Regular participants in 1992. Yugoslaviais coloured in red: 1991 was the last year in which that nation participated under one name.
The number of countries participating each year has steadily grown over the course of the years, from seven participants in 1956 to over 20 in the late 1980s. In 1993 there were 25 countries participating in the competition, including, for the first time that year, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, entering independently due to the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Because the Contest is a live television programme, a reasonable time limit must be imposed on the duration of the show. In recent years the nominal limit has been three hours, with the broadcast occasionally overrunning.
Pre-selections and relegation
Since 1993, there have been more countries wishing to enter the Contest than there is time to reasonably include all their entries in a single TV show. Several relegation or qualification systems have, therefore, been tried in order to limit the number of countries participating in the competition in any given year. The 1993 Contest introduced two new features: firstly, a pre-selection competition was held in Ljubljana in which sevennew countries fought for three places in the international competition. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia took part in Kvalifikacija za Millstreet; and the three former Yugoslav republics, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, qualified for a place in the international final. Also to be introduced that year was relegation. The lowest-placed countries in the 1993 score table were forced to skip the next year, in order to allow the countries which failed the 1993 pre-selection into the 1994 Contest. The 1994 Contest included also—for the first time—Lithuania, Poland and Russia.
Relegation continued through 1994 and 1995; but in 1996 a different pre-selection system was used, in which nearly all the countries participated. Audio tapes of all the songs were sent to juries in each of the countries some weeks before the television show. These juries selected the songs which would then proceed to be included in the international broadcast. Norway, as the host country in 1996 (having won the 1995 Contest), automatically qualified and was therefore excluded from the necessity of going through the pre-selection.
One country which failed to qualify in the 1996 pre-selection was Germany. As one of the largest financial contributors to the EBU, their non-participation in the Contest brought about a funding issue, which the EBU would have to consider.
Since 2000, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain have automatically qualified for the Eurovision final, regardless of their positions on the scoreboard in previous Contests. They earned this special status by being the four biggest financial contributors to the EBU (without which the production of the Eurovision Song Contest would not be possible). Due to their untouchable status, these countries became known as the “Big Four”.On 31 December 2010, it was announced on the official participation list published by the EBU that Italy would automatically qualify into the final, thus joining the other qualifiers to become the “Big Five”. Germany became the first “Big Four” country to win the Contest since the rule was made in 2000, when Lena Meyer-Landrut won the 2010 Contest.
From 1997 to 2003, countries qualified for each Contest based on the average of their points totals for their entries over the previous five years.However, there was much discontent voiced over this system because a country could be punished by not being allowed to enter merely because of poor previous results, which did not take into account how good a fresh attempt might be. This led the EBU to create what was hoped would be a more permanent solution to the problem, which was to have two shows every year: a qualification round, and the grand final. In these two shows there would be enough broadcast time to include all the countries which wished to participate, every year. The qualification round became known as the Eurovision Semi-Final. In 2008 due to the number of nations entering, it changed very slightly as two separate semi finals were created, once going from the first semi a nation would enter straight into the final as would those progressing from the second semi.