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Billboard Hot 100 Celebrates 20 Years of Nielsen Data

Twenty years ago today, Billboard's signature songs chart ushered in an era of modern technology, a movement that has only continued since.

‘THE LONG-AWAITED DAY HAS ARRIVED’ read the headline in the “Hot 100 Singles Spotlight” column in the Billboard issue dated Nov. 30, 1991.

Twenty years ago today, the Billboard Hot 100 transformed from a chart combining ranked airplay and sales reports submitted by radio stations and retailers, respectively, to one based on electronically-monitored airplay by Nielsen BDS and piece counts of singles sales according to Nielsen SoundScan. (Playlists submitted by small-market radio stations continued to contribute to the chart for a time).

Wrote then-Billboard director of charts Michael Ellis, “For the first time, the music industry has a singles chart based on actual radio airplay and actual number of singles sold.”

The Hot 100 continued Billboard’s evolution to a chart menu based on BDS and/or SoundScan information. Country Songs had converted to BDS data for the chart week of Jan. 20, 1990, and the Billboard 200 segued to SoundScan-powered figures on May 25, 1991. R&B/Hip-Hop Songs adopted Nielsen data the week of Dec. 5, 1992.

Today, streaming activity data provided by online music sources also factors into the weekly Hot 100 formula. The chart’s radio panel has expanded from 122 pop stations 20 years ago to more than 1,200 stations across all formats and digital downloads have usurped cassette and CD singles as consumers’ configuration of choice.

P.M. Dawn led the first revamped Hot 100 with “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” which rose 3-1. Rounding out the top five 20 years ago this week were Michael Bolton‘s “When a Man Loves a Woman” at No. 2; Michael Jackson‘s “Black or White” at No. 3; Boyz II Men‘s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” at No. 4; and, Prince‘s “Cream” at No. 5.