From 23 February, the UK’s official albums chart will include streaming as well as sales.
The Official Charts Company announced the long-awaited change in policy this morning, complete with methodology designed to stop albums with one or two big hits benefiting disproportionately.
The OCC is taking in data from Spotify, Deezer, Napster, Google Play, O2 Tracks, Rara, Rdio and Xbox Music for the chart, with the first rankings under the new formula due to be published on 1 March.
The UK is behind other countries like Sweden and the US in its addition of streams to the album charts, but that’s a direct result of the OCC taking its time to gauge the impact of the chart formulae in those markets, and come up with its own process based on those lessons. Here’s that formula:
“Official Charts will take the 12 most-streamed tracks from each album. The top 2 will be down-weighted in line with the average of the next 10. These streams will then be added together and divided by 1,000. This ‘stream factor’ will then be added to the physical/digital sales of the album.”
“Initial indications are that the impact on actual chart positions will be modest to begin with, but we expect this to grow as streaming becomes increasingly popular,” said OCC boss Martin Talbot, with the organisation citing Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ and Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’ as three examples of the scale of hits that could skew album stats under a different formula.
Public stats from Spotify show the challenge that has to be grappled with here. Most of the tracks on Ed Sheeran’s ‘x’ have between 20m and 40m streams on that service, but ‘Sing’ has more than 141m, Don’t has 153m, and Thinking Out Loud has nearly 205m. Under the new chart system, the latter two would be down-weighted by the first would not.
Avicii’s 2013 album ‘True’ – one of the biggest streaming hits so far – is even more skewed between hits and album tracks. The latter range between 4.5m and 21.5m in Spotify plays, but ‘Wake Me Up’ has nearly 330m while ‘Hey Brother’ has 200m.
Who’s missing from the Official Charts Company’s methodology? YouTube, for one. It’s less controversial than its omission from the official singles chart – until recently, YouTube was very much a singles service in terms of music consumption, and if people were listening to full albums, they were unlicensed uploads.
The launch of YouTube Music Key, with its on-demand free and paid tiers, has changed that. It’s still in limited beta, which may explain why it’s not yet part of the UK albums chart formula. We’d expect that to change when it launches properly.
What about the “modest” impact on chart positions predicted by Talbot? Sweden is a difficult market to use as a guide here: not only is streaming much more mainstream there, but also the downloads market never became that big a deal.
As a result, there were some more noticeable effects when streams were added to the albums chart: when we canvassed Swedish opinions in June 2014 for a report, we heard that genres like dance and R&B had benefited at the expense of the schlager music popular with older consumers – a CD-focused audience at a time when a relatively small number of sales was required for an album to chart.
In the same issue, we also looked at the US – this was before Billboard added streams into its albums chart in November 2014 – and heard Spotify claiming that once that happened, good (and often leftfield) albums would have more chance to build their profile over time.
“A sales-based chart is quite ephemeral – people purchase and then there is decay. On Spotify you see records building. If you look at our top albums in the US right now, you’ll see Drake on there with an album that has been out for a long, long time,” said its US head of content Steve Savoca at the time.
“Then you’ll see a record like Lana Del Rey at #5 but it will probably chart at #1 this week in the sales-based chart. Chances are, in further weeks, Lana Del Rey will probably grow and climb the [Spotify] charts, but from a sales perspective it will decay. There is an inverse dynamic there.”