YouTube Free Streams Given Less Weight on Billboard’s Hot 100 Charts

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Five years ago, Billboard changed how it ranks Hot 100 music singles. Music ranking used to be based solely on sales, but Billboard changed that by taking digital streams into account. 

At first, both paid and free streams were given equal weight. Due to pressure from Apple Music and various music labels, Billboard made adjustments last year to give higher priority to paid streams. The decision is said to encourage artists to promote their singles on paid streaming services to rise up in the charts.

How Billboard adjusted the Hot 100 ranking

When Billboard started incorporating digital streams into its music charts, it gave equal weight to both paid and free streams. This means a single stream from a paid service, like Apple Music, is treated similarly to a free stream viewed on YouTube. 

In 2018, Billboards started categorizing music streams into two tiers. Streams from Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube, and other on-demand service are given a higher weight than programmed services like Pandora or Slacker Radio. Later that year, Billboard expanded the tiers from two to three. Paid streams like Apple’s were given the highest weight. Free streams from YouTube were given a lesser weight, and programmed streams are prioritized the least. 

Music executives are against YouTube

The argument against YouTube’s free streams started way back in October 2017. Jimmy Iovine, head of Apple Music at that time, has been vocal against YouTube’s growing influence on the music industry. In an interview with NBC News, he said that artists usually go to YouTube to promote their work as a free video stream is treated equally as a paid stream. He chided YouTube as “fake news” as YouTube’s traffic is said to be easily manipulated.

Music labels agreed with Iovine. According to music label executives: 

  • YouTube’s traffic can be easily increased with bots. 
  • YouTube has the final say on what to serve next to users after they have watched a video.
  • YouTube is easily accessible, as anyone can use YouTube without the need to log in.

Observers believe that YouTube’s growing influence over music consumption has upset these music labels as they are getting less revenue from YouTube’s advertising than from paid streaming services.

Darius Van Arman, chairman of the A2IM coalition of independent music labels, stated, “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.” He added, “If there is a consensus that YouTube streams should count towards music consumption charts, then at the very least it should be weighed significantly less than those streams from properly licensed, on-demand services that reflect more active choosing by consumers.”

What this means for music artists

Billboard’s decision should not be viewed as a negative point to establish your presence on the prominent video platform. All these moves and arguments against YouTube just show that YouTube remains a very popular platform, a primary source for music online, and is a danger to the dinosaur-aged record industry. These are all reasons for musicians to continue using YouTube to propagate their music. If you’re still a new artist, getting those high YouTube views won’t be an easy job. If you do the right things though, it’s never impossible to get a strong following on YouTube and kickstart your music career in no time. Who knows, your single could still make it to Billboard’s Hot 100 list one day.

Date: September 11, 2019 / Categories: Explainer, / Author: michb


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