A War Is Brewing Between Billboard and YouTube Over Music Charts
Following Billboard’s decision last week to tweak the methodology of its music charts in favor of paid streaming services, YouTube, a free streaming service, is ramping up its own music charts. On Thursday, the company debuted “Trending,” a chart that refreshes multiple times a day with real-time data on music that is rising on the platform. YouTube also announced improvements to its existing weekly Top Songs, Top Artists and Top Music Videos charts.
The company – which claims to have 1.8 billion users, or a quarter of the world’s population, logging in every month – said in its announcement that it is “just getting started” and will be releasing more charts and detailed data breakdowns of music in the near future. Its new Trending chart is the company’s first external presentation of most-viewed new music on its site. Its Top Songs and Top Artists charts tally up several forms of video across 44 global territories, including official music videos, lyric videos and user-generated content that uses official tracks.
All together, the charts are meant to offer an in-the-moment view of artists and tracks bubbling up in popularity. “The labels and a lot of the industry already use YouTube to understand what’s hot, and as the world’s most powerful music discovery platform, we play a really critical role in new music today,” Stephen Bryan, YouTube’s head of label relations, tells Rolling Stone. “The Trending chart is an evolution that’s based on that understanding. We think it’s going to be incredibly helpful to the industry in providing the clearest view in what’s happening in music today.”
Why right now, though? YouTube claims its Trending chart and other updates are not a reaction to Billboard’s new policies, which now give as much as three times more weight to paid streams (from, for example, a subscription service like Apple Music) as to free streams. But Bryan says it is “unfortunate” that “Billboard is essentially saying the only music fans that count are music fans that have credit cards and are paying for subscriptions,” adding that certain artists like Latin singers and young hip-hop acts – who already outperform on YouTube’s charts as compared to Billboard’s – may be hurt by the changes. YouTube claims its charts offer a “more accurate” view of the music scene. A representative for Billboard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
YouTube’s moves are already closely watched by the music business – the platform’s user base is eight times larger than Spotify and Apple Music combined, and around 46 percent of all music streamed around the globe is done so through YouTube by latest global reports – so its decision to double down on charts could be seen as an attempt to curry favor with the record industry. Artists and label executives have griped in the past about low payouts and copyright issues brought on by the platform’s user-led, ad-supported business model.
To that end, YouTube is also gearing up to launch, on top of its free video-streaming platform, a paid subscription music service. Per YouTube music head Lyor Cohen, the company will “smoke out” people who can afford to pay for music and shepherd them toward the new service; those paid song streams, Bryan says, will be factored into YouTube’s platform-wide charts with equal weight.