(And other challenges in a socially connected world . . . )

I moderated a panel called “The Future of Charts” at the SFMusicTech conference earlier this week and came away with a stronger sense of how complex the business of music (and media) will become under the influence of social networks and social media.  

Seems straightforward enough, right? Sell x number of CDs, or song downloads and whoever sells the most moves to the top of the charts.  But right now, and for the foreseeable future, it’s very unlikely to be that simple.  And that’s probably going to be a nice problem to have for those folks on the panel which comprised Richard Sussman, of Nielsen, Kyle Bylin, of Billboard, and Alex White, of Next Big Sound.   (Next Big Sound supplies the data for Billboard’s “Social 50” chart.)

What became clear early on during the discussion was that as the music industry (not to mention the rest of media) moves more of its business online, and consumers mix-and-match music/content acquisition modes (download-to-own, pay for access via subscription services), measuring and defining success by merely tracking sales data will only give a partial picture.   Sales performance in terms of songs downloaded, songs streamed or added to playlists on subscription service account will still be the ultimate in terms of judging business value, getting to the top of the (sales) charts is merely the end of a long (and getting longer) trail of increasingly visible/track-able data points that illuminate the forces that lead to a piece of content being successful in the marketplace.

What I find interesting is that while the emphasis on understanding the movement and shifts of influencers and online audiences – are they mobile? are they multitasking while listening/viewing the content? – trying to assess the business value of these is made more complex by the lack of a way to measure the audience’s commitment to the content.  Paying for a CD, a song or album download, or paying a subscription fee for music (or any other media form), those are solid indicators of commitment.

 Indicating an interest in a band by posting a “like” on your Facebook page or, perhaps, Apple’s Ping; a thumbs-up on Pandora, all create measureable data.  The question is a measure of what?  Not to get all existential, but can a “like” on a Facebook page or a “Fan of . . .” be indicated by somebody even though they’ve never bought an album, a ticket to a concert or done more than just stream a couple of videos on Vevo or YouTube?  Of course that can happen, and it probably does. Ultimately, what has to be determined is whether there’s business value in tracking those sorts of what I call shallow commitments to content.

Being able to divine the actionable business intelligence is going to mean some very days ahead for the folks who measure audience and audience behavior.  And I’m sure it’s going to add a whole new sub-specialty to the discussions in and around consumer data and privacy.


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