L’Eurofestival è soggetto a diverse critiche riguardanti sia il contenuto musicale, sia il meccanismo di individuazione del vincitore.
Sul primo punto, in passato si riteneva che il festival desse spazio solo al genere pop o schlager, adesso invece si ritiene che molte canzoni abbiano poco a che spartire con l’evento, perché ritenute scadenti.
Il meccanismo di votazione si basa per lo più sul televoto (ma alcuni paesi usano la giuria, ritenuta più equa) e tende a favorire paesi con cui si intrattengono buone relazioni politiche, soprattutto quelli confinanti, piuttosto che valutare la qualità artistica delle canzoni, dei cantanti, della performance o degli autori. Con la recente apertura ai paesi dell’est Europa, frammentata in molte realtà una volta ben coese, questo ha portato a una intensificazione del fenomeno. Ciò accadde soprattutto nei paesi dell’ex Urss, nell’ex Jugoslavia (che partecipò per anni come unico paese), nei paesi nordici (Svezia, Norvegia, Danimarca, Islanda, Finlandia), e tra Grecia e Cipro che da anni si scambiano quando possibile i 12 punti. I difensori della formula sostengono che paesi vicini condividono cultura e quindi gusti musicali e che dunque appare naturale che siano portati a favorire nel voto i paesi vicini. Frequente è però anche il voto “diaspora”, cioè degli emigranti che vivono lontano dal loro paese e lo votano in massa, il caso più evidente è quello della Germania e la Francia che hanno quasi sempre assegnato non meno di 10 punti alla Turchia. Per limitare questi fenomeni, dal 2009 televoto e giurie contano alla pari.
Altra regola controversa è l’esistenza dei cosiddetti Big Five (Regno Unito, Germania, Francia, Spagna e dal 2011 Italia) che hanno in ogni caso diritto alla finale, vantaggio non sempre ben visto, anche se tali Paesi danno contributi finanziari maggiori all’EBU per le sue attività.
The contest has been the subject of criticism regarding both its musical and political content. For example, on rare occasions, certain countries have been booed when performing or receiving points, especially when being given by a neighbour country. Most recently in 2014 and 2015, Russia was heavily booed when it qualified for the final and received high points. The reason for the booing is considered to be due to the Russian annexation of Crimea and opposition to the country’s policy on LGBT rights. Fraser Nelson wrote: “I can’t remember the last time I heard a Eurovision audience boo anyone; during the Iraq war in 2003, no one booed Britain.” Due to the 2019 Contest being held in Israel, some people called on their national broadcasters to boycott the competition over the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Peter Gabriel was among 50 artists who urged the BBC to ask for the contest to be moved out of Israel. In response, the BBC said it was not appropriate “to use the BBC’s participation for political reasons”.
China’s broadcaster Mango TV, which broadcast 2018 Contest for Chinese audiences, was banned from broadcasting Eurovision after it was revealed that Mango TV censored Ireland’s same sex dance performance, along with censoring LGBT symbols and tattoos.
Musical style and presentation. Because the songs play to such a diverse international audience with contrasting musical tastes, and countries want to be able to appeal to as many people as possible to gain votes, this has led to the music of the contest being characterised as a “mishmash of power ballads, ethnic rhythms and bubblegum pop”. This well-established pattern, however, was broken in 2006 with Finnish metal band Lordi’s victory. As Eurovision is a visual show, many performances attempt to attract the attention of the voters through means other than the music, notably elaborate lighting sequences and pyrotechnics; sometimes leading to bizarre on-stage theatrics and costumes, including the use of revealing dress.
Political and national voting. The contest has long been accused by some of political bias; the perception is that judges and televoters allocate points based on their nation’s relationship to the other countries, rather than the musical merits of the songs. According to one study of Eurovision voting patterns, certain countries tend to form “clusters” or “cliques” by frequently voting in the same way. Another study concludes that as of 2006, voting blocs have, on at least two occasions, crucially affected the outcome of the contest. On the other hand, others argue that certain countries allocate disproportionately high points to others because of similar musical tastes and cultures and because they speak similar languages, and are therefore more likely to appreciate each other’s music. A recent study in the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation presents a new approach which allows an analysis of the whole time-line of the contest (from 1957 to 2017) to investigate collusion and the cluster blocks which have been changing. It allows the analysis to find collusive associations over time periods where the voting scheme is non-homogeneous. The results show a changing pattern in the collusive tendencies previously discussed. The current research into the analysis of the voting patterns has been used in notable sources, such as the Economist, for investigating whether over 10-year periods such collusion is increasing or decreasing.
As an example, Terry Wogan, the United Kingdom’s presenter of Eurovision since 1980 and one of the only three presenters mentioned by name during the contest proper stood down from BBC One’s broadcast in 2008 saying “The voting used to be about the songs. Now it’s about national prejudices. We [the United Kingdom] are on our own. We had a very good song, a very good singer, we came joint last. I don’t want to be presiding over another debacle.”
Another influential factor is the high proportion of expatriates and ethnic minorities living in certain countries. Although judges and televoters cannot vote for their own country’s entry, expatriates can vote for their country of origin.
The total numbers of points to be distributed by each country are equal, irrespective of the country’s population. Thus voters in countries with larger populations have less power as individuals to influence the result of the contest than those voting in smaller countries. For example, San Marino holds the same voting power as Russia despite the vast geographic and population differences between them.
To try to reduce the effect of voting blocs, national juries were re-introduced alongside televoting in the final in 2009: each contributing 50% of the vote. This hybrid system was expanded in 2010 to also be implemented in the semi-finals. However, since 1994 no country has won two years in a row, and semi-finals have also been won by different countries, until 2012 when Sweden won the second semi-final in 2011 and 2012. Although many of them used to give their 12 points to the same country each year, like Turkey and Azerbaijan, it has been noticed that factors such as the sets of other high votes received (7, 8 or 10 points) and the number of countries giving points to a specific entry, also highly affect the final positions.
An overview of the overall preference between countries that exhibits patterns of high score allocations is a question that appears frequently and recently a new study investigates the question of ‘neglect’ in the competition. The concept of ‘neglect’ here is represented by countries which produce patterns of biased low score allocations to certain countries. Together these two patterns provide a better view of the competition’s intrinsic country pair biases. Result of such a study are presented in this paper. From the analysis it can be seen that countries which exhibit these biases do not receive a penalization from other participants and it presents itself as a means to accumulate more points by establishing these partnerships.
Running order of the participating songs. From 2013 onwards, the final and the semi-finals running order of the competing performances at the semi-finals and the final has been decided by the show’s producers and then approved by the EBU Executive Supervisor and the Reference Group. An “allocation draw” occurs for the final and the semi-finals with each nation drawing to perform in the first or second half. Prior to 2013, the order was decided at random (though when the host nation performs is still decided at random, to ensure fairness). There is some statistical evidence that the contest’s results were positively related to the running number in 2009–2012. The change in procedure was aimed to make the show more exciting and ensure that all contestants had a chance to stand out, preventing entries that are too similar from cancelling each other out. The decision elicited mixed reactions from both fans and participating broadcasters. Some fans have alleged that there is a risk of corruption and that the order can be manipulated to benefit certain countries, since the running order is considered to be of importance to the result. As of the 2019 contest, the only regularly contested positions in the running order that have never won the contest are numbers 2 and 16, with position number 21 winning for the first time in 2016. Position 17 has the most victories, with 7. Positions 25, 26 and 27 have not won either, but there have been very few finals with that many participants.