Music Business

The Billboard Charts: Can They Be Valid Without Including YouTube?

1Tracking the position of a song or album was much easier for Billboard when such things were based strictly on sales, but in the age of streaming they've been forced to adapt how they get their numbers. That said, one service is still being conspicuously left out: YouTube.


Guest post by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0

Determining the position of a song or album on the Billboard charts used to be so easy when it was based strictly on sales, but not anymore. Those days are now long gone as music is consumed on a dizzying array of platforms with sales playing less and less of a factor. To its credit, Billboard has done its best to keep up with the times, and frequently updates the criteria for formulating its charts. Recently the company announced yet another update that will begin in 2018, and while most of the changes successfully mirror the new music distribution landscape, one major music source is being left out of the equation and it may be a big mistake. In other words, is it possible to have a valid chart without YouTube view data?

The 2018 Billboard charts will weigh music streams differently, and what looks to be more fairly. For instance, currently there are two tiers of streaming music. Streams from an on-demand service like Apple Music or Spotify are weighted higher than one from a radio-like programmed tier like Pandora or Slacker Radio. The new chart criteria will add a new tier that will distinguish between paid and free on-demand streams, with paid on-demand carrying the greatest weight, free on-demand a somewhat lesser weight, and programmed the least weight.

While this stream weighting measurement makes total sense, the exclusion of YouTube view data does not.

The argument against YouTube, according to a Billboard article, can be found in the following quote by Darius Van Arman, who is chairman of the A2IM coalition of independent labels – “YouTube streams should not count towards music consumption charts, because when someone streams a video, it is not clear whether they are doing so for the visuals or for the audio. Something that has nothing to do with music could be driving the views.”

It’s funny how you never heard anyone at a label complaining about this “problem” from the early days of MTV and music video until now. If this is such a concern, perhaps labels should stop making music videos and dissolve Vevo if picture is getting in the way of music? Not much chance of that, I would say.

And this – “Music label executives are already irked by YouTube streams inclusion in the Billboard’s singles chart, “The Hot 100.” These executives point out how easy it is to increase traffic via bots and that YouTube decides what to serve up to users after they select a video. YouTube requires no login information, making it extremely easy to access.”

Everything online can and will be gamed, at least until corrected. It’s not like the streaming services are immune though. How about the “fake streams” on Spotify, for instance?

1That logic against YouTube seems a bit dubious at best, but what may actually be at the heart of the matter comes later. “YouTube’s ad revenue is estimated at $3.5 billion in 2017, according to eMarketer, and while it also has a small subscription business, YouTube pays out micro-pennies for plays. The music labels call it the ‘Value Gap.'”

In other words, the labels are upset that they get paid less from YouTube than the streaming networks. so could it be that they pressured Billboard to exclude the service from being counted on the charts? After all, it’s the music industry that supports Billboard with advertising.

Look at it this way – YouTube is still the primary way that consumers discover new music online, but the fact of the matter is that it’s an on-demand service in that the user has to actively access the video. Since the vast majority of these views are ad-supported, they should be counted in Billboard’s new middle “free on-demand” tier, or even add a new one with a different weight, but to totally exclude YouTube from the equation means that the charts continue to look at less than the full music consumption picture.

While many in the industry feel that YouTube isn’t paying its fair share to artists, labels, songwriters and publishers (and they may have a point), it’s still a legitimate source of music consumption and should be treated that way.

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