Ask Billboard: How Does The Hot 100 Work?

Katy Perry

Photograph by Ryan McGinley

Readers check in on how the Hot 100's points system ranks songs, the record run of AWOLNATION's 'Sail' and the many animals running rampant in current hits

As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S. Or, Tweet questions to Gary Trust: @gthot20

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Jack Adams @jackzakalump

@gthot20 How does the Hot 100's point system work?

Hi Jack,

With Miley Cyrus at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Wrecking Ball," a song with some of the greatest buzz for a video in quite a while, it seems like a good time for a refresher on how the Hot 100 is tabulated, doesn't it?

As we wrote in January when YouTube data was added to the Hot 100's equation: "Generally speaking, our Hot 100 formula targets a ratio of sales (35-45%), airplay (30-40%) and streaming (20-30%)."

Of course, that's an overall target for 100 songs each week. That mark can change week-to-week. This week, though, the Hot 100 breaks down in line with the formula's intent: sales, 39%; airplay, 34%; and, streaming, 27%.

And, week-to-week, some songs show largely along those percentages, while others skew noticeably toward any of the chart's three metrics.

Let's look at a few, starting with "Wrecking Ball."

This week, points for the Hot 100's leader stem 50% from streaming, 43% from sales and just 7% from radio airplay. No surprise: the song drew a whopping 14.3 million U.S. streams in the chart's tracking week, according to Nielsen BDS. (The No. 2-streamed song, Katy Perry's "Roar," garnered 7.3 million.) "Ball" ranks at No. 3 on Digital Songs with 301,000 downloads sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Conversely, as airplay for "Ball" is just beginning, its low Hot 100 points percentage reflects its No. 31 spot on Radio Songs (via 38 million all-format audience impressions, according to BDS).

Last week, which reflected the first week of streaming following the song's video premiere, the Hot 100 ratio for "Ball" was even more streaming-driven: 64%, streaming; 34%, sales; 2%, airplay. The cut's monster 36.5 million U.S. streams in the chart's tracking period produced the high percentage.

Perry's new digital single "Dark Horse," featuring Juicy J, meanwhile, has been released as a teaser track from her album "Prism," due Oct. 22. It's not being promoted to radio and has no official videoclip. Thus, as it debuts on the Hot 100 at No. 17, an almost monopolizing 99% of its points are from sales; it sold 194,000 downloads in its opening week, good for a No. 4 start on the Digital Songs chart.

The more established "Roar" (No. 2 on the Hot 100), which has been promoted to radio for close to two months and has been accepted at mainstream and adult top 40 and adult contemporary, lines up much closer to the Hot 100's average ratio: 43%, sales; 31%, airplay; 26%, streaming. It's No. 1 on Radio Songs (159 million) and No. 2 on Digital Songs (301,000) and Streaming Songs (7.3 million).

Another hit, like Cyrus', due mostly to streaming, and even more so? Ylvis' novelty track "The Fox," which makes tracks running 25-13 as the Hot 100's top Streaming Gainer this week. With it at No. 3 on Streaming Songs (7.1 million), 75% of its Hot 100 points are from streams. Almost the rest of its sum is from sales; it debuts at No. 22 on Digital Songs with 60,000 in its first week. The song sports almost no airplay, although that could change now that Warner Bros. has begun promoting it to pop radio.

And, a song driven largely by airplay? Maroon 5's "Love Somebody," at No. 26 after peaking at No. 10, shows 67% of its points thanks to radio, with 19% from sales and 13% from streaming. As a fourth single from an album that's been available for a year, it's logical that sales and streaming lag behind the song's activity at radio, with the band a consistent presence at pop and adult formats long after the buzz of an album release. It ranks at No. 11 on Radio Songs and No. 59 on Digital Songs (while ranking just inside the 100 most streamed songs of the week).

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