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Summary:

Kanye West’s “Gone,” an eight-year-old song, hit the BillBoard Hot 100, thanks in part to a viral video hit on YouTube that used it as a soundtrack. That bump in the rankings shows that media ratings and rankings are mere relics of the past.

kanye west feature image
photo: Getty Images

YouTube has an outsize influence on the world of music and, as result, earlier this year Billboard Magazine and Nielsen SoundScan added the play counts from the online video destination to the way they calculate music charts. It made perfect sense, for the concept of television and radio are being redefined by online services. But I wonder if these measurement services are prepared for, or even relevant to, the new behaviors that we are learning as a result of being location agnostic and constantly connected.

00250065-0000-0000-0000-000000000000_00000065-06d2-0000-0000-000000000000_20130829152708_thefallnetflix2Netflix and the slowly growing binge-viewing phenomenon, for instance, have destroyed the notion of what is a “season” for a television show. As my colleague Janko Roettgers wrote:

Netflix’s strong growth over the last two years has led us to a point where the company’s service is now available in roughly in a quarter of all U.S. TV households. That’s one in four TV viewers who got access to entire seasons of shows, some of which have never aired on traditional TV before, with the option to watch as many episodes as he or she wants.

Location, too, has become irrelevant in this day and age. Having had crush on Gillian Anderson since The X-Files days, I loved watching her in The Fall on Netflix, shortly after the short series aired in the UK. I bet there are a lot of former X-Files fans (I picked the logo of GigaOM to be cerulean blue for a reason) who binge-watched that show and we don’t really show-up anywhere on the Nielsen charts.

Nor does the fact that I am currently watching older seasons of The Big Bang Theory and am still on season four of Mad Men. What I am saying is that it is time to really rethink what TV ratings mean — and no, I don’t think the Twitter and Nielsen partnership solves that problem.

The music chart rankings are equally pokey, as demonstrated by the appearance of Kanye West’s “Gone” at number 18 on the BillBoard Hot 100 list. The song is from his 2005 album, Late Registration. Why is it climbing up the charts now? Because Marina Shifrin (writer/comedian) quit her job as a video editor and sent her boss a video of her dancing around an empty office to “Gone”. The video went viral and got more than 15 million viral views. Billboard magazine reports:

U.S. digital sales of “Gone” spiked from minuscule levels in the previous week to 9,000 in this week’s sales tracking frame, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Overall usage of “Gone” across these videos on YouTube pulled in 6.2 million U.S. streams for the song, according to Nielsen BDS, enough to send the title onto the Streaming Songs chart at No. 4.

Charts and rankings made a lot of sense for predicting popularity of new music or new movies or new television shows at when you there were (fewer but) predictable channels and outlets. They all worked on the notion of buzz and attention that came right after the release of the media. Today, we don’t have predictable time frames, we have multiple channels and we essentially control – how, when and where we consume media. And as Gone shows, these days we influence the outcome indirectly.

“That’s a nice footnote in the greater narrative of how hits are made in the post-YouTube era,” writes Lauren Nostro in her piece about Kanye West, which incidentally is how I found out that YouTube was why “Gone” had hit the charts. I couldn’t agree more with Lauren. It puts a great spotlight on how ludicrous the notion of charts, rankings and ratings of media have become in our always-on, multi-screen and location-agnostic world.

Meanwhile, enjoy the video of the lady who quit her job and help Kanye’s “Gone” go to the top!

  1. Flux Research Monday, October 14, 2013

    This post doesn’t quite make sense for music:

    “Charts and rankings made a lot of sense for predicting popularity of new music or new movies or new television shows at when you there were (fewer but) predictable channels and outlets.”

    Music charts aren’t predictive, they track sales, plays and whatever other activity is being tracked. They look back not forward.

    Kanye West’s Gone charting is an example of that. It charted because people played it a lot on YouTube. The chart shows you the recent past. How is that “pokey”?

    Keep in mind that charts are also another form of list. Speaking of buzz(feed), lots of people are making money off lists these days!

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    1. If you don’t see that a 8-year-old song that is playing as backdrop to a viral video counting towards charts as ridiculous, then you and I are not even reading the same book. There is nothing popular about that song — except some video got popular. The idea of charts wasn’t based on background music of a viral video.

