How the Eurovision Song Contest works
The Eurovision Song Contest is an internationally televised songwriting competition, organised by the European Broadcasting Union and featuring participants chosen by EBU member broadcasters representing their countries from across Europe and beyond.
Each Participating Broadcaster has until mid-March to choose a song and an artist to perform it. The song and artist can be selected through a televised national selection show (or shows), an internal process, or via any other means they decide.
Participants then compete at the Eurovision Song Contest, traditionally held in May.
The Contest format comprises three live shows: the First Semi-Final (Tuesday evening), the Second Semi-Final (Thursday evening), and the Grand Final (a Saturday night spectacular).
Participating Broadcasters work hard to prepare acts that will qualify from the show’s Semi-Finals, hoping for a ticket to the Saturday night Grand Final where they will join the so-called ‘Big Five’ broadcasters and Host Broadcaster (usually the broadcaster of the nation than won the previous year).
The ‘Big Five’ are the Participating Broadcasters from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom - the group of countries who via their broadcasters make the biggest financial contribution towards the organisation of the Contest.
There is a comprehensive set of rules concerning participation that has evolved over the decades, but the main ones relating to competing songs and artists are:
- Songs must be original and no more than 3 minutes in length
- Lead vocals must be performed live
- No more than 6 performers can take to the stage during any one performance
In each show, after all songs have been performed, each country will give two sets of points (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12) to their favourite songs; one set is given by a jury of five music industry professionals from that country, and one set given by viewers watching the show in country. Viewers can vote by telephone, SMS and through the official app.
Out of fairness, you cannot vote for your own country.
In the Semi-Finals, only those countries who took part in that specific show can vote (along with 2 or 3 of the ‘Big Five’ who are already in the Grand Final), whereas in the Grand Final, all competing countries can vote.
At the end of the Grand Final, the song that has received the most points wins the iconic trophy, and is performed once more.
Each country is de facto represented by its respective public broadcaster, and it’s at the broadcaster’s sole discretion to determine who will represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest.
There are three common ways to select a participant for the Eurovision Song Contest:
Televised National Selection
The broadcaster can select their entry by organising their own ‘mini Eurovision’ earlier in the year. For example, Albania uses their well established Festivali i Këngës to pick a participant, Sweden runs its annual Melodifestivalen, and Portugal utilises Festival da Canção.
The broadcaster can invite submissions or approach record labels and individuals, and run the process without public involvement. This method has worked well in recent years for the United Kingdom (Sam Ryder finishing 2nd in 2022), the Netherlands (Duncan Laurence champion in 2019) and Israel (Netta was victor in 2018).
The best of both worlds, where, for example, an artist is chosen by the broadcaster, leaving the song choice down to a public vote.
The EBU strongly encourages participating broadcasters to engage the public with the selection of a participant for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Semi-Final Allocation Draw
As the Contest moves around the globe, so do the Hosting responsibilities, and in January, the Host Broadcaster meets with their predecessor to symbolically mark the passing of the Contest from one Host City to the next.
It’s at this event that the Semi-Final Allocation Draw takes place, which determines which country takes part in which of the two Semi-Finals.
While most TV viewers are focused on the three live shows, the broadcasts are in fact the climax of two exciting weeks in the Host City.
- All participants rehearse individually on stage twice for each show. Rehearsals begin up to two weeks before the Saturday night Grand Final.
- The Host City normally organises a Eurovision Village to entertain locals and visitors, and to give an extra platform for participants to perform, as well as screening the live shows.
- Each of the three live shows is preceded by Dress Rehearsals. Tickets are sold to the second and third Dress Rehearsals.
- Traditionally, a Welcome Reception and ‘Red Carpet’ Ceremony are held on the Sunday preceding the live shows, for delegations and selected invitees.
On top of official events and engagements, the Host City welcomes tens of thousands of visitors, with City-organised and fan-run events.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is strongly committed to secure the fairness of the Eurovision Song Contest. In order to assure Participating Broadcasters, contestants and the public a fair and valid result the EBU implemented a wide range of measures.
Participation in the contest is governed by the Eurovision Song Contest Rules. These Rules are established and enforced by the contest's governing body, the Reference Group, on behalf of all Participating Broadcasters. Embedded within the Rules is a wealth of legacy, some of which dating back several decades. The EBU and the Reference Group are committed to continuously improving the Rules.
Significant changes that touch upon the basics of the contest will have to be approved by the EBU's Television Committee, a higher governing body on behalf of the EBU's Member Broadcasters.
The Executive Supervisor on behalf of the EBU, who is a permanent member of the Reference Group, ensures that the Rules are being followed on a day-to-day basis and reports any breach of the Rules to the Reference Group.
In particular, the Executive Supervisor oversees the voting procedure that determines the outcome of the Eurovision Song Contest.
A breach of the Rules may result in a formal warning, a financial penalty or a sanction. The highest possible sanction is an exclusion from participation in the contest for a maximum of three consecutive years.
Voting validation and observation
The outcome of the Eurovision Song Contest is determined by a jury of music industry professionals and viewers, each making a 50 percent contribution to the result.
Each jury, as well as each individual jury member, must meet a strict set of criteria regarding professional background, as well as diversity in gender and age. Additionally, judges pledge in writing they will evaluate the entries based on a set of criteria and state that they are not connected to any of the contestants in any way that could affect their ability to vote independently. Judges can only take seat in the jury once every three years.
The juries vote on the basis of the second Dress Rehearsal of each show, which takes place the night before each live show. Each judge should vote independently and no discussion about their vote is permitted. An independent notary oversees the jury gathering, to assure all regulatory procedures are being followed.
Each jury submits their result to the EBU and its official voting partner Digame via a highly secured system, as well as by fax.
Viewers can submit their vote by phone call, SMS or via the official app. They can vote up to 20 times. Voting tariffs are set by each Participating Broadcaster and will be presented on screen during the shows. Exceptions may apply due to differences in national legislation.
All televotes are being processed by the Pan-European Response Platform (PERP), which was developed by the EBU's official voting partner Digame to assure all votes are counted in accordance with the Rules. The entire televoting process is monitored live by some 70 trained professionals from the Voting Control Centre in Cologne, Germany. The setup assures that any attempts to unfairly influence the voting, e.g. via bulk voting are detected and mitigated. The exact methods to prevent and/or detect malicious voting is classified and only known to the EBU Executive Supervisor, the Chairman of the Reference Group, E&Y and Digame.
The entire procedure - both jury voting as well as televoting - is overlooked by independent observers of E&Y and by the EBU's Executive Supervisor, to assure that all results are being interpreted in accordance with the Rules.