Music Streams Join Downloads In U.S. Charts, UK Waits

What is the best way to quantify artists’ popularity, as more music consumption moves from downloads to streams?

In the U.S., Billboard magazine will on Wednesday unveil a new on-demand streaming chart whose data will also augment its influential Hot 100 chart, WSJ says. But British chart compilers are not yet making the change.

Billboard is compiling the new chart together with the National Association of Recording Merchandisers using data from Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Mog, Muve and possibly others, audited by Nielsen.

It’s a recognition of the new scale that the unlimited-access model has achieved so quickly. Although there were only 16.4 million paying music subscribers in the world at 2011’s end, according to the IFPI industry umbrella, listeners’ influence is growing…

Customers, together with their free-listening freemium peers, generated 494 million song streams in one recent March week alone, compared with 27.1 million a la carte song download sales, on which charts are traditionally, if partially, comprised, according to Nielsen data in Wall Street Journal

Martin Talbot, managing director of the UK’s Official Charts Company, tells paidContent, however:

“In the UK, our Official Charts have always been based purely on genuine sales – unlike in the U.S., where the Billboard Hot 100 has long since mixed sales with airplay information.

“Streaming information is simply an extension of this methodology. Also, in the UK we are continuing to see a surge of interest in buying singles

“2011 was a record year for single sales, with 178 million units sold through the year, the highest ever – 10 percent up on 2010 and still growing in 2012– while streaming is still an emerging service for UK music fans.”

Nowadays substantially all U.S. and UK music singles are bought as downloads. But, though back-catalogue songs are available to purchase digitally in a way they weren’t physically, it is rare that long-tail songs surface in charts. That is something which requires a concerted campaign, like those which have robbed UK X-Factor winners of Christmas number-one slots.

Including streamed songs in multi-format charts also would have little effect on overall diversity, according to Billboard’s trial runs, WSJ says.