songs which, if they entered them this year, would give them a better than 50% chance of winning. From the graph, we can obviously see that Norway, Greece and Finland have done so - if they can replicate these performances, they’ll have an excellent chance of victory. Azerbaijan have also managed this, but interestingly not with their winning song - the model claims that their 2009 entry, “Always” was considerably better.

The other country is maybe more interesting. The United Kingdom have produced two entries which were good enough to win, but failed to do so for various reasons. In 1998, Imaani came a very close second with “Where Are You?”, losing out by only six points. In 2009, Jade Ewen sang the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Diane Warren number “It’s My Time”, but lost out to the Alexander Rybak juggernaut. In a less strong year like this year, either of these songs would be easily in with a good chance of winning.

The UK are one of the most variable countries, and this isn’t something the model takes into account. In a good year, they can severely overperform the model predictions. In a bad year, they can be among the worst countries out there. It’s up to you whether you think Bonnie Tyler is at the high or low end of that spectrum.

Early indications

Some countries vote very predictably, and other countries less so. Like last year, the voting order this year will be rigged for maximum excitement, so it’s likely that the more predictable countries will be got out of the way early in the voting, to increase the suspense. However, we can still look at which countries are likely to be good predictors of the final winner.

In this case, we’re looking at the “bellwether probability”, the chance that the entry that each country gives 12 points to goes on to win the contest. The more predictable countries tend to be very low on this score. Cyprus gives its 12 to Greece almost all the time, so like a stopped clock it’s only “right” when Greece wins. On the other hand, Hungary has no particular alignments, so its votes are more likely to match with those of Europe as a whole.

Bellwether probabilities

Last year, the best predictors were a diverse group of central European countries and outliers. This year we’ve added a new and intriguing group of bellwethers. As there are no former Yugoslavian entries in the final (nor their neighbour Albania), this normally completely predictable area has sprung wide open. If an entry can appeal to this area of the map, there are a lot of points available. If only everyone had known that beforehand.

Old friends

At the other end of the scale, there are the perennial relationships that lead people to claim that the voting is “rigged”. I’m reliably informed that people last year used these as the basis of a drinking game. I couldn’t possibly condone such behaviour, but I feel I should list them for completeness.

Actually, in the absence of the Balkans and Turkey, many of the longstanding relationships are left dangling. This could be one of the most unpredictable sets of voting in recent memory. However, some relationships remain strong:

  • Lithuania → Georgia (42%)
  • Ukraine → Azerbaijan (43%)
  • Albania → Greece (45%)
  • Belarus → Russia (48%)
  • Italy → Romania (49%)
  • France → Armenia (51%)
  • Armenia → Russia (56%)
  • Moldova → Romania (59%)
  • Romania → Moldova (74%)
  • Cyprus → Greece (90%)

As I said, these are less certain than last year, so adjust beverage sizes accordingly.

I don’t have time to read all that nerd stuff

To summarise, if this is a typical year, then Azerbaijan have the best shot at things. Russia have the easiest ride of things, but don’t have quite as consistent a record as the Azeris. The UK could probably win this thing if they bother to try this year, and avoid a Humperdinck-style disaster.

Things are a little unpredictable this year, because the qualifiers are a little bit unbalanced. You can still rely on Cyprus loving Greece to prove you haven’t slipped into an alternate timeline. He who controls the Balkans controls the universe.

For listeners in the UK, I’ll be doing an interview with BBC Radio Wales on Saturday night, around 7:50pm, as part of their Eurovision coverage, live from my (and Bonnie Tyler’s) local pub.

  1. This is, according to the model, the best song never to have won Eurovision. It actually came third in 2004, behind Ukraine and Serbia/Montenegro, both of which benefitted greatly from their regional voting blocs.