In 2018, Billboard will have multiple weighted tiers of streaming plays for the Hot 100, which take into account paid subscription streams, ad-supported streams, and programmed streams. Streaming, along with all-genre radio airplay and digital songs sales data, make up the three metrics of the Hot 100’s methodology.
The Billboard 200 will now include two tiers of on-demand audio streams: paid subscription audio streams and ad-supported audio streams. The chart will continue to not incorporate video streams. The Billboard 200 ranks the most popular albums of the week based on multi-metric consumption, which includes traditional album sales, track equivalent albums, and streaming equivalent albums.
The shift to a multi-level streaming approach to Billboard’s chart methodology is a reflection of how music is now being consumed on streaming services, migrating from a pure on-demand experience to a more diverse selection of listening preferences (including playlists and radio), and the various options in which a consumer can access music based on their subscription commitment.
This shift sparked quite a bit of journalistic hand-wringing over what it would mean for the charts to start favoring paying streamers over non-paying streamers. A concern expressed was that this was Billboard (i.e. the Music Industry) was pressing down their thumb on the less affluent and giving more voice to those with money. A criticism that I personally didn’t agree with, because charts should gauge popularity but also should factor in how much money is actually being made. That idea wasn’t unreasonable when the charts were just airplay and sales, but the rise of streaming threw a wrench in that system.
Well, a couple weeks into these new changes—which you can check of the official breakdowns here
—and I may not want to say this too loudly but to quote Lil Uzi Vert: “It do not matter.” The initial shakeout on the chart shows little meaningful fluctuation of a particular genre or style on the chart.
My gut and light reporting says that this adjustment won’t be making a large wave in the charts, but the first week of changes arrived alongside Drake’s Scorpion which is dominating the Hot 100. People I spoke with over the last few weeks seem a bit unsure if this new rule would help or hurt the Canadian rapper; last week the New York Times reported
that it aided in his success:
Since a majority of Drake’s streams came from Apple Music — which has no free tier — he was helped slightly by the new rule; “Scorpion” was credited this week with about 50,000 more sales than it would have before.
So how did decreasing the value of Spotify’s free tier and YouTube end up helping Drake his first week? I slightly touched on this question a couple weeks ago for Music Business Worldwide
, when I wrote about the quiet sidelining of album windowing:
According to industry sources, specifically in the United States and in genres like rap, a majority of plays occur on Spotify’s Premium – not its free – tier. Who would’ve thought it? People who pay for music are the ones who consume the most.
That trends even holds up across services where Apple Music consistently outperforms Spotify on major album releases with Drake’s Scorpion with 170 million streams on Apple Music compared to 132 million streams on Spotify being the latest example.
More direct to the matter, what I’ve heard and seen is that for artists like Drake his plays come in the order of: Apple Music, Spotify’s subscription, then Spotify ad-support. The obvious observation is that people who pay for music, consume more music. I don’t know all the stats for all the genres, and I’m sure catalog material must playout in its own unique way, but what I’ve seen is repeated that new release outperform with those who are paying a monthly fee. That means for the Billboard charts that the charts are in fact not ignoring an audience but simply following where the audience of music’s most dedicated fans are in 2018.