Since 1940, Billboard has been the golden standard for measuring industry success, whether for important sales data, or simply bragging rights. A new company, however, owned by Penske Media, may be challenging Billboard's turf by offering analytics which are much more in touch with the streaming world.
Guest post by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0
Ever since the first Billboard music chart was created back in 1940, the music industry has relied on the publication as a measure of success. Much of this was for bragging rights between labels, but also as a way to provide retail with sales data (and a large dose of hype) to determine what records to stock back in the heyday of brick and mortar music retail. Those days are long gone, and in recent years Billboard has struggled to keep its charts relevant in the world of digital consumption. Now it looks like the magazine may be facing some serious chart competition with the announcement that Penske Media Corporation (owner of Variety and Rolling Stone) has just invested in BuzzAngle Music, an analytics company that many industry insiders claim is in better touch with the streaming world.
One of the criticisms of the early Billboard charts is that they were open to manipulation, and that happened on a regular basis from the 50’s through the 80’s. There are many publicly-related stories of record labels, artists and managers stacking the deck for their product by over-reporting sales with the help of a friendly retailer or radio station. Since the charts were based on a phone survey back then, it was easy to inflate a sales figure for a record by a store and no one would be the wiser.
That all changed when Billboard began using Nielsen SoundScan in 1991, which actually tracked the barcode of a record or CD as it was sold, as the basis for its charts. Since then, Nielsen Music has been Billboard’s supplier for the wide variety of data that it uses to create its many charts.
But Things Are Different Today
That system worked well in the days of physical music product, but we’ve long since moved past that era. Today song popularity is based on streams, views, and, to a lesser and quickly declining degree, downloads, while radio airplay and physical sales have almost become unimportant in many cases. Billboard’s charts have made efforts to incorporate digital data along with sales data, but not everyone has been happy with the results, as there are times when the top 10 of any chart doesn’t seem to correlate with what’s popular in the streaming world.
That’s provided an opening for Penske and its investment in BuzzAngle, a music data analytics company who’s various rankings have been adopted by many of the larger players in the industry. Until now BuzzAngle’s charts have been intended for those within the industry, but Penske now plans to take them public, a direct challenge to Billboard.
BuzzAngle currently concentrates just on the U.S. market with some fingers in the U.K., but reportedly would like to expand into additional territories. The investment from Penske could provide the means to do that.
Regardless of what artist, labels and industry execs may tell you, a high position on any chart is critical to artist popularity and career trajectory. The problem is that some charts mean more than others, and for much of the modern music industry, the Billboard charts were in the forefront of respectability. The magazine has been challenged before, but this time the assault might not be as easy to fend off.