EBU announces changes to Eurovision rules

The EBU have announced some rule changes for next year and beyond, deciding on a one-year trial basis to lift the ban of backing vocals (harmonies) from the backing tracks.

The EBU says that the idea is to “offer participating broadcasters the possibility to explore new creative ideas, to travel with a smaller delegation for 2021 and to also reduce the technical burdens on the Host Broadcaster”.

The rule change allows songwriters and producers to present their work as close as possible to their original composition and, as the EBU describes “ensures the Contest moves with the times”.

Eurovision’s new Executive Supervisor Martin Österdahl said:

“The lessons learned from the spring of 2020 are that we need to plan for a global crisis, and we have tailored the rules of the Contest to that effect. We must be able to be more flexible and to make changes even to the format itself and how we organize the event in these challenging times,”

“As organizers of the world’s largest live music event we are determined and united in our mission; to bring back a Contest, a new winner and a handover to a new Host Broadcaster. These elements are in our DNA and part of our legacy,” he added.

The Rules for the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 have been approved by the Reference Group, the Contest’s governing board and have also been distributed to the EBU Members wishing to participate in next year’s event.

Martin explained:

“In 2013 and 2016, when I was Executive Producer for the Contest at SVT in Sweden, we implemented changes to how the running order of songs is chosen and later the way the voting is presented,” explained Martin. “Both of these adaptions to one of TV’s oldest entertainment formats helped to create a more exciting show for viewers.”

The use of recorded backing vocals will be entirely optional. Each delegation can choose to use backing singers, whether on or off stage. A combination of live and recorded backing vocals is also allowed.

All lead vocals performing the melody of the song, including an eventual use of a so-called lead dub, shall still be live on or off stage in the arena.

Martin added:

“When making the rule change maintaining authenticity and fairness has always been front of mind,”

With the dates for the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 announced this week, the core team from broadcasters NPO, NOS and AVROTROS in the Netherlands are working hard with the EBU on planning for all eventualities next year.

Martin added,

“We have to adapt, even if, as preferred, we are able to come back with our A-scenario; a Contest as we know and love it, in a packed arena with fans and delegations.”

“It is my mission, as I step into the big shoes left by Jon Ola Sand, to ensure the Eurovision Song Contest remains agile but true to its traditions, its values, and its history. When we bring the Contest back in 2021, we are bringing it back for good.”

We’ve put below a list of rule changes the EBU has implemented since 1956:

