To win Eurovision, the annual pan-European song contest that launched the careers of Abba and Celine Dion, you've got to have style, a killer song and enough charm to convince judges from rival countries to vote for you. For the 2013 finals, aired across the region this weekend, the odds are on Denmark, according to Microsoft.
What does a big tech company -- that's a big tech company that didn't invent iTunes, by the way (remember the Zune? Didn't think so) -- know about a kitschy European songfest? Microsoft Research economist David Rothschild has a project called PredictWise that sifts through zillions of data points scooped up from the Internet to predict outcomes of various public events like Eurovision, the Academy Awards, and elections.
PredictWise used its "big data" aggregation to correctly predict the U.S. Presidential election results for every state except Florida. And it got 19 out of 24 categories correct in the 2013 Oscars.
Its Eurovision predictions take odds from gambling sites such as PaddyPower and Betfair, as well as Youtube views and mentions in social media, Rothschild says. Those, he said on his blog, are predictors of the votes of judges drawn from the dozens of countries competing.
This method works "particularly well for Eurovision, firstly, because the markets are extremely robust, and secondly, because the collective wisdom of the users includes the unique politics of the Eurovision voting blocs," Rothschild wrote on his blog. "This means that an American like me -- with detailed knowledge of markets, but little … knowledge of Eurovision -- can make meaningful predictions."
His prediction, as of the time this blog was published: Denmark's Emmelie de Forest, singing "Only Teardrops," has a 50 percent chance of winning. Norway and Ukraine are next with 9.8 percent and 8.4 percent odds respectively. The odds are sure to keep changing until Saturday, when some 125 million viewers will tune in for the Eurovision finals in Malmo, Sweden.
Last year, Sweden won in Baku, Azerbaijan, with "Euphoria" by Loreen, followed by a gang of Russian grandmothers called Buranovskiye Babushki, who got a standing ovation for the dance song, "Party for Everybody."
Great Britain has just a 0.9 percent chance of finishing first, according to Rothschild's data. That won't sit well with Britons, who grumble that without a win since 1997 ("Love Shine a Light," by Katrina and the Waves), the contest must be rigged against them.
To end the drought, the country is putting forward Bonnie Tyler, a veteran Welsh hitmaker who topped the charts with "It's a Heartache," "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Holding Out for a Hero" in the '70s and '80s. She'll ask viewers -- and more important, judges -- to "believe in things that your eyes can't see" with her song "Believe in Me."
If they don't? Well, let's just say the Brits will always have the Beatles.