Introduction of semi-finals

Map of countries in Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, with Australia as an insert in the top-right corner, shaded to indicate their semi-final qualification rates: countries with high rates are shown in shades of blue, while countries with low rates are shown in shades of red and orange

Qualification rates per country (2004–2023; automatic qualifications not included)

Introduction of semi-finals. An influx of new countries applying for the 2003 contest resulted in the introduction of a semi-final from 2004, with the contest becoming a two-day event. The top 10 countries in each year’s final would qualify automatically to the following year’s final, alongside the “Big Four”, meaning all other countries would compete in the semi-final to compete for 10 qualification spots. The 2004 contest in Istanbul, Turkey saw a record 36 countries competing, with new entries from Albania, Andorra, Belarus and Serbia and Montenegro and the return of previously relegated countries. The format of this semi-final remained similar to the final proper, taking place a few days before the final; following the performances and the voting window, the names of the 10 countries with the highest number of points, which would therefore qualify for the final, were announced at the end of the show, revealed in a random order by the contest’s presenters.

The single semi-final continued to be held between 2005 and 2007; however, with 42 countries competing in the 2007 contest in Helsinki, Finland, the semi-final had 28 entries competing for 10 spots in the final. Following criticism over the mainly Central and Eastern European qualifiers at the 2007 event and the poor performance of entries from Western European countries, a second semi-final was subsequently introduced for the 2008 contest in Belgrade, Serbia, with all countries now competing in one of the two semi-finals, with only the host country and the “Big Four”, and subsequently the “Big Five” from 2011, qualifying automatically. 10 qualification spots would be available in each of the semi-finals, and a new system to split the competing countries between the two semi-finals was introduced based on their geographic location and previous voting patterns, in an attempt to reduce the impact of bloc voting and to make the outcome less predictable.