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Coronavirus Listener Data: Video Still Rules, While Audio Streams Start to Trickle Back

Week two of the U.S. economic shutdown shows the bottom continuing to fall out for physical sales, while streaming’s decline wasn’t as steep. 

Week two of the U.S. economic shutdown shows the bottom continuing to fall out for physical sales, while streaming’s decline wasn’t as steep. Overall streams were down to 24.32 billion — a 0.5% from the prior week’s total of 24.45 billion — but that’s still a better outcome than the 3.5% decline the industry suffered after March 12.

In these days of quarantine, video remains the one true bright spot. Video posted another increase this week, up 3.7% to 9.776 billion, from the prior week, when video rocketed up 6.9% to a total of 9.426 billion. Year to date, video streams are up a whopping 28.6% to 63.47 billion from the total of 49.35 billion for the same time period in 2019.

Meanwhile, audio streams fell 3.2% to 14.545 billion. That may not sound like positive news, but it shows the decline in audio streaming is slowing after the prior week’s sharp 9% decline. Of course, year to date audio streams are still doing fine — they are up 16.9% to 173.58 billion versus 148.45 billion in the corresponding period of 2019. Overall on-demand streams are up 19.7% to 267.75 billion from 223.73 billion tallied during the year-earlier same time frame.


What’s surprising is that overall sales are up 3.9% to 2.02 million albums plus track-equivalent albums, but that growth is likely due to the fact that album downloads are up nearly 50% to 811,000 downloads versus the prior week when downloaded albums totaled 544,000 units. This is largely driven by The Weeknd‘s bundle-driven After Hours debut week sales of 275,000 albums and probably doesn’t reflect an emerging trend.

Physical album sales are a different story: falling to 747,000 copies versus an average of 1.376 million copies in the first 10 weeks of the year. Even vinyl, which was growing by leaps and bounds, dropped 44.44% from the prior week due to all the store closures. According to Alliance Entertainment, more than 150 indie stores have temporarily closed nationwide, including the entire Newbury Comics chain and all of the Bull Moose chain. Besides those stores, most FYE stores and a large portion of Barnes & Noble stores are also shuttered, sources say.

As a result of those mass closures, chains like FYE and Barnes & Noble saw sales fall to 13,000 units in the week ended March 26 from the year-to-date average weekly sales of about 90,000 copies; while mass merchants album sales fell to 166,00, an 83% decline from the 289,000 that store sector was averaging per week this year. Finally, independent merchants, which have emerged as the biggest store sector in selling physical albums, saw sales fall to about 71,000 copies — from the typical 2020 weekly average of 421,000 copies. Internet-based merchants, whether direct mail or downloads, are the largest purveyors of  non-traditional album sales (online CD sales), and those were up nearly 20% to 493,000 copies from the prior week’s total of 411,000 copies; but that’s down from 2020’s weekly average of 559,000 copies.


Digital album downloads may be enjoying a bonanza, but track sales didn’t fare as well. Track sales dragged at nearly 4.6 million units downloaded — which is technically a 9.5% increase over the 4.2 million generated in the prior week — but also 5.6% short of the weekly average of 4.87 million downloads.

In terms of genre breakdowns, Christian/gospel saw the biggest increase: up 5.8% to 426.5 million from 403 million. Next, country streams jumped 5.5% to 1.434 billion from 1.359 billion. However, both of those genres posted negative growths the prior week ending Mark 19 (with Christian down 0.5% and country down 6.1%), so this might signify a return to normal for fans of those genres.

The one genre having veritable boom during the economic shutdown is children’s music: This week, children streams chugged along, up 2.4% to 373.29 million from the prior week’s 363.39 million, which saw a surge of 16.7% from 311.54 million for the week ended March 12. For instance, Disney Music reports to Billboard that its Disney Hits playlist on Spotify hit 1.9 million streams on Monday, when it typically averages 1.2 million-1.3 million streams a day.


The other genres that people have been streaming in isolation: classical, which grew 4.7% to 193.16 million versus 184.422 million (the genre was up 4% from the 177.32 for the week-ended March 12); and pop, which grew 1% to 3.65 billion from 3.62 billion (pop saw a 0.6% growth in the prior week from 3.59 billion streams.)

