Monday, June 30, 2014

The problem with piecharts

AM/FM radio accounts for 52.1% of music listening claimed the headline. But how could that be? We're constantly reading about the death of conventional media and the dominance of streaming and cloud services. Not only that, but people are now consuming media on demand, where they want, when they want, and as many times in a row as they want.

How then, could old-fashioned radio still be in the lead?

A closer look at the statistics is called for. So here we go. This is Edison Research's Share of Ear piechart, which is actually more of a lifesaver/mint, really, but that doesn't sound as good. So piechart it is.

Click to enlarge

First of all, Edison Research is reporting audio consumption via radio, not music consumption. Listening to talk radio, sports broadcasts, weather forecasts, and traffic updates are all being lumped into the number. So that's error number one. Not an error made by Edison Research, but an error made in the retelling of the story. Edison states that it's audio they're talking about, while some of the services that picked up the story used 'radio' and 'music' interchangeably, and they're very different things. This kind of slack-uracy happens not infrequently, particularly when statistics are being cited or studies are being quoted.

Also important to consider is what is missing from the pie. Just because it looks like a full circle doesn't mean slices or ingredients aren't missing. Conspicuously absent from this analysis, in order of magnitude:


We've suspected it for years but as of 2012 we have evidence from Nielsen statistics that about 65% of teens are using YouTube as their primary source of music 'listening'. Whether it's one of a bunch of windows open on their screen, or as a video embedded in a Facebook newsfeed, or as a video converted to MP3, or as a selectable playlist in the thumbnail section, the origin of the music 'listening' is YouTube. To not include the video platform, with its 1 billion+ monthly users, as a source of music consumption is a big oversight, and points to the limitations of existing categories and terminology when dealing with the new forms, habits, and behaviors that accompany new technologies.

Ed. Note: August 19th, 2014: YouTube's music streaming service reported. Info & screenshots here.


Yes, YouTube is not only a central repository and destination for video, it also serves the same purpose for music. But that doesn't mean there's not a whole 'nother YouTube for music. Because there is. It's called SoundCloud, and it's the world's second largest music streaming service. Second to Spotify? To Pandora? No. Second to YouTube. The site boasts 250 million users per month and 12 hours of audio uploaded every minute (contrast with YouTube's 100 hours of video uploaded each minute).

The idea behind SoundCloud: anyone can upload any audio they want to, so it quickly became home to DJ's mixes, mashups, hip hop mixtapes, and even cassette mixtapes, converted to digital. Annotating, commenting, sharing, and reposting are built-in features on SoundCloud, so when something gains traction on the site, dissemination can occur at lightning speed. To date there's been no monetization taking place on SoundCloud, so there have been no payments to artists. However, in the last few weeks there have been rumblings about the introduction of a subscription service, in addition to a gradual increase in the number of takedown notices the service has been issuing to uploaders. Like so many digital platforms, issues of legality are initially put aside, and either norms change or the site's policies change, often a result of shareholder pressure. Plus, the cost of a copyright lawsuit, relative to a potentially multi-billion dollar valuation, make flouting the law a reasonable plan. For a while at least.

Vevo, Vimeo, other?

Vevo is sometimes called 'the Hulu of music videos' (have you noticed that everything is the_______ of ______, and half the time we don't really know one _______ from the other?). What this analogy means is that the parties posting the videos have the right to do so. They are the copyright holders. In the case of Hulu, it's the broadcasters. In the case of Vevo it's a consortium of the major music labels, specifically Universal, Sony, and EMI, who do a revenue share with Google (owner of YouTube) on the advertising. But wouldn't Vevo's numbers get counted with YouTube's numbers, you ask? Yes, when its videos are being viewed on YouTube. But Vevo is also available as an app on Apple TV, and that listening/viewing would not be reflected in the YouTube stats.

Same thing goes for Vimeo. It has over 100 million monthly users and in addition to videos that appear on YouTube it is also available as an app for mobile devices (including tablets), where somewhere between 20 and 25% of Vimeo usage occurs. Also missing from the share of ear chart above is online radio stations whose live streams and podcasts can be accessed on desktops and laptops (I know that's how I sometimes listen to music online). And there's also the music we encounter at restaurants, the gym, and in stores that we can now use tools such as Shazam to identify and then share the information. This ability to interact, on the spot, and to announce our discoveries to those in our social network, is unique to digital, networked media, and replaces some of the functions once provided by disc jockeys, journalists, word of mouth, or that know-it-all guy in your group who was an encyclopedia of rockology and only too happy to illuminate everyone. Oh, and because we're talking numbers, Shazam has over 5 billion songs tagged in its database and more than 250 million users.

So, when we consider all of these unaccounted sources together, what do we see? A few things. We have share of ear and share of eye sometimes conflating into one. Just as the activity formerly known as 'watching TV' is now done on a variety of devices for a variety of durations with a variety of genres that are not 30 or 60 minute programs, so too does 'listening to radio' no longer offer an accurate description of the activity of music consumption. We still have passive consumption, in which radio or music lives in the background. But we now also have active consumption (e.g. assembling playlists, uploading mixes, posting and sharing links). And, as our media habits become more complex and varied we have continuous partial attention, a relative of, but not the same as multitasking.

To help provide a sense of the landscape of digital entertainment that we used to call 'radio' or 'TV' (but increasingly these terms are restrictive at worst and misleading at best) I have pulled together some numbers and notes on the more popular online audio and video platforms. Note that not every one is included in this analysis. It's a highly fragmented market, with upstarts emerging from anywhere and everywhere, so a year from now you may well ask why 'Service X' was not included here (e.g. Beats Audio, recently acquired by Apple currently has just a few hundred thousand subscribers, but who knows, they could well be major players -- or not -- a year or two from now. Stranger things have happened).

Something interesting to think about while looking at these numbers is the speed with which the services that are native to digital got to tens and hundreds of millions of users (and over a billion, in the case of YouTube), while the organizations with an analog legacy or arm of the business have been much slower to gain traction.

July 1st newsflash: Since this post was written, Google has made another play in the online music market with the acquisition of Songza (not included in the table above, as the listener base is ~4-5 million per month. That may now change).

This post was compiled while viewing Katy Perry's Part of Me, on Netflix. (Is that audio, video, app, or multitasking?).

 By the way, if I've left anything glaring (or even trivial but interesting) out of the tally and the assumptions, do let me know in the comments section. I thank you.

Related Posts: 

Podcasting: Art, Craft, or Reaching the Niches
Music Hack Day

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