Billboard’s 200 albums chart is finally catching up to the changes that streaming services have brought to the music industry. A New York Times article reports that Billboard will now account for streaming music sales and listens in a new chart that debuts online on December 4th, 2014, and in December 13th’s print issue.
Since 1956, the Billboard charts have served as the music world’s weekly scorecard. Bringing streaming services on board within the chart data is the biggest change since 1991, when Billboard began using hard numerical album sales data supplied by Nielsen SoundScan. The implementation of hard sales data was a major change to an industry that once based the charts off of record store surveys, according to the New York Times.
“We were always limited to the initial impulse, when somebody purchased an album,” Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s director of charts, said in an interview with the New York Times. “Now we have the ability to look at that engagement and gauge the popularity of an album over time.”
So, with this change to account for streaming, what are some possible results and changes facing the music industry? And, how do they plan to compute the streaming into data that would be able to equate digital sales (or streams) with physical sales?
Let’s look at the second question, first.
According to the Times article,
“SoundScan and Billboard will count 1,500 song streams from services like Spotify, Beats Music, Rdio, Rhapsody and Google Play as equivalent to an album sale. For the first time, they will also count “track equivalent albums” — a common industry yardstick of 10 downloads of individual tracks — as part of the formula for album rankings on the Billboard 200.”
What does that mean?
Well, take for instance Ariana Grande’s newest track “My Everything”. It debuted on the charts at No. 1 back in September, but fell to No. 36 on last week’s chart. However, the album’s sales reached 10,000 units; so, in the new system, Grande’s album would still be on the chart at the 9th position, according to the Times.
In essence, the new ranking system for the Billboard 200 charts would give new highly anticipated pop albums – which often adhere to a pattern of initially selling well, and then plunging down the charts – a longer time in the higher positions.
The main take away from this charting change is that it examines how we consume music in 2014.
In an article with Billboard.com, Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s director of charts, addressed the benefits including streaming, with how it relates to music consumption. He said:
“While an extremely valuable measurement, album sales would mostly capture the initial impulse only, without indicating the depth of consumption thereafter. Someone could listen to the album just once, or listen to one track or a number of tracks 100 times. We are now able to incorporate those plays as part of an album consumption ranking throughout one’s possession of an album, extending beyond the initial purchase or listen.”
While there is an awareness that this change could hurt albums that are not available on streaming services, the industry response has been largely positive and receptive to the changes for the Billboard 200 charts.
“Streaming is the fastest growing configuration we now have and having it included in Billboard’s chart is a welcome improvement,” Jim Urie, president/CEO of Universal Music Distribution, said to Billboard.com.
And, Sony Music Entertainment’s executive vice president of U.S. Sales and Distribution Darren Stupak, also weighed in, saying: “The introduction of this expanded scope chart brings the Billboard 200 more closely in line with the multi-platform, multi-format experience of music fans.”
For chart purists out there, don’t worry; while, the Billboard 200 is getting a makeover, Billboard will continue to publish an album-only based sales chart, according to Billboard.com. It will be branded, Top Album Sales, and maintain the traditional Nielsen SoundScan sales data model.