Are we witnessing the demise of the streaming megahit?

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MBW’s Stat Of The Week is a series in which we show why a single data point deserves the attention of the global music industry. Stat Of the Week is supported by Cinq Music Group, a technology-driven record label, distribution and rights management company.

For decades, the record industry has focused its attention and investment on one thing above all else: the hit record.

But new numbers from the US this week suggest that hits – as in blockbusters, industry-dominant megahits – are increasingly becoming a less-sighted beast.

Although millions more people play music via streaming services every year, the biggest streaming hit in the industry in mid-2021 is significantly smaller than the biggest streaming hit in mid-2020, 2019 and 2018.

To illustrate this, we need to turn to MRC Data’s new half-yearly industry report, which covers the US record industry for the first six months of 2021.

MRC’s numbers show that the biggest hit of the first half of 2021 in the US was Olivia Rodrigo’s driver’s license, which attracted 460.2 million on-demand audio streams over the six months.

That’s a lot of games.

But 460.2 million is the smallest amount of on-demand audio streams the mid-year US number 1 hit garnered in four years:

  • In the first half of 2020, Roddy Ricch’s The Box moved in 728.7 million Audio streams in the first half of the year according to MRC / Nielsen Music data.
  • The No. 2 streaming track in the H1 2020 period, Life Is Good, by Future (Ft Drake), also achieved more plays than a driver’s license in the middle of the year 476.2 million.
  • In the first half of 2019, Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road pulled one 596.1 million Audio streams.
  • And in the first half of 2018, Drake’s God’s plan moved in 655.0 million Audio streams.

You had to go back to H1 2017 – when Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You was co-governing 354.2 million Streams – To find a time when the US # 1 audio streaming record had more plays than driver’s licenses in the middle of the year.

This is all particularly strange, of course, when you consider that the popularity of streaming rose massively between 2017 and 2021.

Although the latest MRC semi-annual report doesn’t include a specific figure for the total audio streaming volume of the U.S. industry in the first half of 2021, it shows that that figure has increased by about 15% from the same figure in 2020.

A previous MRC Data report shows that US on-demand audio streaming volume was 419.8 billion in the first half of 2020 … which means we can be confident that the corresponding figure in the first half of 2021 will be around 482.8 billion.

That figure of 482.8 billion is in turn 80% higher than the total amount of on-demand audio streams recorded by MRC / Nielsen in the first half of 2018 (268.2 billion).

And yet, the number of streams recorded by the # 1 audio streaming record in mid-2018 (God’s plan, 655 million) was almost 200 million streams higher than the largest record in the first half of 2021 (driver’s license, 460.2 million).

So what’s up?

Someone could reasonably argue that the “death of the mega-hit?” The narrative here actually has a simple explanation: Olivia Rodrigo’s driver’s license just isn’t as popular as the other routes mentioned above. It’s definitely a big hit – it’s just not a megahit like God’s Plan, Old Town Road or The Box.

One could also consider the fact that the first half of 2021 was entangled in Covid bans (and the uncertainty that came with it) – not exactly ideal conditions for superstars to post a plethora of chart toppers.

But digging deeper into the numbers suggests that the whisper of the “death of the mega-hit” may indeed reflect a longer-term, empirical trend – rather than a mere pandemic anomaly.

Below, MBW has calculated the cumulative volume of on-demand audio streams shared by the top 10 US audio streaming hits in the first half of each year, as tabulated by MRC Data / Nielsen Music.

As you can see, this cumulative top 10 number peaked at 3.81 billion audio streams by mid-year in the first half of 2019, after increasing steadily in each previous year compared to the previous year.

Last year, this number fell slightly for the first time.

And in the first half of 2021, even if the driver’s license does its best to pull the market up, it’s down again – this time by 17% or a whopping 647 million games year-over-year.

Statistics of the week: The cumulative market share of the top 10 on-demand audio streaming tracks in the US at mid-year has been halved over the past three years.

In our next graph, we show how these cumulative top 10 audio stream numbers develop as a percentage of the market share of total audio streaming volume in the USA in each half-year period.

There is a very clear pattern.

Between H1 2018 (1.26%) and H1 2021 (0.64%), the combined market share of the top 10 audio streaming tracks halved.

Given that catalog music increased its US market share significantly in the first half of 2021, do we see a seismic shift in the makeup of the record business in the world’s largest market?

Or will this turn out to be more of a Covid-inspired slip up to be corrected as some of the world’s biggest stars (including Ed Sheeran and Drake) inevitably release hit singles in the second half of this year?

The global music rights industry – not to mention its most powerful investors – will look carefully to find out.

The Cinq Music Group’s repertoire has won Grammy awards, dozen of gold and platinum RIAA certifications, and numerous # 1 chart positions on a variety of Billboard charts. His repertoire includes heavyweights like Bad Bunny, Janet Jackson, Daddy Yankee, TI, Sean Kingston, Anuel and hundreds more.Music business worldwide

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