What year was the Eurovision semi-final system introduced?

Discover in which year the EBU introduced the semi-finals in Eurovision, the reason behind it, and its evolution throughout history up to the present day.

Since its inception in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest has grown exponentially. With just 14 participants, an international television product was launched, gaining presence and relevance over time. This format sparked the interest of many other countries, which joined in later editions. In fact, the most recent addition occurred just 9 years ago with Australia’s participation, hinting at the possibility of new delegations entering in the future.

The problem arose when the number of contestants exceeded the typical duration of a TV broadcast. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) had to propose a solution, which was the introduction of semi-finals. Often overlooked but crucial for the smooth functioning of the format, these preliminary rounds select the countries that will compete for the crystal microphone in the grand final. However, the system has seen slight variations since its implementation.

Evolution of the Eurovision Semi-Final System

One semi-final, 10 qualifiers, and the Big 5 (2004-2007)

In 2004, a total of 36 delegations traveled to Istanbul for the 49th edition of Eurovision. Of these, four were new entries, and six were returns. Due to the large number of participants, which made it impossible to hold a dynamic and fresh TV program, the EBU introduced the concept of a semi-final for the first time. A single qualifying round was held where 10 countries would earn a direct ticket to the final. But not everyone had to go through this preliminary step. How did this system work?

First, the contestants known as the Big 5 (Germany, Spain, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom) were directly qualified for the final without going through any cuts. This concept arose in 1996 when Germany failed to secure a spot in the final, leading to significant financial issues for the EBU that almost jeopardized the edition. Therefore, those countries that contributed the most financially, not only to the contest but also to the organization itself, were exempt from the semi-finals as a privilege. Note: Between 2000 and 2010, Italy did not participate, and this group was known as the Big 4.

On the other hand, during this initial phase, the participants who ranked in the top ten positions in the previous year, excluding the Big 4, had a guaranteed spot in the grand final of the following edition. This way, 14 countries already had a fixed place to compete for victory.

Overall, the lineup was completed with the last ten qualifiers from the semi-final in question. This event used the same voting system applicable each year, in this case, 100% televoting. The hosts, through a blind announcement, revealed the identity of the remaining participants. Ultimately, the final would feature 24 songs in competition, a more manageable number for organizing a televised music show.

Introduction of the Second Semi-Final (2008-Present)

Starting in 2008, the EBU eliminated the privilege of qualification for those who ranked in the top ten positions in the previous year and added two semi-finals. All participating countries, except for the Big 5 and the host, had to go through this elimination round. The distribution of performances in each semi-final was done at the beginning of the season through a draw based on regional proximity, reducing the chances of countries that are geographically close ending up in the same semi-final.

Overall, the same mechanism used before is repeated: a combination of jury and televoting. Ten countries qualify from each semi-final, making for a total of 20 performances that join the five/six with direct entry, resulting in a total of 25/26. In 2023, a final change was made regarding the semi-finals. Since then, only televoting counts in the semi-finals, while in the final, it’s a combination of televoting and jury voting.


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