How does the Eurovision Song Contest work?

It might be Europe's biggest party but if you're entering the Eurovision Song Contest you have to play by the rules

Supporters wave flags ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Grand Final in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 10, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND        (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

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It’s that time of year again, when people across Europe gather in front of their TV screens for a three hour musical spectacular – The Eurovision Song Contest.


It may be one of the biggest parties in Europe, but it ain’t all fun and games. There are rules and regulations that make sure the good ship Eurovision stays afloat.

How many countries can compete in the Eurovision?

As you may have noticed, Eurovision isn’t just a ‘European’ Song Contest. That’s because it’s open to active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which is an alliance of public service broadcasters (like the BBC in the UK and RTE in Ireland) from across Europe and its neighbouring countries.

Around 43 countries enter the Eurovision Song Contest each year, and they’re each entitled to enter one song. However, if all 43 of them could compete on the night the competition would run on into the early hours so the powers that be set up two Semi-Finals to whittle the numbers down to just 26.

How do the semi-finals work?

Of the 43 or so countries that usually enter Eurovision only six are guaranteed a spot in the final. The Big Five – Spain, France, Italy, The UK and Germany – and the host nation automatically qualify while everyone else has to battle it out to make it to the big stage.

The other countries compete in two semi-finals – the aptly name Semi Final One and Semi Final Two – for one of 20 remaining slots.

And why do the Big 5 always get a spot?

Well, they pay the most money to keep the contest going so it’d be a bit odd if they weren’t always in the running now, wouldn’t it?

Anything goes on the Eurovision stage though, right?

Wrong. There are actually rather strict rules about what the contestants can and can’t do.

For example, no more than six people are allowed on stage per entry and their songs must not last even a second longer than three minutes.

You can sing in absolutely any language you want but you’ve got to sing live because miming is banned.

How do you vote in the Eurovision Song Contest?

You can vote by telephone. Here are the official BBC guidelines for UK voters:

“After all countries have performed, viewers will be invited to vote for their favourite act/s.

Voting is by telephone only. Voters in the UK can choose either to call from their landline using the long (11-digit) number for the country of their choice or from their mobile phones using the shortcode (7-digit) number for the country of their choice.

Please note that callers from the Channel Islands and Isle of Man should call from their landlines using the long (11-digit) number to avoid higher mobile charges, as the short (7-digit) numbers are not available in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for reasons outside of the BBC’s control.”

The numbers to be used will be given during the programmes.

How does the Eurovision voting system work?

Eurovision was originally judged by juries before being opened to the public for a tele vote but when people started getting worked up about political Bloc Voting – that’s the idea that countries in Eastern Europe were all just voting for each other – they introduced a new dual system.

The juries from each country award 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12 points to their favourite songs, and reveal those jury scores through their national spokesperson in the usual time-consuming yet exciting way.

Viewers from each country also vote via phone or SMS, awarding 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12 points given to their favourite songs. Then, all the results from each country’s public votes will be combined to give one overall Eurovision viewer score per song.

Spokespersons from each country read out the jury results – those all important douze points – during the live show: comedian and presenter Mel Giedroyc will do the honours for the UK this year.

Then the Eurovision 2018 presenters will read out the results of the European televote – or public vote – in ascending order, beginning with the county that received the lowest number of televotes – public votes – and finishing with the country that received the highest.

Viewers in all the competing countries – including those who were knocked out in the semi-finals – can vote up to 20 times for the songs of their choice, but they can’t vote for their own country.

The country with the highest number of votes wins the competition and gets to host it the next year.

What happens if there’s a tie?

If there is a tie between two or more songs in the combined ranking between public votes and the jury votes, the song that obtains a better ranking from the public vote is deemed the winner.

What happens if Australia wins Eurovision?

Don’t worry, the show won’t go Down Under. The Aussie delegation will be asked to select a European country to host next year’s show on their behalf.


The Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final is on Saturday 8th May, 8pm on BBC1