Weaver's Week 2007-05-27

Weaver's Week Index

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'


Think Big

Coming up: the big picture on Eurovision's voting. But first:

Big Brother, Big Complaints, Big Apologies

After considering over 44,500 complaints from the public, OFCOM has issued its final report into the Celebrity Big Brother racism event. The regulator determined that the broadcast of three events - remarks about cooking in India, an invitation to "f**k off home", and comments to "Shilpa Poppadom" was in breach of the required standards, because they were not properly set into the context of other events on the show. Let this paragraph stand as a summary of the findings:

We also note that Big Brother did not put to Danielle Lloyd her comments relating to language in the same exchange ("She can’t even speak English properly"). In the absence of any other appropriate material which could have put these comments into context, the audience could reasonably have expected the broadcaster to have put the issues to Danielle Lloyd in the Diary Room more explicitly. This is because the audience of Big Brother is familiar with the way in which Channel Four, through Big Brother, deals with such issues for example by making it clear that Big Brother "will not tolerate any racist behaviour or anything that could be seen as racist behaviour". However, in this instance, it is Ofcom’s view that Channel Four did not make it clear to viewers that her comments would not be tolerated.

OFCOM also saw untransmitted footage, in which some of the contestants made up limericks that implicitly ended with the epithet "Paki". This footage was noted by Endemol staff at the time - indeed, they deemed some of the incidents "racist" - but Endemol did not tell Channel 4 for some days, and by then the storm had blown itself out. OFCOM determined that there were not adequate procedures to ensure that gratuitous offence was not caused. By not being in possession of all the facts, Channel 4 failed to keep control over the programme it broadcast. It's a damning indictment of Channel 4, and confirms that the editorial process at Big Brother is hopelessly poor.

OFCOM found that each incident had been handled as an isolated event, and the producers had not appreciated the cumulative effect of the various matters. Ultimately, the regulator determined that this whole affair was a serious error of judgement. It wasn't deliberate, it wasn't reckless, it wasn't negligent, it wasn't good enough.

A statement summarising the findings will be broadcast before next Wednesday's season-opening show, before next Thursday morning's edited repeat, and before the first eviction programme.

Channel 4 has conducted its own review, which focussed on the viewer response - primarily, that the producers had been slow to challenge the views expressed by the contestants, or had not done so with sufficient force. C4 is clarifying the ground rules for Big Brother, and is tightening up its relationship with Endemol, including having more people, and more senior people, on set. C4 also criticised its own handling of the affair, remembering the three-day gap between the flood of complaints beginning and a statement by the channel's chairman, who would later go on to say that the row had saved "the most boring series ever". No one at Channel 4 has resigned.

The channel will also consider holding more one-off debate programmes - implicit in the review is a suggestion that some of the bad feeling could have been averted if the matters had been hammered out on television immediately after the show on or around Tuesday 16 January. There will also be a new person in the editorial chain, with a remit to ask, "Why are we broadcasting this?" (emphasis in the original.)

Endemol was explicitly criticised by Channel 4 for its poor communication and tendency to brush matters under the carpet, and implicitly criticised by OFCOM. The spirit of openness and honesty clearly doesn't extend to Endemol's website, which has not commented on the matter - indeed, the UK company's most recent press release is from 26 April, before it was taken over by Mediaset. Tim Hincks, the company's "chief creative officer" is quoted in The Guardian as saying "It was a very busy day."

We understand that ICSTIS has not completed its review into an incident on 24 January that led to thousands of votes being discounted and refunded.

The Eurovision Voting Patterns

If there's one complaint we have about this year's Eurovision Song Contest, it's not that the wrong song won. It didn't. There were at least twenty perfectly good winners in the mix, and (as is the nature of the contest) most garnered far less recognition than they deserved. Such is the way of New Eurovision, where only the best stands a chance.

No, our complaint is about the scoring. It's still just that bit too rushed, going vam-vam-vam from one country to the next without drawing breath. This year, the problem was complicated by the very small size of the numbers on the screen. Legibility is all, and the numbers were something of a blur.

If we're going to make one change for next year, it's to impose some sort of logical order to the scoring. For technical reasons, having the semi-finalists vote first, then the finalists, is too difficult to work without issuing the technicians a set of brown trousers. Instead, why not award the points from the most southerly entrants first, and work north. We might start with Israel, then Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Malta, and so on, finishing with Latvia, Norway, Estonia, Finland, and Iceland. Not only would this be easier to follow, but it would expose the falsity of the bloc-voting myth.

