It has been a long and curious journey for the UK singles charts since Maurice Kinn first launched a handful of record shops in late 1952 to compile a top 12 of the best-selling new records.
During this time, the charts have grown with dedicated countdowns for singles and albums as well as compilations and even genre and format specific charts. It survived the hectic multi-formatting wars of the 1980s and 1990s and finally adjusted to digitization with the introduction of downloads in 2004. A decade later, streams were added, making the UK chart for the first time something beyond pure sales.
As the market evolves quickly, the chart also needs to stick to a track of relevance: the latest changes are adding video streams for the first time and a new weighting system for "premium" streams (those on paid subscription services). and "free" streams (those on ad-supported services like YouTube and the free Spotify level).
When streams were added to the single chart for the first time in 2014, a conversion metric was introduced in which 100 streams resembled a sale "the same" – since the sale was the only one on which the chart was built. Since streaming became the new gravitational center for the record business, it had to be recalibrated, and so in early 2017 it was announced that 150 streams would be equivalent to a "sell". The most recent changes, effective as of the July 6 release, will show a new measure of 100 premium streams or 600 ad-supported streams that match a "sell".
Although markets such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain completely exclude ad-supported streams from their charts, the official charts company in the UK felt that they needed to be included in order to get a more complete picture of the consumption and popularity of music in the UK to get their charts.
"We think it's important to count the free streams because there are people who can not afford to pay for a subscription or do not have access to credit cards," says Martin Talbot, managing director of OCC. "They could be young kids or teens who do not have credit cards – or they could be low-income families – it could count against certain genres of music if we remove them completely."
Is it feared that the younger consumers, who are the lifeblood of a healthy single-chart and the strongest users of free streaming platforms, will dramatically slow down their contribution and make the image stale in their mid-teens through greater weighting of pay streams and lower weight of free streams?
Talbot argues that this will not be the case. He points to a "shadow" card that OCC quietly ran along the public chart last year to detect and intercept anomalies. He claims that the only change is that newer tracks could get a few places higher in the top 40, and older tracks could disappear from the chart a few weeks faster.
"It's not like there's going to be a lot of Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones," he says. Yes, there are young people using free streaming services, but there are also young people who use video that we did not count before – free services like YouTube are an important part of their discovery of music So we include all that. "
On the video side, this is partly a reaction to blurring the boundaries between audio and video platforms, with Spotify and Apple Music slowly adding videos whose games did not previously count to the chart and which may have exploited the audio streams on the same services ,
There are, however, some important category reservations here. Free videos featuring official videos on YouTube fall into the 600 streams same-a-sale category. Streams of videos in the new subscription service from YouTube, Apple Music, or the Spotify paid level, however, fall into the 100 Streams category. Playback of User Generated Content (UGC) videos – such as Lyric videos or Lip Sync videos created by fans – does not count. This is partly to avoid the embarrassingly unfortunate timing of adding video streams to the US graphic repeating in early 2013 just as the short-lived and meme-centered Harlem Shake reached its peak. While the OCC does not rule out the inclusion of UGC video in the future, they will not affect the chart for the time being.
It's all a pencil-chewing set of metrics for the average fan to wrap around, but for the record industry, it's essentially the reverse engineering of the revenue generated by these different types of streams (where a paid stream has a higher royalty provides micropayment as a free stream) and the calculation of a paid download.
What this may entail is a new marketing focus for labels to push users to the "more valuable" streams for paid services. For example, they are unlikely to have windowed singles on Spotify's free and paid layers, but they will work to get users to subscribe.
The long-term impact for YouTube could be deeper. This could cause unofficial videos to be scrubbed by the service or increase the pressure on the video platform to optimize its algorithms to launch chartable official videos and crash chart base UGCs in their search results and algorithms.
In recent years, the industry has blabbed against the "value gap" on YouTube, where the streams are worth far less money there than a service like Spotify. Do not exclude the new war on YouTube, which is beyond the "chartable gap".