Music Streaming Shows Strong Comeback in New Nielsen Music/MRC Data COVID-19 Report

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The lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” come to mind when reading through MRC Data’s fourth COVID-19 survey results. During the ongoing coronavirus crisis, an artist needs to start swimming or sink like a stone, as Dylan sang. A virtual concert might be a poor substitute for a live show, but fans are increasingly interested in watching them. And while Congress has heeded the call to support the unemployed and out-of-work, artists must reach the fans who can still afford to buy merchandise. The good news for record labels: Consumers’ uptake of subscription services looks to remain steady through the pandemic era and into more prosperous times.

MRC Data’s latest COVID-19 report details how much times have changed since March. Here are four key takeaways.

1. Music has made a comeback — and the kids want more.

After an initial decline, music streaming on audio platforms in the week ending May 7 climbed to 0.9% from -2.1% the previous week. Audio music streaming has steadily grown after falling to -9.4% below average in the week ending March 26. Music videos have fared better, increasing each of the last seven weeks and rising 12.5% above average during the week ending May 7. How people listen during COVID-19 has affected genres differently. Country music streaming has exploded since business and school closures kept people at home; country audio streams were 21.4% above average in the week ending May 7. With schools closed and entire families spending more time at home, children’s music streaming has been above average each week from mid-January to early May. (Read Billboard’s Deep Dive report on How To Crack The Kids’ Music Market.) Labels can reconsider delaying a release date to coincide with a postponed tour. Artists who were prolific in their home studios during the pandemic shouldn’t avoid putting out new music — 42% of respondents said they listened to new music from artists they never heard before.

2. It looks like consumers will continue to pay for music subscription services through the pandemic’s economic impact.

MRC Data found that 84% of people who added a new music subscription service (“subscription adders”) in the previous two weeks said they are likely to continue paying for it after COVID-19. That was up from 79%, 76% and 78% in the previous three COVID-19 surveys. At the same time, financial challenges could have made consumers more discriminating in their spending: 29% of subscription adders said they have canceled a subscription service, up from 17% three surveys earlier.

3. Consumers increasingly want to support artists while COVID-19 upends the touring business.

Working musicians face intimidating financial challenges in 2020. Not only has touring income disappeared, but some loans made through the federal CARES Act are unavailable to musicians with day jobs. In the latest COVID-19 survey, 43% of consumers said they are willing to buy merchandise or music to support artists, up from 36% the week of March 23. The data shows that fans will buy T-shirts, albums and other items as long as the sale benefits the artist. As for brands that want to market themselves in the COVID-19 era, 55% of people said they would view a brand more favorably if they found ways to support artists, an increase from 47% in the week of March 23.

4. And consumers continue to warm to virtual concerts.

While the long-term potential of virtual concerts is unclear, their omnipresence over the last two months has helped raise artists’ visibility during the pandemic. MRC Data has found that about one in five consumers has watched a virtual concert, and, as livestreaming technology continues to improve, consumers have become more satisfied with their experiences. Now, livestreaming’s financial potential is unclear: 29% of the general population and just 17% of teens said they are willing to pay for a virtual concert (see MRC Data's second COVID-19 report). But the surveys have made clear that virtual concerts improve fans’ impression of artists and can whet their appetite for a live show.

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