Billboard 200 Makeover: Album Chart to Incorporate Streams & Track Sales

The revamped chart will debut online Dec. 3 and in the Dec. 13 issue of Billboard magazine
Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP
Ariana Grande

Next month, the Billboard 200 albums chart will premiere its biggest upgrade in more than 23 years, transforming from a pure sales-based ranking to one measuring multimetric consumption.

Beginning with the chart revealed on Wednesday, Dec. 3, on Billboard.com (and in the Billboard issue dated Dec. 13), the chart, which currently tracks the top 200 albums of the week by sales alone, will incorporate on-demand streaming and digital track sales (as measured by Nielsen Entertainment) by way of a new algorithm. It is the most substantial methodology update since May 1991, when Billboard first used Nielsen's point-of-sale data — SoundScan — to measure album sales.

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The revamped chart will premiere with data from Thanksgiving week (ending Nov. 30), one of the most active music release periods of the year. The new methodology aims to provide a better sense of an album's popularity by reflecting not just sales, but consumption activity.

The updated Billboard 200 will utilize accepted industry benchmarks for digital and streaming data, equating 10 digital track sales from an album to one equivalent album sale, and 1,500 song streams from an album to one equivalent album sale. All of the major on-demand audio subscription services are considered, including Spotify, Beats Music, Google Play and Xbox Music. Current artists likely to benefit from this change in methodology include Ariana Grande, Hozier and Maroon 5, among others, as their streaming and digital song sales have been outperforming their album sales in recent weeks.

"Adding streaming information makes the chart a better representation of music consumption activity," says Silvio Pietroluongo, vp charts and data development at Billboard. "While an extremely valuable measurement, album sales would mostly capture the initial impulse only, without indicating the depth of consumption thereafter. Someone could listen to the album just once, or listen to one track or a number of tracks 100 times. We are now able to incorporate those plays as part of an album consumption ranking throughout one's possession of an album, extending beyond the initial purchase or listen."

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"With current on-demand audio play counts exceeding 100 billion so far this year, this method of consumption has redefined the way success is measured in the music industry," says David Bakula, senior vp industry insights, Nielsen Entertainment. "Nielsen's recent Music 360 report reveals that streaming has seen substantial gains in popularity with consumers, with nearly 80 percent of music fans reporting that they have streamed music in the last six months."

Adjustments for the Billboard 200 took into account feedback from key executives in the music industry.

"Including streaming information is the next step in the evolution of the industry's accurate measurement of music consumption," said Jim Urie, president/CEO of Universal Music Distribution. "Streaming is the fastest-growing configuration we now have and having it included in Billboard's chart is a welcome improvement."

"The new methodology for the Billboard 200 is a welcome and necessary evolution of Nielsen and Billboard's album chart data. The ways in which fans consume music, and the ways in which music is monetized, have grown beyond the traditional metrics of album sales," said Darren Stupak, executive vp U.S. sales and distribution, Sony Music Entertainment. "Music consumption in today's marketplace is a diverse mix of access and acquisition, including on-demand streaming, track and album downloading, and physical product purchasing. The introduction of this expanded scope chart brings the Billboard 200 more closely in line with the multiplatform, multiformat experience of music fans."

While the Billboard 200 will be taking on a whole new look, Billboard will continue to publish a pure album sales chart, called Top Album Sales, that will maintain the traditional Billboard 200 methodology, comprising Nielsen's sales data exclusively. Existing genre album charts (Country, R&B/Hip-Hop, etc.) will also remain sale-based for the time being.

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