Streaming Data Goes Beyond Goofy Outliers

During the last year, the streaming stories that dotted the pop music landscape have been extreme ones. Radio has acknowledged some of those titles (PSY’s “Gangnam Style”) and grappled with others (Baauer’s “Harlem Shake”). Some, like PSY’s “Gentleman,” have been ignored, because that was a terrible record in another language that made no sense without the video. Oh, wait . . .

Streaming has been part of the Billboard Hot 100 and represented in the On-Demand Songs chart since March 2012. YouTube data was added to the Hot 100 this winter, as well as the Streaming Songs chart that combined all streaming—radio, subscription services and free YouTube streams. 

But recently, extensive streaming information became part of Nielsen BDS, and stories are emerging that go beyond pop music’s phenomenal outliers. BDS now features a streaming chart that combines on-demand and programmed streams for audio and video. That chart can be filtered in various ways, but format and station playlists also now rank stream counts for every song on that chart or playlist. 

When looking at Mainstream Top 40, we discovered that streaming highlights potential hip-hop and R&B crossovers in the way that retail sales once did. R&B and hip-hop hits used to make their own stories in advance of pop airplay. While there were many factors at play when those stories dried up—like the rise of iTunes and the decline of local retail—some of those records return to the fore here. For example, J. Cole’s “Power Trip,” No. 38 among all titles receiving any airplay at mainstream top 40, is the No. 11 most-streamed. Wale featuring Tiara Thomas’ “Bad” is No. 54 in overall airplay but No. 14 in streams. 

Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O.” is the sixth-most streamed title, but No. 183 (representing only 11 spins) in top 40 airplay. (All streaming numbers are as of last Saturday.)

Songs with young star appeal also perform well in streaming. Anna Kendricks’ “Cups (Pitch Perfect’s When I’m Gone)” is No. 10 in streams and No. 15 airplay. Taylor Swift’s “22,” which is already below the top 40 (No. 46 overall), is still No. 20 in streams. Ariana Grande’s “The Way” is slipping in airplay (No. 17) but is No. 5 in streams. Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” is on the move at top 40 (24-20) but already No. 1 in streams.

Many hits have comparable streaming and airplay rankings. Those that tend to underperform in streaming are the pop/dance records that have been top 40’s recent glue (and which continue to earn their place based on other metrics). Zedd’s “Clarity” is No. 9 airplay and No. 22 streaming, Jason Derulo’s “The Other Side” is No. 8 airplay and No. 43 streaming, and Maroon 5’s “Love Somebody” is No. 13 airplay and No. 52 streaming.

While the above stats are for all streams, there’s also an interesting story when you filter the BDS streaming chart for programmed audio (at this point, primarily Slacker and Rhapsody). Pure-plays have long seemed a little more conservative than their FM counterparts, as confirmed here. 

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us” is up 3-1 this week, displacing Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors,” something that happened at radio four weeks ago. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” goes 10-5, although it’s likely headed for the No. 1 slot it claims this week at radio.

Where programmed streaming seems to most differ from radio is certain poppier titles. Emeli Sandé’s “Next to Me,” which struggled at U.S. radio despite its international hit credentials, is No. 7 this week, compared with falling off Mainstream Top 40 this week. (It has been as high as No. 5 recently.) Phillip Phillips’ “Gone, Gone, Gone” is No. 13, compared with No. 30 at Mainstream Top 40. Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” goes 5-4 on Mainstream Top 40 this week, but has already been No. 1 on the programmed/audio rankings. It’s currently No. 4. 

Radio’s track record in assimilating the many different stories available to it has been inconsistent. In that we can discuss Baauer and PSY as radio artists at all, however, things are changing. An act like Cyrus, with a built-in audience but without consistent radio acceptance, could have seen her big initial sales and streams acknowledged by radio months later, if at all. This time, however, the gears are meshing. 

The number of hits that emerge through streaming will undoubtedly grow. As with other songs that do or don’t get airplay, the exact number depends on what the labels decide to bring to radio. But from a few days’ worth of data, there are stories that labels could choose to take advantage of.