BillBoard, Nielsen and the ridiculousness of charts in the Internet age, as shown by Kanye West’s “Gone”

YouTube (s GOOG) 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 (s NFLX) 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!