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      1. I’d say Om just a little confused on this one… …If my background has taught me correctly…They still matter…even more so. It’s more about ‘what is their purpose/’. It doesn’t matter how, why or who (that is all for other teams to break down)…It matters the plurality of the choosing. If they were measuring just the background plays of the video I’d say otherwise. It doesn’t matter how people came to want to download or replay the song though… It just matters that they downloaded it. And to be honest, unless they are counting the background plays (I am misinformed if they are and that would be dumb to count internal/integrated soundtrack plays) … Music has always been overwhelmingly influenced by background placement. (Almost more that any other market tool).

        So I must be confused… are they counting integrated soundtrack plays in Youtube? Again, if they are then …yes…those charts would be dumb.
        I’d agree that the charts don’t mean the same thing…but every decade the meaning behind “charts” have changed.

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        1. @dl

          It seems like they are and hence my argument about the whole notion by a bit crazy. Time for them to go back to the drawing board :)

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      2. christopherdorr Monday, October 14, 2013

        Actually the song is such an intrinsic part of the video I would argue that it is “popular”. Imagine for a moment that Kanye West actually came up with the idea for this video and had someone write and shoot it just as we see it. In that case would the song be “popular” by your definition? It is essentially a music video just like any music video, whether or not the creator of the music “created” the video. Further, what if it was revealed in a week or two, that my imagined scenario is actually true, that Kanye West did actually finance and create the video–in that case, is the rating on the chart “real” in your eyes or is it false as you currently claim?

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        1. mind blown

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      3. “If you don’t see that a 8-year-old song that is playing as backdrop to a viral video counting towards charts as ridiculous, then you and I are not even reading the same book. ”

        OM,

        You do good work but you are off base on this one for the reason Flux mentions.

        Charts tracking sales…track *sales* – the definition (at least in a business sense) of what is “hot” right now.

        The song’s sales are the *proof* of its popularity.

        What is your definition of popularity?

        What function do you think *sales* charts perform?

        Is it April 1st?

        Is Om’s intern blogging today?

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        1. Re-read the article and all the comments.

          I think the problem is coming in because some people are talking “sales charts” (Soundscan and some Billboard charts – there are multiple Billboard charts, btw – at least some of which *count sales*).

          Other people (Om included) seem to be talking about some more vaguely compiled charts (which ones exactly? I don’t know…will have to ask them).

          I wouldn’t lean too heavily on that short CNET article…it isn’t particularly careful about breaking out the Billboard charts and Soundscan?

          Soundscan is *sales*.

          And I don’t think even the CNET article claims otherwise.

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  2. I don’t think anyone is an artist or works in marketing at a label for that matter would agree with you here. The miracle here is that people actually bought music. Who cares why it charts?! See: Badfinger sales post Breaking Bad finale. Should they be omitted from charts for irrelevance because their song isn’t new? Just because YouTube is primarily used for discovery it does not mean we should show a bias to new and that if charts include older songs then somehow they’re flawed. There are many phenomenal artists in the world who perhaps will be discovered in the future exactly because of viral videos like this or smart brand integrations – they deserve to chart as much as any pop princess with the force of an entire marketing machine behind them.

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  3. Good conversation that we really need to have. Part of the new world is that YouTube, Pandora and Spotify can be just as powerful as broadcast radio or Soundscan. It’s not that charts don’t matter: they do. But are we measuring the right thing?

    In the music business artists and management are 100% focused on Soundscan’s first week sales, which is strictly physical and digital retail. So while the 9,000 copies of “Gone” that the video helped spike are measured by Soundscan, it doesn’t take into account how many Pandora stations were started from the song, or how many times friends shared “Gone” on Spotify. I’d suggest that these new ways of experiencing music are going to be just as important as clicking a buy button.

    The whole machinery of the music industry is around getting new albums out, capturing number one records for the week and selling units. We have a long ways to go before we’re really accurately measuring “hits” in the real world.

    Jon

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  4. I always thought charts that didn’t just measure sales to be kind of hokey.

    If a chart can be altered by airplay (like the beloved UK charts), it is one more way it can be artificially manipulated.

    A chart that just tracks sales would not pick up this activity.

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