Streaming-music consumption is exploding, with music videos leading the way

This could stymie the growth of services such as Spotify and Pandora that don’t offer music videos, while services that do have video must compete with free offerings from YouTube.

Credit: Tidal

The numbers are in, and it seems there’s just no stopping the streaming-music juggernaut. Nielsen’s mid-year appraisal of the U.S. music market points to a staggering increase in on-demand streaming’s popularity during the first half of 2015, a period that saw Americans stream more than 135 billion songs. [download 2015 Nielsen Music U.S. Mid-Year Report] That's an almost two-fold increase from the same period last year, when the number stood at around 70.6 billion. It’s also the sole reason digital music consumption (sales plus streams) grew by 23 percent despite a sizeable decline in song and album downloads.

But where things start to get really interesting is when the above figure is broken down by audio and video streams. According to the research firm, 76.6 billion (or 56.6 percent) of the total music streams during the period under consideration were in video form, an increase of 109.2 percent compared to last year. While the growth in the consumption of audio streams was also pretty significant at 74.2 percent, it’s clear more and more people are gravitating toward online music videos.

Why this matters: Granted, the natural instinct is to look at this data in the context of streaming in general, but we are not sure that’s how providers of audio-only streaming services are looking at it. The Spotifys and the Pandoras of the world should be alarmed by the increasing numerical daylight between audio and video streams, which as Nielsen’s historical data shows has never been this significant.

The spectacular rise in the popularity of music-video streaming can be attributed to two factors. First, people simply enjoy the whole experience more than plain audio. Second, they can stream an almost unlimited number of music videos through sites like YouTube without having to dig into their pockets. Even those subscriptions services that do offer music videos, such as Apple’s Apple Music and Jay-Z’s already-floundering Tidal, might have a tough time competing with free even with exclusive content (Apple has Taylor Swift’s 1989, while Tidal has content from owner/artists including Rihanna).

Bucking the trend

So overall, streaming music is walloping all other forms of music consumption, right? Well, try telling that to Taylor Swift, whose album 1989 is sitting pretty on top of Billboard’s mid-year sales chart with more 2 million units sold despite having a measly 188,213 on-demand audio streams against its name (because she’s only recently made the album available as an exclusive on Apple Music). To put things into perspective, 1989’s nearest rival, Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, has managed to move only 1.43 million units in this period, even though the songs on that album have been streamed more than 400 million times.

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