Analysis

UK music streams doubled in 2014 as digital revenues overtook physical sales


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711Qha+w8GL._SL1425_Happy new year! But how was the old one for the British music industry? As the last strains of Auld Lang Syne trailed off tonight, industry body the BPI released its figures for physical and digital revenues in 2014.

The big number is £1.03bn: the total retail value of albums, singles and audio streams in the UK in 2014. That’s down 1.6% year-on-year. Why? The retail value of album sales fell 7.8% to £713m, while single-track sales fell 15.3% to £142m. Meanwhile, audio streams were up 65.1% to £175m.

The BPI reports that Brits streamed 14.8m tracks in 2014, nearly double the 7.5m in 2013. That means these streams accounted for 12.6% of overall music “consumption” under the Official Charts Company’s Album Equivalent Sales formula, up from 6.2% in 2013.

In unit terms, the figures reveal a 9% decline in digital album sales – from 32.6m in 2013 to 29.7m in 2014 – and a 14.2% decline in single-track sales from 18.2m in 2013 to 15.6m in 2014. Meanwhile, physical album sales fell 6.9% from 61.4m units in 2013 to 57.2m in 2014.

Yep, CD sales are now officially declining at a slower rate (percentage-wise) than download sales, which fell 7.9% as part of that physical figure. Vinyl sales were up 65.1% to 1.29m units, incidentally.

This all makes 2014 something of a tipping point for the UK, with 48.8% of overall music consumption coming from physical album sales, and 51.2% from digital downloads and audio streams. Although bear in mind that we’re comparing sales with plays here.

Separately, the UK’s Entertainment Retailers Association has released its 2014 figures, which break things down by retail value. It claims that physical sales fell 4.9% to £517.3m in 2014, while downloads fell 14.9% to £338.1m, with the same 65.1% rise to £175m for streaming stat as the BPI.

An important caveat to all these figures: the streaming stats only include audio services like Spotify, but NOT video services like YouTube. The latter is huge for consumption of music, if not necessarily for actual revenues for the music industry. Figuring out how much money labels, publishers and musicians (songwriters included) are making from YouTube is one of the key industry challenges for 2015.

Although not quite as significant an omission, the streaming figures – provided by the OCC – also don’t include SoundCloud. That wouldn’t change the revenue figures, but it would be interesting to understand how much consumption it drives. Still, the BPI sees more growth ahead from paid streaming services.

“With major new premium services from Apple and YouTube set to boost subscription streaming even further in2015, we believe the UK’s world-leading music industry is strongly positioned for future expansion,” said BPI boss Geoff Taylor, in a statement.

ERA boss Kim Bayley pointed out that her organisation’s figures – which cover games and video as well as music – show that more than half of UK entertainment revenues now come from retail channels that didn’t exist a decade ago.

Too often the debate about the future of entertainment is portrayed as a battle between physical and digital. This second successive year of growth demonstrates entertainment is becoming a mixed, multi-channel economy in which streaming, digital and physical formats can both prosper, each satisfying different consumer needs,” she said – with “growth” referring to the overall figure for music, video and games.

The BPI’s announcement includes a chart for the most-streamed artists in 2014 in the UK: led by Ed Sheeran, with Sam Smith, Arctic Monkeys, Eminem, Calvin Harris, Coldplay, One Direction, Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Bastille making up the top ten.

The BPI is understandably keen to talk up the success of Sheeran, Smith and other British artists across both sales and streams. It picks out the 1.7m sales of Sheeran’s ‘X’ since its release in June, noting that 426k of those sales came in the last two weeks of the year. Sam Smith’s 1.2m album sales and One Direction’s billion-Spotify-streams milestone are also highlighted as achievements.

The body also notes that all 10 top-selling albums and seven of the 10 most-streamed artists in the UK this year were British.

Stuart Dredge

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