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

Eurovision logo 2019

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 2019.


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. This year, however, only 41 countries are competing, with both Ukraine and Bulgaria pulling out of the contest.

Still, if all 41 of them competed on one night the competition would run on into the early hours, so the powers that be have set up two Semi-Finals to whittle the numbers down to just 26.

How do the semi-finals work?

Only six nations are guaranteed an automatic place in the final. The ‘Big Five’ – Spain, France, Italy, the UK and Germany – as well as the host nation (Israel this year) all have a free pass to the final, while everyone else has to battle it out to make it to the stage on Saturday night.

The other countries compete in two semi-finals – the aptly name Semi-Final One and Semi-Final Two – with 20 places up for grabs.

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 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 to vote in the Eurovision Song Contest

After all songs have been performed, viewers can vote for their favourites for 15 minutes. You can vote by telephone and SMS through the numbers shown on the screen, and through the official Eurovision app.

Within the app, you will be directed to the mobile short dialling code to place a call to vote for your favourite country.

Calls from mobiles to the short dial code number cost 15p per vote.

Here are the official BBC guidelines for UK voters:

After all countries have performed, viewers will be invited to vote for their favourite acts.

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 televote. However, when people started getting worked up about political ‘bloc voting’ – that’s the idea that certain countries 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, with points from 1-12 awarded to the most popular acts amongst the viewers. Then, all the results from each country’s public votes will be combined to give one overall Eurovision viewer score per song.

These scores will be revealed in reverse order: the country who received the least amount of votes from the public will be awarded their points first.

This means that winner of the contest is only revealed at the very last minute. Exciting, eh?

Spokespersons from each country read out the jury results – those all important douze points – during the live show: presenter Rylan Clark-Neal will do the honours for the UK this year.

Then the Eurovision 2019 presenters will read out the results of the European public vote, beginning with the county that received the lowest number of 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.

Their first choice is likely to be Germany. However, if they decline, the UK could host next year’s show…


The Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final is on Saturday 17th May, from 8pm on BBC1