Nielsen 2016 Report: Streaming Smashes From Adele, Drake & More Offset Sinking Music Sales

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Drake performs onstage at the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on Sept. 23, 2016 in Las Vegas. 

As streaming rapidly becomes music's leading format, the business is growing with it. In 2016, the industry tallied 561 million album-consumption units, according to Nielsen Music, a 3 percent increase over 2015's 543.8 million units -- the first time during the millennium that the industry has posted gains in two consecutive years.

To put it in perspective, on-demand streams were up a whopping 39.2 percent from 2015 (rising to 431.7 billion streams from 310.1 billion), offsetting plunging sales: CD album sales fell 16.5 percent (to 104.8 million from 125.3 million in 2015), digital album sales dropped 20.1 percent (to 82.2 million from 102.9 million) and digital song sales plummeted 25 percent (from 964.3 million units to 723.7 million).

Drake's Views was the year's top album, racking up 4.1 million equivalent album units, including 1.6 million sales and 2 million stream-equivalent units (or SEA, whereby 1,500 streams equal one album) and 509,000 track-equivalent units (or TEA, whereby 10 track sales equal an album). Two other albums broke the 2 million mark: Adele's 2015 blockbuster 25 came in at No. 2 with 2.4 million units (of which 1.7 million were sales, making it the top-selling album for the second straight year), while Beyoncé's Lemonade landed at No. 3 with 2.2 million units, of which 1.6 million were from album sales.

In terms of market share, Universal Music Group remains the leader, although its share dropped more than 3 percent to 35.1 percent from 2015's 38.4; No. 2 Sony Music Entertainment also dipped, to 28.3 from 29.5 percent in 2015. And while a hot year from Atlantic Records helped drive Warner Music Group to a 2.7 percent gain, its growth was also due to sales spurred by the deaths of David Bowie and Prince.


This article originally appeared in the Jan. 14 issue of Billboard.