All music fans may be created equal, but some are now more equal than others.
The Official Charts Company’s latest Singles Chart revamp - as exclusively revealed by Music Week - means that a stream from a subscriber is now worth six times more, in chart terms at least, than a stream from someone listening on an ad-funded service.
It remains to be seen what impact that will have on the charts, or on record company strategy, but it’s clear that the simple days of adding up unit sales are fast disappearing in the rear-view mirror.
The chart changes also, finally, bring video consumption into the chart, meaning those that only consume music via YouTube (which, anyone with teenage children will know, happens to be quite a few people) will finally participate in the chart. Hell, YouTube Music even has its own premium tier these days, thanks to this week’s Music Week cover star Lyor Cohen.
In his explosive interview, Cohen makes the point that the music business should not focus only on subscription services, however. YouTube’s 1.9 billion free users may not bring in as much cash per-person as premium subscribers - hence the biz's perennial dissatisfaction over the so-called 'value gap' - but, overall, their contribution surely remains worth having, especially if Google’s ad sales continue to boom. After all, those free streams now count towards the chart, whatever the per-stream rate.
But even within paid-for services, the industry should start looking at more than just the headline subscriber number. As Spotify and Apple draw neck-and-neck, and Amazon, YouTube et al grow their user base, how much people stream will soon become every bit as important as how much they pay.
Spotify and Apple may soon have an equal number of subscribers in some markets, but does that mean they will contribute an equal share of streams to hit tracks? Will different services prove to be stronger in different demos and for different genres? That data will be crucial to labels and artists looking to break through, especially with varying chart weights applying to streams from different parts of the same service. And that's before the increased streaming rates for accelerated decline kick in: at that point one sale will be worth 1200 free streams.
The race to be first amongst equals starts right here, right now...