Vodafone Big Top 40 to include streaming, social media

james cridland radio futurologist 300wThis guest column by James Cridland was originally published in Media UK.

Back in 2004, I was involved in the first ever download chart in the UK.Virgin Radio counted down the Napster Download Chart every weekend: the first proper download chart of its type on the radio.

In 2009, the Vodafone Big Top 40 launched. This Global Radio creation was a real-time chart, using iTunes sales statistics alongside radio airplay to produce a more “live” chart.

It clearly works. The Vodafone Big Top 40 has 2.4 million listeners, making it the biggest show on commercial radio, and has twice as many listeners as the BBC Radio 1 Official Chart: a significant achievement over one of Radio 1’s biggest shows.

Five years later, it seems that there’s more tweaking going on: as from this summer the Vodafone Big Top 40 now includes rather more data points: streaming, social media and YouTube in addition to downloads and radio airplay.

vodafone big top 40The press release trumpets that “these changes will ensure that the chart continues to be a true barometer of the music the UK is listening to and engaging with”; and with the rise of streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, Deezer and Google Play Music, it’s clear that these services are significant methods of consumption of music, and Global are right to include them. Popularity isn’t worked out by sales figures alone any more: and it’s a really bright idea to continue tweaking a chart of the most popular music in the UK.

We asked Global Radio’s PR company “what do you mean by social media”, and “where are the streaming figures coming from” – and we hope to hear which services are included shortly, and how social media fits into the picture. It’s probably no coincidence that Heart is number 1 for radio stations using social media in Media UK’s charts. [Later: they refuse to name any streaming services other than “multiple sources”; and refuse to go into any detail or any services used for “social media”. We’re a little in the dark, therefore: hopefully it’s based on “talking-about” type data, showing people talking about artists rather than anything else. But, at least we tried to prize a little more detail than just regurgitate a press release.]

This isn’t the first chart put together by using data available on the web: Hype Machine monitors music blogs, while last.fm produces charts based on millions of installed “scrobblers”, monitoring plays from users on services and in players across the world. Here’s mine. It is, however, the first mainstream use of this kind of data to produce a radio programme, and arguably puts more pressure on the Official Chart Company to refresh their own algorithm.

“However our listeners are getting their music fix, we’re there and we’re counting their music choices,” said Ashley Tabor, Global’s founder and executive president, in a press release. “We’ll continue to add new relevant data sources as consumption and interaction habits continue to evolve,” the press release quotes him as saying.

The Vodafone Big Top 40 airs on 118 radio stations across the UK, and is presented by Marvin Hughes. You can listen again on their website, I notice.

I think I might now be owed some money by Vodafone. No? Oh.

James Cridland