The most unusual voting patterns in the semi-final came from Andorra, Malta, Turkey, Albania, and Greece; the European standard was provided by Netherlands, Czechia, Austria, Russia, Hungary. The UK was 14th most unusual, Ireland 25th. In the grand final, unusual patterns from Albania, Ireland, Andorra, Latvia and Denmark; the standard votes came from Czechia, Georgia, Armenia, Germany, and Hungary. The UK was 10th most unusual.

The current system has been in place for four years, and that's long enough for us to determine if there are any patterns to the voting. In brief, we're averaging marks across the semi-final and final, and then taking an average mark per year. Replicating Gatherer's work, we find that 4.5 points in both directions is significant at the 5% confidence level. (For countries that have competed three times, 5 points is significant; two entries requires 6 points; we do not look at this year's newcomers.)

For this analysis, we deem Serbia to inherit the entire responsibility for the 2004 and 2005 entries, and for voting up to 2006. Yes, we know that 2005 entry No Name was from the Macedonia part, but we may assume that any "neighbourly" voting would mostly be directed towards, and resolve from, the far more populous Serbs.

As a side-effect, we can compile a list of those countries that have always sent 12 points in a particular direction:

  • Austria, Switzerland, Croatia to Serbia
  • Greece to Cyprus
  • Bulgaria, Cyprus to Greece
  • Romania to Moldova
  • Armenia, Belarus to Russia

All these relationships have been tested on five occasions since 2004, with the exception of Armenia to Russia (three times). We should also note that Macedonia has sent Albania 80 points of a possible 84, the Dutch have only once failed to put Turkey at the top of their poll, and Spain has sent Romania 46 points out of a possible 48.

The research into mutual appreciation societies yields four separate groups, with five centres. We'll start with the simplest ones, and work up.

The One Wogan Doesn't Mention

No-one votes for the British any more, apart from the Irish. And when the British get the chance to vote for the Irish, they usually do so in their droves. It's rare for one country to snub the other, and when it does happen - Dervish this year, Jemini in 2003 - it's in response to a particularly dire performance.

The Iberian Trio

Portugal and Spain have had a long-standing relationship, and Andorra has joined in in recent years. The only reason Andorra's love for Spain isn't on the list of Perpetual 12s is that Andorra used a jury this year, and the jury gave Spain nothing. They didn't use a jury because the phone system crashed, or they couldn't count the votes, but because over 95% of the televotes were for Spain. Britain is believed to have come equal eighth, with no votes.

The Baltic Bloc

Centred, rather appropriately, on Finland, which enjoys close relationships with Estonia, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. There's a perfect four-pack of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, who each appreciate each other's work; on the eastern side, Estonia likes Latvia, and Latvia likes Lithuania. Estonia likes Lithuania, but it's not really reciprocated.

The Yugo-Soviet Bit Of A Mess

Eurovision Voting Map
A schematic map of the voting links. Click on the map to see a full-size version.

This is where it gets complicated, so we've drawn a map for you. Actually, we've drawn a map so that we can understand this thing ourselves, it's that complex.

We see that Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia form the core of a large and disparate Balkan group. The other former Yugoslav republics - Slovenia and Croatia - play their part, but unlikely candidates such as Albania and Bulgaria are also involved. Greece and Turkey have links with at least one former Yugoslav republic, and we note that Cyprus and Bulgaria have very quietly struck up a strong relationship - in an era when three out of four Cypriot entries have failed to excite general interest, this is remarkable.

The second, smaller, centre is primarily of former Soviet republics, and centres on Ukraine. Two links combine the two groups: Greece's fondness for Armenia has been reciprocated, and Romania and Hungary are very close.

Now, there is one very large warning here, a warning the size of Terry Wogan's sense of self-importance. Gatherer's model assumes that all countries are equally capable of sending good songs. Over a very long time, this is true, but over short periods such as four or five years, it's not. In particular, Greece, Turkey, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia have consistently sent good songs in a way that no-hopers such as the UK, the Netherlands, and Estonia have not. Good songs mean that many countries will be giving votes in amounts that we consider significant (nine countries have sent significant scores for Romania, thirteen for Turkey, seventeen each for Greece and Ukraine, and a whopping 22 for Serbia), and so making connections for these countries dependent mainly on where they send their votes.

