Chart Watch: The Ridiculously Long Wait for the Billboard Charts

Paul Grein

Billboard routinely posts the top 10 albums from its flagship Billboard 200 chart on Sundays and the top 10 songs from its Hot 100 chart on Mondays. Here it’s Tuesday and Billboard still hasn’t posted any information.

What gives?

Billboard has issued this vague statement on its website: “The release of Billboard‘s Aug. 12-dated charts is delayed. A top-tier data provider has encountered technical issues, preventing the delivery of its data to Nielsen Music (which provides the sales, streaming and airplay information for Billboard‘s charts).

“Due to this issue, and because there is a close race for No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, Billboard is holding back the release of all of its Aug. 12-dated charts until we get further clarity from the data provider. The chart results will be announced and posted as soon as possible this week. Thank you for your patience.”

There is indeed a close race for No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Hits, a rival trade publication and website, posted its weekly album chart on Friday. It had Lana Del Rey‘s Lust for Life at No. 1 with 109K in “equivalent units,” which is a hybrid of traditional album sales, streaming and digital track sales. (Billboard and Hits both shifted from a sales-only chart to a hybrid chart in 2014.) Tyler, the Creator‘s Flower Boy was 5K equivalent units behind, at 104K. Meek Mill‘s Wins & Losses was No. 3, with 87K.

But there’s another issue that may be complicating the picture this week — how and whether Billboard should count free Tidal streams of Wins & LossesHits editorialized last week that counting those streams was “the most naked example of chart manipulation in recent memory.”

Hits opined: “These free streams generate no revenue and thus equate to free goods, thus making them ineligible for chart inclusion.”

Billboard posted an online response last week in which they made clear that they have counted free streams since the 2014 change to a “multi-metric” chart formula.

“Free streams — with ‘free’ defined as streams a listener has accessed without having a paid subscription or as part of a trial period subscription—have counted towards the Billboard 200 since it changed to a consumption model in 2014 where the ranking is determined by blending album sales, track equivalent album units and streaming equivalent album units.

“By the methodology now in place…on-demand audio streams from approved contributors, whether in front or behind a pay-wall, or via a free, discounted or paid trial, all count equally, provided the streams are consumer-initiated ‘on demand.’

“The debate in treating free streams differently than paid/subscription streams is a valid one, as is examining how each streaming provider allows access to its service. Again, no changes were enacted this week, but when and if any adjustments are made on either front in the future, they will be communicated in advance to the industry to allow for proper preparation time.”

Hits responded with some sharp questions.

“Antiquated rules continue to govern what kinds of physical and downloaded music can be counted on the charts, but no such vigilance applies to streams. If minimum pricing applies to physical and downloads, why not to these types of streams that have no revenue-generating component?

“Everyone wants to do whatever’s possible to maximize the chart impact of their releases. But without imposing these standards evenly to all platforms, we have a situation with streaming that’s no different than handing out free CDs in the street.”

The battle on how and whether to count free streams on industry charts will continue. When Billboard finally posts its top 10 albums and songs for this week, I’ll pass on the information to you. Stay tuned.