We’re getting questions around whether Billboard is suddenly counting free streams for this coming week’s Billboard 200, seemingly due to some misinformation posted online. We’d like to take a moment to clear up any confusion that misinformation may have caused.
Free streams -- with “free” defined as streams a listener has accessed without having a paid subscription or as part of a trial period subscription -- have counted towards the Billboard 200 since it changed to a consumption model in 2014 where the ranking is determined by blending album sales, track equivalent album units and streaming equivalent album units.
Nothing in our process has changed for this week.
Billboard has always been transparent about the methodology behind the Billboard 200 chart, and you can read about our transforming to a consumption model here.
Billboard does not currently have in place any rule or rules dictating how an approved streaming chart contributor can present or promote content on their services. Nor have we placed certain considerations or restrictions on how we would count those resulting streams on our charts. By the methodology now in place, which was arrived at in partnership with our industry constituents (record labels, distribution companies, etc.), on-demand audio streams from approved contributors, whether in front or behind a pay-wall, or via a free, discounted or paid trial, all count equally, provided the streams are consumer-initiated “on demand.”
All of the above streaming variations are then put through an intense vetting process by Nielsen Music, which works closely with each streaming service to assure there are safeguards in place to guard against automated streams and/or excessive streaming from singular IP addresses.
When Billboard adjusted the Billboard 200 to a consumption-based ranking, we knew as an industry that we were moving into uncharted territory and would be facing new and unique scenarios as streaming continued to grow in influence. We have continuously adapted to that evolving marketplace and retail landscape to create new parameters and rules.
The debate in treating free streams differently than paid/subscription streams is a valid one, as is examining how each streaming provider allows access to its service. Again, no changes were enacted this week, but when and if any adjustments are made on either front in the future, they will be communicated in advance to the industry to allow for proper preparation time.