Frank Ocean set the industry on its ear by releasing two separate albums within 48 hours last week: Endless, the “visual album” released on the night of Aug. 18, and Blonde, which followed on the 20th. The latter is on track to debut at No. 1 on the next Billboard 200, but the former will not chart. Why? Eyes down.
Blonde, the more-or-less official follow-up to 2012’s Channel Orange, is exclusively for sale through the iTunes Store and to stream via Apple Music. It’s projected to move around 275,000 equivalent-album units in the week ending Aug. 25, according to industry forecasters. (Its final tally for the week is scheduled to be announced on Sunday, Aug. 28.)
The Billboard 200 chart ranks the most popular albums of the week in the U.S. based on multi-metric consumption, which includes traditional album sales, track-equivalent albums (TEA) and streaming-equivalent albums (SEA). At the moment, Blonde’s tracks are not available to purchase a la carte, but one can stream individual songs from the album. Sales of the Blonde album, along with streams of its songs, will be combined for its overall equivalent album unit total.
However, Endless won’t be hitting the charts anytime soon — at least, not in its current form. The 45-minute long music video is available, only as a full-length stream, exclusively through the Apple Music streaming service — and because of that uniqueness, it is not currently eligible to chart.
Because Endless is not for sale — at least, not at the moment — and none of its tracks are individually available to purchase or stream (only the full 45-minute project is streamable), there is no data to drive it onto either the Billboard 200 or the Music Video Sales chart, the latter of which ranks the week’s top-selling long-form videos available on home video (DVD, blu-ray, etc.).
While Endless is an innovative release, there is — so far — no industry-accepted album-equivalent ratio for streaming an entire visual album. At the present, the industry accepts that 1,500 streams of songs from an album equate to one album “unit.” But, for example, does one stream of a 45-minute visual album equate to one album unit? These are the types of questions that the industry, with Billboard and Nielsen Music, would need to answer in order to come up with a sensible way of including streamed visual albums, like Endless, onto the Billboard 200 chart.
One might ask what makes Endless different from a visual album like Beyonce’s Lemonade? The latter debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 earlier this year — so why can’t Endless?
Because Lemonade — the film of which premiered on April 23 on HBO, and the audio album of which was initially streamed exclusively through Tidal — was accompanied two days later by a 12-track companion album released through Parkwood/Columbia Records available through other digital retailers.
So, when Lemonade debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (with 653,000 equivalent album units), it did so with the support of traditional album sales (485,000 copies sold in its first chart week), streaming-equivalent albums (77,000 units) and track-equivalent albums (91,000 units), but without streams of the long-form Lemonade film.
As the concept of the album continues to evolve, Billboard and Nielsen Music, in consultation with the industry, will continue to consider evolving chart policies to accommodate for the consumption of forward-thinking projects like Endless.