Billboard Changed The Charts Again, Does It Matter?
6 min read

Billboard Changed The Charts Again, Does It Matter?

Hello, best wishes to all reading this week. I got some feedback the last couple weeks about links not working. Hopefully they’re working fine this week and if not do let me know.  The usual still applies all comments and questions can be sent to Well, let’s chat about the Billboard charts for a little bit this week.

Billboard Pivots Again

Let’s take a small step back to fall 2017: Billboard announced a change to their Hot 100 and Top 200 charts (Emphasis is mine):

"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 trend 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.

YouTube Slowing Loses Their Streaming Crown

The other major player effected by this chart shift is YouTube. Over the last five years digital downloads started to crater, and YouTube, while much slower, is starting to see a similar effect. One of YouTube’s great assets was easy access to any song you wanted to hear, but rather quickly Apple Music and Spotify ate up that space. Five years ago YouTube would’ve been the go to mobile streaming option for music for a single song but in 2018 there are many options that reduce the YouTube’s formally rather unique space in the market.

A small but telling example I keep noticing is that even on fairly underground rap video fans constantly request that some music get put on Apple Music or Spotify. There is a generation rising up where on-demand audio, not video, streaming is one’s first option.

Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is certainly one of 2018’s most striking music videos and why it immediately shot to no. 1. There is a viral quality to YouTube videos that just isn’t the case with Spotify or Apple Music, which are effectively locked to their respective services and thus far harder to spread and share. (Also, I harp on this all the time but people use music streaming apps for music and background listening getting them to watch a video is just painfully backwards)

Highly popular YouTube channels like WorldStarHipHop or Trap Nation are not going anywhere, because even if Billboard reduce the value of YouTube streams on the charts, labels still need to use as many platforms to promote up-and-coming acts. The music video, and YouTube to a degree, are just seeing their position in the music ecosystem shift. Music videos originally were promotional material for albums and the rise of dedicated music streaming apps is again putting that role back on videos. YouTube is where you funnel people to a Spotify or Apple Music subscription rather than the iTunes store or Walmart.

Billboard’s changes might’ve cause a few alarm bells, but I think the impact is going to be relatively mute. Music is gravitating towards platforms that pay out more money and making sure from the early stages a fanbase migrates in that direction. Music videos aren’t going anywhere because they’re one of the best digital form music marketing that exists. However I don’t feel there is a great lose that the Billboard charts aren’t counting their marketing budget to the charts. A quip could be made about why then count radio...but where would the fun in that be.

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