Music industry executives hoped that the coronavirus quarantines might buoy music streaming activity with so much of the population isolated indoors. So far, the opposite has occurred. In the last two full weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic was spreading across the world, the U.S. industry has had a moderate downturn in streaming, with even bigger drops in physical.
Two weeks ago, in the week ended March 12, the industry saw a dip in music streaming — down by 1% to 25.3 billion streams from 25.55 billion streams. But it would appear that the longer people stayed out of the office, the less music they consumed.
In the week ending March 12, album consumption units were down 1.6% to 14.6 million units from 14.8 million units. The decline worsened the following week, ending March 19, with overall album consumption units down a whopping 12.3% to 12.76 million units, and total streams fell to 24.45 billion streams (3.5% from the 25.3 billion tallied in the week ending March 12).
Within that, all sales formats, as summarized by albums plus track equivalent albums, fell a whopping 25.6% last week to 1.94 million from the prior week total of 2.61 million units.
Before Covid-19 took hold in the U.S., streaming was soaring: the week ending March 5 marked 2020’s highest streaming week, with 25.55 billion plays.
But there is a bigger cloud on the horizon: as millions of people lose their jobs due to the vast economic shutdowns, some music executives fear that they will get rid of fixed expenses — namely, music streaming subscriptions — which would starve the overall revenue pie.
For now, people who are streaming music seem to be taking comfort in listening to songs they already know. Catalog (music that is older than 18 months) trumped current (music released within the last 18 months) over the last two weeks. The week ending March 19, current streams dropped 5%, whereas catalog only fell 2.5%. So far this year, catalog streams are up 21.6% to 171.29 billion from 140.88 billion in the same corresponding period last year; while current streams are up 16.4% to 96.46 billion versus 82.85 billion in the year earlier period.
A different scenario played out for audio and video. In the week ending March 12, video was only down 0.7%, faring slightly better than both overall streams (down 0.9%) and audio (down 1%). The following week, ending March 19, video streams surged — up 6.9% — thanks to millions of people stuck at home, while overall streams were down 3.5% and audio streams dropped 9%.
Video streams continued to soar throughout the week. The video streams for Friday, March 13, were 2% stronger than the average preceding nine Fridays; while Saturday was 2.7% stronger and Sunday was 6.5% better. Monday through Thursday, video streaming was going strong with double-digit increases each day. Overall, the week ending March 19 was the strongest week of the year for video on demand with a total of 9.43 billion streams, the most so far accumulated in one week in 2020.
All of that video streaming benefited one particular genre — children’s music, which saw overall consumption units (including video) up 9.8% last week to 236,000, up from 215,000 in the prior week. Within that, on-demand streaming grew 16.7% to 363.4 million streams, up from 311.35 million for the week ending March 12.
In terms of the large genres, pop was streamed the most up 0.6% to 3.615 billion, while overall consumption units fell 5.3% to 2.11 million units for the week ending March 19 compared to the prior week. The biggest drops were felt by R&B/hip-hop, down to 12.2% with streams down 6.9%; and rock was down 13.5% with streams down 4.5%.
The genres declining slower than the overall industry are classical, which fell 2.4% in the week ended March 19, but on-demand streaming rose 4% to 184.4 million streams, versus 177.3 million streams in the prior week. And while comedy was down 8.2% in overall consumption units, on-demand streaming only fell 1.4% to 46.5 million streams. But within that genre, video streaming grew 7.9% to 18.4 million streams for the week ended March 19.
Looking at the other genres, the big loser was Latin — down 16.2% overall with streaming down 13.7%. — followed by country, down 11.1% overall with streaming down 6.1%. Dance/electronic fared slightly better, down 7.5% overall, but its streaming rate was barely hit (down 0.9%). Other genres such as Christian/gospel, blues, jazz, and new age all saw declines.
This article has been updated.