The Big 5 refers to the countries who automatically qualify to the final, that is, do not have to compete in the semi-finals. The Big 5 was originally the Big 4, when this change came into place back in 2000. The Big 4 consisted of France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. In late 2010, with Italy’s return to the contest in the following year, the EBU announced that Italy would be joining the Big 4, therefore making them the Big 5.
Why do these 5 countries automatically qualify, I hear you ask? Well, it’s all about money. These countries are the biggest financial contributors to the EBU, and it was disappointing for them to spend money, only to not qualify to the final. The decision to implement this rule did not go without controversy, however. Turkey withdrew from the contest citing the Big 5 rule as one of the factors why they were no longer willing to participate in the contest. Despite this, only Germany has won the contest since the Big 5 was put into place.
Qualification and Semi-Finals
Between the years 1997 and 2001, countries qualified to the contest based on their average points totals of their entries over the previous five years. There was a lot of criticism of this approach, as it excluded countries based on past poor results, without consideration of their current attempt, and how good it may be.
From 2004, a semi-final qualifying round was introduced to try fix this problem. The semi-final was held on the Wednesday during Eurovision Week, and was similar to the Grand Final. The highest placed songs qualified to the final, while the lower ranked songs were eliminated. From 2005 to 2007, the semi-final was held on the Thursday, rather than the Wednesday of Eurovision week. This was a good solution to the problem, as all the countries who wished to participate would be able to, regardless of their previous results.
The 10 highest placed countries in the Grand Final who weren’t the Big 4 were guaranteed a place in the Grand Final in the following year, meaning they were automatically qualified for the next year. The remaining countries would have to participate in the semi-final once again in the following year, in the hopes of winning a place in the final.
In 2007, the EBU decided that with the growing number of participating nations, there needed to be two semi-finals. From 2008 onwards, a countries’ position in the previous year then became irrelevant, as everyone other than the Big 4 (later becoming the big 5) had to earn their spot in the final. From each semi-final, 10 countries qualify to the final, totalling to 20. With the Big 5 and host nation, that brings the total number in the final to 26.
In each semi-final, the nation’s participating in that specific semi-final are allowed to vote. Also, the Big 5 nations are allocated a semi-final to vote in. In the Grand Final, all participating nations for that year are allowed to vote, even if they did not qualify to the final.