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Billboard decides 1250 streams equals one album sale (so long as the listener was paying)

By | Published on Wednesday 2 May 2018


Billboard has confirmed details of its impending chart policy revamp. The trade mag and its best buds over at stats firm Nielsen are changing how they count streams when compiling the various American music charts.

Basically paid-for streams are going to be worth more than free streams when it comes to said charts because – well – mainly because Jimmy Iovine had a moan, I think. I mean, imagine a free Spotify stream having as much weight in the charts as a paid-for Apple stream!

The shift to streaming has created all sorts of challenges for chart compilers. First, how to mix streams in with CD and download sales. And then secondly, how to combine data from the different kinds of streaming platforms, including free, paid-for, on-demand, personalised radio and user-upload sites.

Chart overseers in different countries have gone with different approaches, none of which are entirely satisfactory. Though, at the end of the day, the music charts are just a marketing platform really (and/or a means for point scoring within the industry), so no one should really lose too much sleep over the quirks and limitations in any one chart’s methodology.

Billboard confirmed last year that it was planning a rejig to make premium streams more influential in its musical lists. More details have now been revealed. Billboard’s main singles chart, the Hot 100, which was already confusing because it has long included radio airplay data alongside sales figures, will continue to count streams on most platforms, but from July there’ll be a points system depending on how the stream was accessed.

Explains Billboard: “[The chart] will have multiple weighted tiers of streaming plays for the Hot 100, which take into account paid subscription streams (representing a full point value per play), ad-supported streams (representing a 2/3-point value per play) and programmed streams (representing a 1/2-point value per play). Those values are then applied to the chart’s formula alongside all-genre radio airplay and digital song sales data”.

On the main albums chart, the Hot 200, you have the additional challenge of equating track streams with album sales. In that countdown, Billboard says: “[This chart] will now include two tiers of on-demand audio streams. Tier 1: paid subscription audio streams (equating 1,250 streams to 1 album unit) and Tier 2: ad-supported audio streams (equating 3,750 streams to 1 album unit)”.

A further review of all this musical counting will be conducted later this year, with plans already in the pipeline to add a further distinction – between fully-on-demand and partially on-demand premium streams – in 2019. Yay maths!