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Nielsen’s US mid-year stats show audio-streaming slowdown


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There are plenty of big numbers contained within Nielsen Music’s latest mid-year report for the US recorded-music market. Covering the first half of 2019, it leads with the news that there were 507bn on-demand streams in that period. That includes 333.5bn on-demand audio streams, up 27.8% year-on-year, and 174.2bn on-demand video streams, up 39.6%. Combined, those 507.7bn streams were up 31.6% on the corresponding period in 2018.

The now-familiar message of streaming’s growth making up for the decline of other formats (in this report: physical album sales were down 15.1%; digital album sales down 24.4% and digital track sales down 25.6%) comes through clearly in Nielsen’s latest figures. There are plenty of smaller trends highlighted in the report too: from the rise of trap and mumble rap to TV and film-fuelled bumps for Mötley Crüe, Elton John and, er, Michael Jackson – plus success for K-Pop artists, Latin American women and ‘Baby Shark’. The 1.3bn on-demand streams so far for ‘Old Town Road’ also get a shoutout in the report.

There’s some good data on how different genres perform across different formats. For example, the fact that ‘Urban Contemporary’ stations account for a mere 3.6% share of radio listening, while R&B / Hip-Hop reigns supreme in streaming, with a 29.6% share of total on-demand streams. Or witness the fact that rock accounts for 43.6% of physical album sales, but just 14% of on-demand streams.

Without taking a glass-half-empty approach to these figures, it’s important to compare the 2019 mid-year figures to the 2018 report. In the first half of last year, the 403.4bn of total on-demand streams was up 41.6% year-on-year, splitting out into 45.4% growth for audio streams and 34.7% growth for video streams. So, while growth in the latter has accelerated year-on-year (to 39.6% according to Nielsen’s new report) the growth of audio streams has slowed from 45.4% to 27.8%.

Blame podcasts! Grab the flaming pitchforks and march on Spotify HQ! Or not: there isn’t an immediate danger of the audio-streams metric tipping into decline in the US, but the trend should energise efforts within the industry to continue driving growth in the streaming audience, and in the engagement of that audience. That said, Nielsen’s figures cover overall consumption: there are layers beneath that (for example, the relative growth of paying subscribers’ on-demand streams versus free, ad-supported listeners’ on-demand streams) that should also be taken into account.

Stuart Dredge

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