Eurovision: instructions for understanding the rules of the competition

THE Eurovision Song Contest is not just a unique musical show where crazy and kitsch songs, ballads or rock songs follow one another: it is also a fierce competition with strict rules, which must not be broken. If the regulations sometimes change marginally from one year to the next, here is the one that applies for this 2024 edition in Sweden, from May 7 to 11.

Who can participate?

All active members of the EBU, the European Broadcasting Union, the organizing body of the competition, can participate. They are part of the European broadcasting area, defined by the UN. It is for this reason that countries which are not part of the European continent: this is the case of Israel for example. Turkey, which has not participated since 2013, could request to reinstate it. However, a limit of 44 participating countries has been set for the 2024 edition.

Sertab Erener won Eurovision for Turkey in 2003 © AFP
JANEK SKARZYNSKI

Although not a member of the EBU and the European Broadcasting Area, Australiaa Eurovision-loving country which has broadcast the contest since the 1980s, participates again in 2024. What was to remain an exceptional participation in 2015 – to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the competition – has become a sort of tradition.

Voyager represented Australia at Eurovision 2023 © AFP
Oli SCARFF

Two semi-finals, one final

Faced with the growing number of countries wanting to participate in the competition, the EBU decided in 2004 to set up a semi-final, then two semi-finals from 2008. Since then, they have determined the finalist songs. Ten songs qualify at the end of the first semi-final which takes place on Tuesday, ten others during the second on Thursday. The final takes place on Saturday.

Five or six countries automatically qualified for the final

The host country, the one which won the previous year, is automatically qualified for the final. Five other countries, grouped under the name “Big 5”, are also exempt from the semi-finals. These are Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. This status was created by the organizers in 1999 – when a relegation system applied – to guarantee a place in the final for their biggest financial contributors.

Each year, six countries go to the final without going through the semi-finals box. There are only five when the reigning champion is also a member of the Big 5. In total, 25 or 26 countries compete each year in the grand final.

Three minutes no more, songs without insults

The songs must obviously be original and not last more than three minutes. The language is also free, but the regulations prohibit insults or political messages. The EBU can disqualify a country if it does not comply with the rule. In 2009, Georgia was excluded due to the song’s title, which had a double meaning. “We Don’t Wanna Put In” literally translated as “We don’t want to take it into account”. But it could also be understood as “We Don’t Wanna Putin”.

All titles released on or after September 1 of the previous year are eligible to compete. Then, the partner television channels have until mid-March to officially present a song, selected either internally (like Slimane or La Zarra) or during a national competition (this was the case of Bilal Hassani or even by Barbara Pravi).

No more than six people on stage

All services must be performed live on the Eurovision stage, playback is prohibited, as is auto-tune. The artists are accompanied by a soundtrack, as the instruments cannot be played live. If you see a violinist or drummer pouring their guts out on stage, make no mistake: they pretend. During a performance, there cannot be more than six people on stage. And live animals are prohibited!

The six Albanian representatives in 2023
The six Albanian representatives in 2023 © Getty
Peter Kneffel/picture alliance

How is the running order determined?

The 25 or 26 artists competing in the final take turns on the stage for more than two hours. But who decides the order of passage? Each representative will have to draw a ballot in which they will be written “first half”, “second half” or “producers’ choice”. The six artists who fall on “first half” will pass between 1st and 13th position, the other six who fall on “second half” will sing between 14th and 26th position. The 13 countries that draw “producers’ choice” will be assigned to one of the two halves, at the discretion of the show’s producers.

It will then be these same producers who will assign the songs to each place by best distributing the rhythmic tracks and the calmer ballads. The objective is to obtain a heterogeneous order of passage so as not to bore the viewer.

Who votes?

Only viewers from participating countries vote as well as those from the “rest of the world” (yes the whole world can vote). For example, if Belgium competes in the first semi-final, it can only vote in this one. The Big 5 countries and the host vote during either the first or second semi-final: the allocation changes every year.

As executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, Swede Martin Österdahl ensures that the competition runs smoothly
As executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, Swede Martin Österdahl ensures that the competition runs smoothly © AFP
JESSICA GOW / TT NEWS AGENCY / TT News Agency

The results are divided: 50% come from the national juries, 50% from viewers. The juries are made up of music professionals. They select their ten favorite songs and award the following points to each of them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and the famous 12 points.

The Jury results of Eurovision 2023

All viewers from all participating countries – even those eliminated in the semi-finals – have their say on final night. This year, phone lines will open before the first song. Voting by spectators from the “rest of the world” will begin online 24 hours before the final, to take into account the time difference.

Public Vote – The televote results of Eurovision 2023

Finally, should we remember it? You cannot vote for your own country! You can try, but your vote will be forgotten. Since 2016, the presenters have announced the results in two parts: first those of the juries then those of the public. A good way to keep the suspense going until the end!

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