Streaming data will be included alongside downloads in the UK Top 40 singles chart in a move which breaks the 60-year link between buying a piece of music and its position in the weekly sales round-up.
George Ergatoudis, head of music at BBC Radio 1, has said that the station will soon include plays from digital streaming services, such as Spotify and Deezer, in the official UK Top 40. The new chart could be launched as soon as this Summer, he suggested.
The plans, announced at an industry invent, will see the data from the currently separate sales and streaming charts, compiled by the Official Charts Company (OCC), merged into one Top 100.
Whilst supporters of the move say the combined chart will deliver the most accurate representation yet of the nation’s most popular songs, the merger could see paid-for downloads submerged by millions of “free” plays from streaming services.
Last year 183 million singles were bought in the UK, a fall of 3.4%. Digital downloads, mainly from iTunes accounted for 96% of the tracks bought. But streaming doubled in popularity, with UK fans listening to an estimated 7.4 billion tracks from advertiser-funded or subscription services.
The streaming chart could be extended to include Shazam, the song capture service which records 15 million “tags” a day, as well as video views on Vevo and YouTube, now the most popular source of music consumption, where hit songs can attract billions of views.
The most-viewed videos tend to be sexually explicit offerings by artists such as Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, or novelty clips like Psy’s Gangnam Style.
A chart incorporating billions of “free” music and video plays, at the expense of songs people have actively paid to purchase, would prove meaningless, critics fear.
Streams would be “weighted”, so that they count for less than a paid-for single in the new chart, OCC sources indicated. A metric, such as “one iTunes download is worth ten streams”, is being agreed with retailers and record companies.
YouTube and Vevo would not be included in the first phase of the streaming chart. The chart compilers, committed to preserving the credibility of the weekly listings, first published in 1952, are moving cautiously.
An OCC spokesman said: “We’ve always said we are monitoring the rise of streaming as a form of consumption, but nothing has changed. Streaming is growing fast, so we are looking at it, but we are currently going through the ‘how’, before we work out the ‘when’.”
David Joseph, the CEO of Universal Music, which holds the biggest industry market share, said the UK charts risked becoming irrelevant if they didn’t incorporate streaming soon.
The US Billboard Hot 100 has incorporated streaming data since 2007. The US chart also includes radio airplay and You Tube views, including spoof versions of songs, which have become hugely popular hits in their own right.
One consequence of a streaming chart is that the biggest hits tend to linger longer, potentially blocking new entries.
Artists like Thom Yorke, who have snubbed Spotify, which currently has 24 million users, over its royalty payment rates, may find that their chart position suffers as a result.
New and independent artists may struggle to break into the top 40 if their songs aren’t available on streaming services, or actively promoted to users whose playlists favour the most familiar tracks.
The chart would be less easily manipulated by political campaigns, which can currently get a song into the top 40 via a few thousand download sales.
However “indie” bands may not necessarily suffer from a streaming-incorporated chart. The most streamed artist in 2013 was Arctic Monkeys followed by the Brit-award nominated London group, Bastille.
Apple is rolling out a streaming radio service to combat a decline in paid-for downloads of albums and singles as services such as Spotify, which offers ad-free, unlimited music consumption from £4.99 a month, have begun to eat into record sales.
Vevo indicated that it is in discussions for its data to be included in the official streaming chart. That move could be precursor to video views being included in the new integrated chart at a future date.