Not All Streams Are Equal

October 31, 2018

Think of these three scenarios:

  1. A music aficionado with a Spotify premium account (of course) searches for ‘Scorpion’ on release day to hear what’s up,
  2. A person who kind of likes music enough to have Spotify but not enough to pay for an ad-free experience listens to Drake’s album because it’s on every playlist and you really can’t not listen to it,
  3. My uncle clicks on a Drake video on the YouTube home page thinking it’s the 60s hard rock band The Scorpions.

To be honest this is a bad example because Drake was always going to land the #1 ARIA spot and I don’t think any of my uncles like hard rock, but it highlights how not all streams on a song are generating the same revenue.

Half a year ago I posted about how Billboard in the States were changing their streaming rules to:

  1. Assign more points to streams from on-demand services vs. programmed platforms (e.g. Spotify vs. Pandora)
  2. Assign more points to streams from paid subscribers, then ad-supported, and then free users last.

Back home in Aus, the ARIA Charts introduced a similar rule last week to count streams from paid users higher than ‘free ad-supported’ streams higher. Here’s their official bit:

ARIA has confirmed that greater emphasis will now be given to paid subscription streams over free ad-supported streams on the ARIA Chart… The shift to a multi-level streaming approach to the ARIA Chart methodology is consistent with the global push to measure streams in a revenue-reflective and access-based manner. This new methodology replaces the current combined conversion rate, in which all streams are treated equally.

It doesn’t quite say if they are treating free streams without ads differently though (for instance, Bandcamp which is on its list of stores that count). Also Australia won’t be treating on-demand and programmed platforms differently, but I’ve always found that a bit contentious (because a lot of plays on Spotify come from playlists or radio so that’s still a lean-back listener, see Drake example 2).

It’s a weird time for trying to measure popularity for new music because how people consume music is constantly changing, but it’s a good move for ARIA (and other charting companies) to recognise that not all streams are equal. In fact, ARIA only started including counting streaming in its album charts in early 2017, with their streaming conversion factor to weight streaming appropriately with downloads and physical format.

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