While radio fell 32 percent in the 31 weeks after Finding Neverland, on-demand streaming consumption of MJ’s music has outpaced the rest of the industry.
In March, HBO's harrowing four-hour, two-part documentary Leaving Neverland reexamined allegations made by Wade Robson and James Safechuck that Michael Jackson had repeatedly sexually abused them when they were children in the 1980s and 1990s. And the explosive program had the late star's fans — as well as radio programmers — fiercely debating whether his hits would, or should, be played again.
The backlash was fast and fierce. Reviewers predicted the film would devastate Jackson's legacy; Oprah Winfrey agreed to sympathetic interviews of Robson and Safechuck on HBO; radio stations in New Zealand and Canada pulled Jackson's music. In response, Jackson's family called the allegations a "public lynching," pointing out that Jackson, who was found innocent of child-molestation charges in a 2005 trial, was not around to defend himself. The late singer's estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO. (The estate declined to comment.)
In the immediate aftermath, U.S. radio airplay of Jackson's catalog dropped precipitously. According to a Billboard analysis of Nielsen Music data, in the four weeks prior to Leaving Neverland, his songs averaged 14,000 spins per week at radio, while in the 31 weeks afterward, through Oct. 3, stations played his music an average of 11,000 times. The radio audience for Jackson's music fell 32.1% during this period.