Comparing Ed Sheeran comeback numbers on Spotify and YouTube


Given the global success of his last album ‘X’, the return of Ed Sheeran was always going to see some big numbers. What’s interesting is to compare those figures across two of the most prominent streaming services: Spotify and YouTube.

Specifically, Sheeran released two new tracks – ‘Shape of You’ and ‘Castle on the Hill’ – on Friday, after a week of teasers across his social media profiles.

The tracks came with a precise marketing campaign pushing fans to Spotify, Apple Music and other audio streaming services ahead of YouTube.

Sheeran’s redirection link directed people to (in descending order of importance) Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, Deezer and Amazon to hear/buy the new songs, but not to YouTube despite both songs having official lyric videos.

Perhaps not an outright YouTube snub rather than a launch-day deprioritisation of the video service in favour of the audio-streaming services and download stores. As we reported on Friday, these services all rewarded Sheeran with prominent promotion for his new material.

On Spotify, the This Is: Ed Sheeran playlist (even though it only has 32k followers) is ranked at the top of the Popular Playlists category and both tracks lead that playlist. More significantly, ‘Shape Of You’ was the lead track on Today’s Top Hits (12.66m followers) while both tracks opened Hot Hits UK (1.27m followers).

Meanwhile on Apple Music, they were the top two tracks on the Best of The Week playlist, Today’s Hits and The A-List: Pop as well as ‘Shape Of You’ being the lead track of the Friday Feeling playlist on its day of release.


Apple Music’s numbers aren’t public, but Spotify’s are: as of Monday morning GMT, ‘Shape of You’ stood at 16.2m plays on Spotify, while ‘Castle on the Hill’ stood at 13m. And on YouTube? The lyric videos had reached 17.1m and 16.5m plays respectively on Google’s video service.

Spotify’s public stats do not update in real-time, so we’d expect the two songs’ Spotify streams to overtake YouTube later today when the figures are updated. It is also worth remembering that Spotify has just 10% of the userbase of YouTube – insert your own argument about how many of YouTube’s billion-plus users are consuming music, obviously.

Factor in Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play and Napster and it’s clear that Sheeran’s first-weekend streams for his new songs were comfortably bigger on audio-streaming services than on YouTube, although be cautious about grand theories about What This All Means.

‘The Shape of You’ and ‘Castle on the Hill’ were released on YouTube at the same time they went to Spotify, Apple Music and their rivals, so there was no windowing happening here. They were lyric videos, too, so Sheeran can expect a spike if and when ‘official’ videos for the tracks are released in the coming weeks.

Still, all these figures are useful in gauging the continually-shifting sands of the current music market. And also a reminder that when assessing an artist and label’s priorities, it’s not just about where they make new music available, but which of those platforms they are nudging fans towards.

Eamonn Forde

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