  • 1956 First contest – each of the seven competing countries were obliged to hold a national selection final to choose their entries.
  • 1957 After Italy’s song lasted 5 minutes and 9 seconds, rule changes were introduced to limit maximum song times to three minutes – which still operates.The voting was made public for the first time. Each of the ten jurors awards a single point to their favourite song – so in theory a country could be awarded all 10 points, although the highest tally allocated under this system was 9 by the Danish jury for France’s winning song in 1958 and the Belgian jury for Ireland’s winning song in 1970.
  • 1958 The convention of the winning country being invited to host the following year’s contest is introduced. However, several countries declined the opportunity in subsequent years.
  • 1959 Professional publishers or composers were no longer allowed in the national juries.
  • 1962 The voting system changes. Each country had 10 jury members who awarded their three favourite songs 3, 2, and 1 points in order. Previously each of the ten jury members awarded 1 point to their favourite song.
  • 1963 The jury size is doubled to 20 and the points awarded were 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.
  • 1964 The jury size reverts to 10, and points are now 5, 3 and 1. It becomes possible for a unanimous jury to award all 9 points to one song – but this never occurred. It was also possible to give 6 and 3 points to two songs; this happened only in 1965, when the Belgian jury gave 6 points to the United Kingdom and 3 points to Italy.
  • 1966 Countries must now sing in one of their national languages.
  • 1967 The scoring system reverts to the one used between 1957 and 1961.
  • 1970 Following a four-way tie in the 1969 contest, a tie-break rule was introduced with provision for a sing-off and a show of hands from the juries to elect a winner.
  • 1971 Another voting system change is introduced. Each country had two jury members, one under 25 and one over 25. They each awarded 1 to 5 points for each song. This created an issue where some juries gave fewer points out than others. The rule permitting groups of up to six performers on stage was introduced. Previously, entrants could only perform solo or as a duet.
  • 1973 The rule forcing countries to sing in one of their national languages is relaxed – however this is only in place for four years.
  • 1974 The scoring system used between 1957 and 1961 and between 1967 and 1970 is restored for a third time.
  • 1975 A scoring system reminiscent of the current system is introduced. Each jury would now give 12 points to the best song, 10 to the second best, then 8 to the third, 7 to the fourth, 6 to the fifth and so forth until the tenth best song received a single point. Unlike today, the points were not announced in order (from 1 up to 12), but in the order the songs were performed.
  • 1976 As the cost of staging the contest increases, a new rule was introduced that, in future, each participating broadcaster would have to pay a part of the cost of staging the contest.
  • 1977 Countries must again revert to singing in their own national languages.
  • 1980 The jury spokesperson now read the points out in numerical order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12) rather than in song order.
  • 1987 As the number of countries reached a record of 22, the EBU imposed a limit on the number of countries competing. Although set at 22, this limit has varied slightly over the years.
  • 1989 Following the closeness of the result at the 1988 contest, the tie break rule was amended. If a tie was to occur the winner would be declared by whichever received the most 12 points; if that still failed to separate them, the one with the most 10 points would be declared the winner. If there is still a tie, the same process is used with the 8 points, and so on until there is no longer a tie.
  • 1990 Following Sandra Kim’s 1986 win for Belgium at the age of just 13 and controversy over two performers in 1989 being just 11 and 12 years old, a restriction on the competitors’ ages was introduced. The minimum age is now 16 at the time of the event.
  • 1993 After the breakup of Yugoslavia, a pre-qualifying round was introduced.
  • 1994 Relegation had to be introduced to accommodate the ever-increasing number of countries wishing to compete. Initially the bottom five countries from 1993 would not be relegated from 1994 contest. The relegation rules would change slightly over subsequent years.
  • 1997 After controversy over a 1996 pre-selection procedure (similar to 1993) which resulted in Germany being omitted from the contest, the selection procedure changed to allow only the countries with the best average scores over the previous four years.
  • 1997 Televoting was trialled in five countries and would become the preferred method of voting from 1998.
  • 1999 Restrictions are lifted again allowing countries to sing in any language.
  • 1999 The use of a live orchestra was dropped as a way to conserve money for the show; since then, all songs have used pre-recorded backing tracks.
  • 2000 The “Big Four” rule is introduced giving France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom automatic entry in the contest regardless of previous performance. In 2011, Italy returned to the competition, becoming a “Big Five” member.
  • 2004 Relegation rules, which had varied slightly since 1994, were dropped and a semi-final was introduced. Countries eliminated in the semi-final were still allowed to vote on the final, so the convention of reading the scores in both French and English was dropped. The spokesperson would now read the score in one language with presenters repeating in the other language.
  • 2006 Jury spokespersons no longer read out all the points from 1 up to 12. Instead the scores up to 7 points are displayed briefly before the spokesperson reads out their 8, 10 and 12 point allocations.
  • 2008 With a record entry of 43, a second semi-final was introduced. Juries were used to allocate a wild-card place in the final from each of the semi-finals. 25 countries now compete in the final.
  • 2009 After criticism of the voting system after the 2007 contest, changes in the voting procedure were made with the re-introduction of a national jury alongside televoting (split 50/50). This format would be extended to the semi-finals in 2010.
  • 2010 Televoting is open from the first song until the end of the voting.
  • 2012 The 15-minute televoting window is restored due to criticism of the voting method after the 2011 contest. 26 countries now compete in the final, due to Italy’s return in 2011.
  • 2013 The format of the jury/televoting result is changed slightly in that all songs are now ranked instead of being given a score in each method. This is then merged and the ten highest ranked songs receive points in the usual manner. Also, for the first time, the running order in all three shows is determined by producers of the show instead of a random draw, which is supposed to give each song competing a fair chance of success.
  • 2015 The EBU considers the possibility of inviting countries outside of the European Broadcasting Area or the Council of Europe to participate in future editions of the contest. The first of such “guest nations” was Australia in 2015. This also increases the number of countries competing in the final to 27.
  • 2016 A new voting system is introduced. Entries now receive one set of points from the jury and one set of points from televoting. First, the jury votes are announced in the usual way, giving 1 up to 12 points but with only the 12 points being read by the spokesperson. Then, the televotes are read by the presenters, starting with the country receiving the fewest televote points and ending with the country that received the most televote points, so the winner is not known until the end of the show.In addition, the number of countries competing in the final is reduced back to 26 as Australia now competes in the semi-final.
  • 2019 The voting system changes slightly, as now the order of the televoting changes. Instead of giving the televoting results in order of fewest to most points, the points are given in the order of the final jury voting ranking, meaning the country with the fewest jury points receives its televote points first, and the winner of the jury votes hears its final score last.

The EBU have created a Q&A section to their article which you can see by clicking here.

What do you think of the new rule change? Will you be attending next year’s Eurovision? Let us know in the comments section below!

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