NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - In a consolidated streaming music business, when most consumers get their music from just a handful of online outlets, could the tardiness of just one company's data hold the Billboard album chart hostage?
That was the case this week, when a delay by Spotify caused the latest Billboard chart - still the industry's most important scorecard - to be released two days late, a situation that industry chart watchers said was rare, if not unprecedented.
Billboard's weekly charts, compiled from data collected by Nielsen, are posted every Monday, with self-congratulatory tweets from victorious artists and record labels coming soon after. When no chart appeared by Tuesday, Billboard published a brief note attributing the delay to "a top-tier data provider," and offering no ETA. Nearly half a week's data was missing, and the winner was difficult to predict because of a close three-way contest between Lana Del Rey, Meek Mill and Tyler, the Creator.
Billboard did not identify the truant account, but a Spotify spokesman acknowledged on Wednesday that the company was late, saying that "routine maintenance" had caused its delay in delivering data to Nielsen.
When the chart was finally posted on Wednesday afternoon, Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life (Interscope) was No. 1, followed by Tyler, the Creator's Flower Boy (Columbia) and Meek Mill's Wins & Losses (Atlantic) at No. 3. The soundtrack to the Disney Channel movie Descendants 2 is No. 4, and Linkin Park's last album, One More Light, rose to No. 5 after the death of that band's lead singer, Chester Bennington.
When asked if the delay had any precedent, Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard's vice president for charts and data development, said that the publication had sometimes delayed its Top 10 by a day or more "for various reasons, including a delay in reporting from a data provider, internal processing complications or data quality checks that may take longer than usual to complete." The race for No. 1 was indeed close: Lust for Life had the equivalent of 107,000 sales, and Flower Boy 106,000. But not all industry charts waited for the confirmation. BuzzAngle, a new tracking service that competes with Nielsen and Billboard, and trumpets its faster technology, finalised its chart on Sunday.
Jim Lidestri, the chief executive of Border City Media, the company behind BuzzAngle, said that the early data showed Lana Del Rey's album too far ahead for anything else to beat it. "That's why Lana's album is a lock for #1," Lidestri wrote in an email, "and why the BuzzAngle chart is final."