As Coloring Book makes history by being the first release to leave retail in its rearview mirror, Billboard takes a look at the streaming milestones that have made 2016 the year that the industry finally hits the tipping point in digital distribution.
Nielsen Music Reports U.S. Streaming Doubled in 2015
In January, Nielsen Music announced in its annual report that the total number of streams nearly doubled in the U.S. in 2015, going from 164.5 billion songs streamed in 2014 to 317.2 billion in 2015, an increase of 93 percent. That added 101.8 million equivalent album sales in the period year-over-year, rising to 211.5 million and spurring a 15.2 percent gain in consumption units to 549.4 million.
Adele's "Hello" Passes Psy's "Gangnam Style" As the Fastest Video to Hit 1 Billion YouTube Views
Adele's 25 set plenty of sales records after its release on Nov. 20, 2015, largely due to the diva withholding the album from streaming services entirely. But her singles remain available, including the music video to her lead single "Hello," which became the fastest video to pass a billion views on YouTube before the end of January 2016 -- 87 days, blowing past Psy's former record of 158 days for "Gangnam Style." Adele's song became the 17th video with a billion views on the platform; to date, 23 videos have reached the mark.
The RIAA Allows Streaming Numbers to Count Towards Gold and Platinum Certifications
One Feb. 1, the RIAA for the first time included streaming metrics as part of its platinum and gold certification programs for albums, which had previously relied exclusively on sales numbers. The change updated certifications for 17 albums overnight, awarding 7 new Gold plaques (to Halsey, Wale, Elle King, Fifth Harmony and more), 6 new platinum plaques (Kendrick Lamar, Hozier, Shawn Mendes, Coldplay and more) and certifying four additional albums higher multi-platinum status (Sam Hunt, Michael Jackson, The Weeknd and Prince Royce).
Universal Music Group's Streaming Revenue Accounts for More Than Half its Digital Revenue in Second Half of 2015
In mid-February, Universal Music Group -- the largest record label in the world -- released its earnings report for 2015, announcing that revenue from subscriptions and streaming services accounted for 52 percent of all digital revenue in the second half of 2015, a growth of 43 percent over 2014. That number made up 24 percent of all revenue in that period for the label, surpassing digital download revenue which declined to 18 percent and fueling an overall increase in recorded music revenue 2.4 percent to $4.56 billion.
Streaming Becomes the U.S. Music Industry's Biggest Source of Revenue
At 34.3 percent of the total revenue of the U.S. recorded music industry, the RIAA noted on March 22 that for the first time streaming had become the biggest single source of revenue, more than download sales (34 percent), physical sales (28.8 percent) and synchs (2.9 percent). Of that, $1.22 billion came from paid subscriptions against $385 million from ad-supported streams, pushing total digital revenue to $4.8 billion of total industry revenue of $7.016 billion for the year.
Kanye West's The Life of Pablo Becomes the First No. 1 Album With Majority Units from Streams
Six weeks after it first became available to stream on Tidal -- the company said it generated 250 million global streams in its first 10 days, though didn't report to Nielsen Music -- Kanye West's The Life of Pablo debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. With 99 million U.S. streams from all services (it was released widely on April 1 to services that report to Nielsen) and 94,000 in equivalent albums, 70 percent of its equivalent units cane from streaming only, the first album to hit No. 1 with more than half its equivalent units coming from streams.
The YouTube 'Value Gap' Debate Heats Up on All Sides
With YouTube's contracts with the major labels winding down and the U.S. Copyright Board investigating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act -- which allows YouTube "safe harbor" to host copyrighted material until the copyright owner requests its removal -- the battle over YouTube's royalty rate and overall legality has come squarely back into the picture. Super-manager Irving Azoff has been an outspoken critic in the first few months of this year, as has Apple Music's Jimmy Iovine and RIAA chairman/CEO Cary Sherman in demanding changes to the laws that protect YouTube; on April 1, several petitions from artists, managers and industry organizations were submitted to the Copyright Office with comments about DMCA changes, while the war of words in the press has continued to heat up. YouTube, for its part, announced April 28 it would institute changes to its Content ID system, which is ostensibly designed to combat user-uploaded copyrighted content from exploitation from non-owners, and said Google as a whole has paid $3 billion to musicians.
Global Digital Revenue Outstrips Physical For the First Time, Driven By Huge Streaming Gains
The IFPI reported on April 22 that digital accounted for 45 percent of total global revenue for the music industry in 2015, surging past physical's 39 percent for the first time ever -- spurred by a 45.2 percent gain in revenue from both subscription and ad-supported streaming services, which accounted for $2.9 billion. In addition, the number of paid subscribers to streaming services ballooned 66 percent in 2015 to 68 million, offsetting download losses and boosting the global industry's revenue to $15 billion.
Beyonce's Lemonade Sets One-Week Streaming Record
With her sixth solo album Lemonade, released on Tidal April 23 as a streaming exclusive "in perpetuity," Beyonce broke the one-week streaming record set by Justin Bieber's Purpose just six months prior with 115.2 million U.S. streams in just under six days. The following week she would hit 97.5 million streams; to date, those first two weeks are the second and fifth-highest one-week streams of any album ever.
Streaming Becomes Biggest Source of Revenue for Warner Music Group
Spurred by industry trends and a global emphasis, streaming revenue took the lead at Warner Music Group as the single highest source of revenue for the first time in its history for the quarter ending March 31, 2016. That led to a 25 percent digital gain, echoing a similar growth percentage the quarter before, and came one year after WMG announced that streaming had overtaken digital downloads in revenue.
Drake Shatters One-Week Streaming Record With 'Views'
With 245.1 million streams in its first week, Drake's Views shattered the previous record for most U.S. streams in one week with an album set just the week prior -- by Beyonce's Lemonade -- largely due to the album's exclusive release on Apple Music. All told, Views became the third album to set a new record for one-week U.S. streams since Bieber's Purpose in November 2015, and the first to cross the 200 million stream threshold.
Spotify's In-House Playlists Pass One Billion Weekly Listeners
Speaking of Drake, the wide streaming release of Views following two weeks as an Apple Music exclusive was enough to place him above Bieber as Spotify's most-streamed artist globally of all time at 3.37 billion total streams. But the company also announced the same day, May 18, that its in-house playlists -- including Rap Caviar, Baila Reggaeton, Get Turnt, Teen Party and Exitos de Hoy, among others -- were bringing in more than one billion streams per week, a victory for its curatorial strategy.
Drake Tops Justin Bieber as Most-Streamed Artist on Spotify, Company's Playlists Hit a Billion Weekly Streams
Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book Becomes the First Streaming-Only Album to Hit the Billboard 200
Arriving at No. 8 with 57.3 million U.S. streams on May 22, Chance the Rapper's Apple Music exclusive release Coloring Book made history as the only album to ever hit the Billboard 200 chart based on streaming metrics alone, with no sales component.