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Charting the Streaming of Albums

Streaming is upon us, it is one of the buzz words of our era - and understandably so. It may remain a minority sport among music fans (around 12% of spending on music in the UK during 2014), but it is growing at a rapid pace.

Next year will mark 60 years since the first albums chart was published in the UK - with Frank Sinatra's Songs For Swinging Lovers heralded as the first weekly Number 1.

This Spring, as the chart begins to make plans for its landmark celebration, it is preparing to usher in a new era. For the first time, audio streaming will count towards an album's chart position (alongside sales of vinyl, CD and digital download), around nine months after the Official Singles Chart embraced streaming too.

Streaming is upon us, it is one of the buzz words of our era - and understandably so. It may remain a minority sport among music fans (around 12% of spending on music in the UK during 2014), but it is growing at a rapid pace.

Just 12 months ago, music fans were generating around 190 million streams a week in the UK - in January this year, that volume had risen to 360 million streams. In February last year, Clean Bandit's Rather Be became the first track to be streamed 1.5 million times a week - in January 2015, Mark Ronson's monster hit Uptown Funk became the first track to be streamed 2 million times in a week and has now surpassed that marker for the past eight weeks, peaking at 2.54 million streams in a week last month.

But streaming is not just about big hit singles - it is a new way for music fans to gorge themselves on a seemingly endless supply of albums, from the all-time classics right through to newest releases by the freshest new acts. The availability of more than 20 million different tracks, stored in a jukebox in the cloud, has transformed fans' engagement with their music.

As a teenager, I remember discovering David Bowie for the first time - back then, in the days of vinyl albums and eight-track, and before downloads had been dreamt of, the only way to satisfy my curiosity was to pop down to my local Woolworths and buy a mid-price issue of Ziggy Stardust. As a curious teenager today, I would have had Bowie's entire catalogue at my fingertips, courtesy of services such as Spotify, Deezer, Google Play, Napster and others.

Listening to albums is a natural way of using services such as these - in fact, the services themselves indicate that the majority of streams they deliver come from albums and are part of an album listening experience. So, to ensure the Official Albums Chart remains the definitive measure of album popularity in the UK, it is essential that we begin factoring in this form of music consumption.

Initially, the impact will be small - streaming from albums is still a small part of all albums consumption overall (adding streams will provide a volume uplift of up to 10% of the Official Albums Chart). But it is growing quickly and it is important that we begin reflecting music fans' continuing love of albums through these new services.

A key consideration in taking this step, however, has been ensuring that we reflect listening of the albums themselves - and not just the big hits that many of them invariably hold.

In other markets where this step has been taken already, local charts have counted all streams from every track on an album. This is simple, but potentially leads to albums being unfairly skewed by big hits - as, for instance, the monster hits achieved by the likes of Mark Ronson and Clean Bandit above inevitably would. These are no one-offs either - similar issues would have been raised by other smash hits of recent years, including John Legend's All Of Me, Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines and is a general issue for any album with a hit single or two on it.

After months of consultation with the music industry, we have devised a method which involves, quite simply, down-weighting the two biggest tracks on each album before counting their streams. The streams generated by each album are then subject to a ratio of 1,000 streams to 1 album (reflecting the broad difference in value between the two) and added to an album's sales volume.

This will ensure that an album doesn't receive a boost because of one big hit single - and ensures that the bodies of work which continue to be at the heart of all artists' musical output.

The big change will take place starting in the chart which is published on Sunday March 1, a few days after The Brit Awards and reflecting streams prompted by the UK's annual celebration of music.

It is an apt time to take this step - ensuring that Brit winners of the future continue to be showcased every week in an Official Albums Chart which remains reflective of all fans' favourite music.

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