May 15, 2019

Why Country is Missing from Streaming

Part three of a four-part series on music consumption trends

In our last post, we explained why so many pure Hip Hop songs that are massive hits on streaming aren’t big hits for mass appeal radio audiences. Today, we tackle the opposite scenario.

During the past two years, Country’s share of the songs listeners heard most on American radio grew each year, in large part because Americans are listening more to Country radio during the past two years. While this growth is somewhat reflected in digital download sales, Country remains almost non-existent among the Top 75 most streamed songs in 2018, according to Billboard’s year-end charts powered by Nielsen.

 

 

Why is Country missing from the top of Spotify and YouTube charts?

Country fans have been slow to adopt streaming.

This phenomenon is partly demographic: Country fans span a wide age range, including many older listeners who haven’t embraced streaming as rapidly as listeners 35 and under have embraced streaming. In contrast, Hip Hop fans tend to mirror the young demo of streaming’s biggest users.

Until recently, neither record labels nor streaming services have  actively promoted strategies to encourage fans to stream their Country favorites. That’s finally changing. In 2017, Amazon Music saw an opportunity to become the preferred service of Country fans, including a landmark deal to be the exclusive streaming partner of Garth Brooks.


Country fans are fans of Country radio
.

While not yet big users of music streaming, Country fans are big users of local FM radio.  Our sister company Coleman Insights uncovered this phenomenon in their recent Contemporary Music SuperStudy, which examined how different listeners react to the most popular contemporary music.

Coleman Insights’ Warren Kurtzman notes, “In the data from our study, Country titles made up a much bigger portion of the Top 100 songs with daily radio listeners than it did with daily streaming listeners. This is what accounts for the discrepancy you describe, along with the fact that Country tends to perform better with older listeners.” 

A big reason may well be that Country radio is highly effective at fulfilling their listeners’ music desires, leaving most Country fans with little reason to buy or stream their favorite songs.  The loyal bond Country music fans have with their local Country station won’t surprise anyone involved with the format.

What Songs Do Listeners Still Buy? 

 

iTunes’ demise might be inevitable, but today, there are people who still pay to own digital copies of their favorite songs. Many of the songs listeners purchased most in recent years closely mirrors the Pop and Pop-friendly Hip Hop titles most played on radio.

The one genre that stands out as unique among the top songs listeners paid to download is music from film and TV. “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, “This Is Me” by Keala Settle & The Greatest Showman Ensemble, and “The Champion” by Carrie Underwood Featuring Ludacris, specifically recorded for the opening for NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LII.

Why aren’t these songs big on streaming? One reason could be that these songs benefit from big events that spawn sudden mass interest in them—such as the Big Game or the release of a hotly anticipated movie—but don’t sustain strong interest in subsequent weeks that would rack up streaming plays. As we’ve highlighted in previous posts, strong music sales represent new people who want to own a song, but can’t capture how long people want to hear a song after they’ve bought it.

For radio, these songs that suddenly soar to the top of the digital song sales chart might be worth tracking, but some may be a moment to relive on the morning show after the big event—not a song for recurring rotation.

In our final post in Our Musically Divided Nation series, we’ll offer guidance on how you should program your station in polarizing times, with lessons we can learn from the past.

 

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