Sony Overtaking Universal in Market Share? It Already Happened in March
Sony Overtaking Universal in Market Share? It Already Happened in March

If the media wants to write about the possibility of Sony Music Entertainment overtaking Universal Music Group in U.S. market-share rankings, maybe they should have done so when Sony actually accomplished that feat back in March, as detailed in Billboard's April 14 issue.

Sony overtook UMG in year-to-date album market share including track equivalents in the first week in March and held the No. 1 ranking throughout the month, only ceding the top spot in the quarter's final week, which ended April 1. The combined one-two punch of Madonna's "MDNA" and Lionel Richie's "Tuskegee," which both debuted in that quarter's final week, allowed UMG to squeeze out the top spot for the quarter.

(Currently, according to Nielsen SoundScan, UMG's U.S. market share for albums with track equivalents is 30.35% versus Sony's 29.14%.)

For the week ending March 25, Billboard reported UMG's albums-plus-TEA market share at 30.1% and Sony's at 29.2%, while SoundScan had it, respectively, at 29.98% to 29.36%. (While both SoundScan and Billboard calculates track-equivalent albums using the formula that 10 tracks equals one album, SoundScan also includes one physical single as an album-unit equivalent, while Billboard eliminates those sales from its calculation for its quarterly SoundScan reports, in accordance with how the four majors' SoundScan departments calculate album with TEA market share.)

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But after that, Sony began a downward slide, while UMG's market share began to increase in each of the four subsequent weeks. Sony bottomed out at 29.02% share in albums with track equivalents, while UMG peaked at 30.4%, for the week ending April 22, according to Nielsen Soundscan. In subsequent weeks, Sony's market share increased by two or three ticks, culminating in its current total of 29.14%, while Universal's market share is down slightly to 30.35%.

But throughout the entire second quarter, UMG has maintained at least a 1.2 percentage point advantage over Sony in any given week, according to the way Nielsen SoundScan tracks album market share with track equivalents.

Of course, what happens going forward depends on release schedules. Some press reports on Sony's market share seem to think that Adam Lambert's "Trespassing" represents a turning of the tide - but that album reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 with the smallest number of weekly scans (around 77,000) for a No. 1 since the chart dated Aug. 20, 2011.

Sony's big releases for this quarter (in addition to John Mayer's just-released "Born and Raised," which is projected to do about 200,000 units in its debut week) include One Direction, Usher, Kenny Chesney, and R. Kelly. That slate looks stronger than UMG's, which only has two potentially big albums coming out in the next month - although one of those, Justin Bieber's "Believe" on June 19, could have the biggest debut week scans of the quarter. (The company's other big release is Maroon 5's "Overexposed" on June 26.)

As for the rest of the year, other Sony big guns include Dave Matthews, Chris Brown, Pink, Alicia Keys, Aerosmith, Brandy, and a Jennifer Lopez greatest-hits album. UMG has upcoming albums from Rick Ross, Keyshia Cole, No Doubt, Ne-Yo, Nas and Akon, according to retailers.

But in today's music business, which company wins the top album market-share battle is not as important as which one wins the top tracks battle. As Billboard pointed out in the April 14 issue, Sony was the No.1 distributor in album market share (not including track-equivalent albums for the period) with a tally of 30.64% versus UMG's 29.21%. In fact, since the week ending Feb. 19, Sony's year-to-date album market share has beat out UMG in every subsequent week with its total as of the week ending May 20 standing at 30.44%, versus UMG's 29.34%.

What put UMG over the top in most reporting periods is its dominance in track market share: Since the end of the first quarter, when it led Sony by almost five percentage points, 31.86% to 25.94% in track market share, UMG has maintained at least a six percentage point lead in year-to-date track market share in every week of this quarter. For the week ended May 20, UMG's track market share is 32.66% versus Sony's 25.89%. If Sony wants to close the gap in album market share with TEA, its release schedule has to stay strong throughout the year and it has to improve its track market share.