It’s hard to overstate the impact of Billboard’s decision to factor streaming into its chart rankings. Among other alterations, songs that don’t fit neatly into pop radio formats have a clearer path to #1, albums can debut in the top 10 with hardly any sales, and curated playlists on streaming services have taken on an importance comparable to radio exposure. It’s a whole new world out there.
The Hot 100 singles chart worked streaming into its formula in 2012, and the Billboard 200 albums chart followed suit in late 2014, setting off a paradigm shift for tracking music’s popularity to go along with the paradigm shift in consumer habits. The methods are still imperfect; how exactly do you compare the value of a one-time purchase (and the wildly varying playcounts that come with it) versus a stream, or 10 streams, or 100 streams? Should an album’s ranking be affected by streams and purchases of individual tracks — and if so, how much? But as listening and purchasing behavior evolves, so must the charts, so Billboard continues to tinker with its formulas.
The latest round of changes have to do with how various kinds of streams are weighted. Specifically, streams on paid subscription services will now count for more than streams on “ad-supported services (such as YouTube) or on the non-paid tiers of hybrid paid/ad-supported services.” So if you’re using the free version of Spotify, your listens will count for less than if you were paying a subscription fee.
Explains the report, “It is Billboard’s belief that assigning values to the levels of consumer engagement and access — along with the compensation derived from those options — better reflects the varied user activity occurring on these services.” So essentially they’re assigning more value to the music people are actually paying for.
Billboard has also opted not to add video streams to the Billboard 200 rankings, although video streams continue to inform the Hot 100 rankings. So if you’re watching Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” video on loop, it’s boosting the song’s Hot 100 position but not DAMN.‘s placement on the Billboard 200. But streaming “HUMBLE.” on Apple Music or a paid Spotify account will boost both the album and the song.
Here’s their summary of the changes to each chart:
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.
Anyone confused? Meet me in the comments and we’ll sort this out.