Ireland is a good example; its apparent membership of the Baltic club was derived from years around the turn of the century when many countries were voting for Ireland, and the pattern of Ireland's votes (boosted, perhaps, by expats from the Baltics) determined its relationships. To determine what is a long-standing relationship and what is a response to artistic differences, we'll have to wait for countries like Serbia and Greece to send poor entries.

Turning now to next year's contest. Azerbaijan has already indicated its intention to enter the 2008 competition, AzTV joined the EBU last January. Monaco and Slovakia may also return for next year, bringing the potential total to 45 songs. Luxembourg broadcaster Tango TV has applied for EBU membership, though this may be too late for next May. It's clear that a different format is needed.

Two ideas spring to mind. First, and the one that the EBU could probably adopt right away, is to have two semi-finals. Split the forty-six (or however many) countries into two halves, with the only weighting being that each semi has two of the Big Four and five other finalists. Then let the finalists present their songs in the opening seven places, before sixteen other countries put forward their songs. Vote as normal, but just the top five from each show go through to the final - and that's something the current voting system can support reliably.

The second idea is probably a little ahead of its time, and is inspired by last week's singles chart. Following the transmission of the contest, people across Britain went to their computers, and spent 79p (€1.15) to download some of the songs. At the end of the week, the chart compilers added them up, and produced the following table. The chart position and points from the UK televote are included:

12 Verka Seduchka (Ukraine, number 28, 8 pts)
10 Serebro (Russia, 97, 6)
8 Marija Serifovic (Serbia, 112, 0)
7 Sarbel (Greece, 114, 10)
6 Ark (Sweden, 121, 7)
5 Hanna (Finland, 122, 0)
4 Fatals Picards (France, 144, 0)
3 Sopho (Georgia, 175, 0)

Entries from Kenan Dogulu (Turkey, 12) and Magdi Ruzsa (Hungary, 2) were present in mid-week updates, but failed to make the top 200.

The logic is simple. Present the songs in the current way, over one or two nights. But don't vote by telephone; instead, people then have a set time (perhaps two days) to purchase their favourite song from their favourite downloadable music vendor. The song with the most purchases in any given country gets 12 points, and so on, and so forth. As we say, this idea is probably a little ahead of its time, but it's worth considering.

This Week And Next

OFCOM's regular fortnightly complaints report included a decision against radio station SGR in Colchester, which had invited listeners to answer questions based on a thinly-disguised commercial for a shop.

British Sky Broadcasting's purchase of a blocking 18% stake in ITV will be referred to the Competition Commission, lest it compromise Independent Television's titular independence.

A lot of series highs were recorded in the week to 13 May. The Eurovision Song Contest led the list, with 8.75 million seeing that diagram in action. The Apprentice had a best week, 5.9 million, HIGNFY's 5.75m was just off the best. The early start meant that Any Dream Will Do was well down, recording 5.25m, and Question of Sport had 4.35m. Two of ITV's Saturday schedule also had records - Grease is the Word took 4.65m, and Gameshow Marathon 4.55m. Not so Millionaire, which fell short of the ITV top 30.

Season highs for Eggheads (2.95m on Monday, in an episode delayed 24 minutes by the snooker) and Great British Menu (2.85m for the Friday final.) Link also peaked on Friday, 2.6m tuning in, and 2.4m saw Apprentice Fired, another best score. On Channel 4, Deal or No Deal rose to 2.85m, and Scrapheap Challenge enters the lists with 2.15m. Interior Rivalry ended on Channel 5, recording 950,000 - again, the highest score of the season.

Pop Idle US drew 780,000 for the Friday performance show on ITV2, where repeats of Gameshow Marathon attracted 420,000. Absent friends: no Deal or No Deal in More4's top ten, thanks to more episodes of Grand Designs than normal. The Eurovision semi-final missed the BBC3 top 10, which required 500,000 viewers; unofficial overnights suggest that it didn't miss by much. G2 was led by Dragons' Den (160,000); QI had 110,000, and HIGNFY 105,000.Challenge's most viewed programme was Friday night's Take It or Leave It, pulling in 130,000 viewers.

Notwithstanding the outstanding regulatory enquiries and suspicions of poor editing, Big Brother returns this Wednesday for another ten million week run. Before then, we have four new daily shows: the much-touted People's Quiz Wildcard (BBC2, 6pm weekdays); Let Me Entertain You (BBC2, 6.30 weekdays); Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1, 7pm weekdays); and Payday (C5, 6.30 weekdays from Tuesday).

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