For the week ending March 26, jazz, New Age, world, dance and blues all had slight upsticks — each under 1%. Rock, Latin and R&B/hip-hop all declined for another week, albeit at much slower rates. Rock, which had been down 4.5% for the week ending March 19, fell 0.7% to 3.28 billion; R&B/hip-hop, which had been down 6.9%, dropped 2.3% to 7.22 billion from 7.5 billion; and Latin, which was the industry biggest loser in the week-ending March 19 with a 13.7% decline, fell another 2.2% to 1.66 million.

Looking at daily audio streams, Nielsen Music/MRC Data’s Dave Bakula notes that the weekdays are impacted the most as they are running down about 11% baseline — the average of the preceding eight weeks from March 5 back into January 2020 — versus 5% below average on the weekend. According to a data analyst at one of the majors who analyzes streaming data from services, the shift in daytime streaming from commute times — since most people aren’t going to work right now — to the middle of the day is noticeable, but overall not enough to make up the shortfall. He says that pattern repeats itself in markets around the globe, depending on where each market is in the pandemic’s curve.

Paris-based streaming service Deezer backs that up, although it sees the shift happening later in the morning, not the afternoon. “The lack of daily commute and on-the-move listening is changing when we listen,” the company says. “Instead of the usual 7am weekday peak, the world has shifted to 9/10am.”

It added that people are streaming constantly on weekend afternoons — “something we’ve never seen before.”

Deezer also reports a shift in devices being used to access and play music. Instead of mobile devices, the service says its users are accessing music through gaming systems, tablets and smart speakers. For example, it noted global music streams increased 60% on the Xbox, 59% through Android TV; 34% through Amazon Alexa; 20% through tablets; and 15% through desktop computers.

Sheltering at home has also changed daily stream volumes, Deezer contends. “Although Fridays previously had the highest stream volume of the week, this changed after social activities stopped,” the company reports. “Now, for the first time, every day looks the same.”

Importantly, Deezer notes that while the pandemic dramatically impacts streaming on the front-end, it observes that “people need around ten days to adapt to their new solitary life. Our data in Italy showed that although engagement levels dropped initially, it leveled out after the first week of lockdown. Elsewhere, countries like France are following a similar pattern.”

In response to how its users are listening to music during the pandemic, Deezer has created contextual playlists while users are also seeking out playlists to match their mood. In the week following the launch of our “Stay at Home” channel, playlists like ‘Mellow Days’ increased by 335%, the company reported while its “Feel Good” playlist is the second most streamed in the channel worldwide; and its “Happy Hits” also saw a lift of 53% globally.

“Home isolation means that people have to adapt to a totally new life,” Deezer chief data & research officer Aurélien Hérault. “You have to keep your kids entertained, make sure to stay fit and still balance work and personal time. Our data shows us how people are adapting. Home devices are taking up the job of streaming audio. Peak streaming now happens one to two hours later than our normal morning time. And the difference between weekends and weekdays is more or less gone — every day looks like Sunday now.”

Moving over to video streams where some of the biggest changes are happening, MRC Data reports for the week-ended March 26, video accounted for 40% of overall streams, the highest share this year, and are +13.7% to the baseline, according to Bakula. In direct contrast to the audio trend, the weekdays are showing the biggest gains, while weekend numbers are trending around +2% on Saturday and +9% on Sunday. The weekdays are running around 20% up, versus the each typical weekday average.

“The big shift has been from audio to video,” says Bakula. “Video share has reached yearly highs in both current and catalog streaming, showing that the shift in formats is consistent across release age. Video streaming splits are consistent with baseline, meaning video streams are not showing a shift between current and catalog.”


Bakula also notes that audio is where many genres are suffering, while video streaming is exploding for them.

Finally, when analyzing streaming on a metropolitan market basis, things appear to be stabilizing as last week only 53 markets suffered a decline in streaming versus 105 markets that had a down week in the prior week. According to Bakula, this shows that people are settling into a quarantine-routine.

That is, except for those in Montgomery, Alabama. For some reason, that city had the largest decline in audio streaming for the week ending March 19, down 30%, right after having one of the best weeks (for the week-ending March 19) when audio streams were up 25.1%. One possible explanation for those swings is how dramatically the COVID-19 situation changed in that city, with a curfew going into effect on March 23; followed President Donald Trump declaring the city a “disaster” area for the virus on March 29.

Some of the other cities with declines, like in the Syracuse, New York, are more likely due to the mass exodus of students leaving their college towns for home, Bakula says.