Drake’s “Scorpion” Defines Success in the Streaming Era — for Better or Worse

The glory years for the record album are over, but the record album isn’t dead yet. In the age of streaming, it actually might benefit artists to release long albums consisting of multiple tracks, as the success of Drake’s Scorpion demonstrates.

Drake released Scorpion on streaming services on June 29, and a compact disc released followed July 13. The CD is inconsequential. The real barometer of Scorpion’s success consists of streams. Within two weeks, Scorpion sold more than one million copies based on streams (per Billboard, 1,500 on-demand streams equals one LP).

Incredibly, all 25 of the album’s tracks hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts. As Rolling Stone explained, the long-form format of Scorpion– clocking in at one hour and 30 minutes – was crucial to the album’s success:

Drake’s supremacy on the Hot 100 was made easier by the popularity of music streaming. Because streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music charge a buffet-style monthly fee to listen to music rather than a per-song price à la iTunes downloads, long albums benefit artists by giving them more chances to rack up listens. Drake also partnered with Spotify for an all-out “takeover” of the platform in the days after his album dropped, which forced tens of millions of users to encounter his album. (They weren’t required to actually stream it – but the all-you-can-listen model of streaming services made it appealing and cost-free to do so, and the real estate on their homepage contributed to the average listener’s awareness Scorpion.)

Drake is not the only artist to capitalize on the vagaries of streaming. As Rolling Stone reported earlier this year, Migos released an album, Culture II, that clocked in at a whopping one hour and 46 minutes. Culture II debuted at Number One on the Billboard album chart. Culture II was eventually certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for combined sales, streaming and track-sales equivalent of a million units.

Because an album’s sales via streaming are measured by 1,500 cumulative streams, it behooves an artist to release a longer album with more tracks to stream, which can lead to Gold and Platinum status. These accomplishments still matter as a barometer of an artist’s marketability to corporate sponsors.

But releasing lengthy albums to encourage streams comes at a cost. Listeners have short attention spans in the streaming era. Reportedly, one quarter of all songs on Spotify are skipped within the first five seconds. The typical listener skips a song once every four minutes, and there is nearly a 50 percent chance that a song will be skipped before it ends. In addition, according to Midia, “58% of subscribers report listening to individual albums and tracks just a few times while 60% are doing this more than they used to because they are discovering so much new music.” Continue reading

How Netflix Is Changing Your Behavior

Being a Netflix investor (which I am) is not for the faint of heart. Within the space of a few days recently, Netflix stock reached an all-time high, then fell off a cliff after Netflix reported disappointing quarterly earnings, only to rebound in stunning fashion the following day, before dipping the day after. The wildly gyrating stock price certainly makes for dramatic headlines. But the real legacy of the company is not its market capitalization but its ability to change human behavior.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is a market maker. Market makers do more than make money. They shape behaviors of people and companies. Netflix is undeniably shaping how people live going back to its founding in 1997. Along with Amazon, Netflix ushered in the era of on-demand living. If Amazon made it possible for people to buy things on their own terms, Netflix did the same for entertainment. Arguably Netflix and Amazon laid the groundwork for Uber’s disruption of the transportation industry through on-demand ride sharing. Together these companies ushered in an economy based on on-demand living.

A Cultural Phenomenon

The idea of giving viewers a digital catalog of movies to stream not only knocked Blockbuster out of business but made Netflix a cultural phenomenon as viewers embraced a new way of experiencing entertainment on demand. In 2009, Twitter users began using the phrase “Netflix and Chill” to describe the increasingly popular practice of simply hanging out with Netflix like a friend. Soon, “Netflix and Chill” became a euphemism for people hooking up to have sex, which is how we commonly think of the phrase today. The phrase “Netflix and Chill” became an internet meme and topic of much analysis and controversy. Netflix was shaping how we communicate as Google has done (“I’ll Google the movie time”). Continue reading

With IGTV, Instagram Targets the Mobile Generation

The cool kids don’t hang out on Facebook anymore. So Facebook wants the cool kids to hang out on Instagram.

When Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, Instagram had less than 100 million users. Now the app counts one billion users, most of whom are millennials and digital natives, the demographic Facebook covets. Instagram continues to grow by making it easy and fun for users to tell visual stories, the language of the digital generation. Sometimes, Instagram copies Snapchat features as it did with the creation of Instagram Stories. Now Instagram is taking a page from YouTube’s playbook by offering longer-form video through the recently launched IGTV feature. Instead of having video limited to 30 seconds in length, users can create videos that are as long as 10 minutes (or an hour for larger, verified accounts). And Instagram is adding an important twist: the content is optimized for mobile.

A Mobile-First Experience

If you’re already creating Instagram main-feed videos and Instagram Stories, IGTV should be a snap to use. You simply hold your mobile phone vertically and record a video. Then you tap on the IGTV icon on your Instagram account and follow the prompts to upload and label the video. Note that when you record your video, you don’t hold the phone in horizonal fashion as you are probably accustomed to doing. That’s because IGTV is designed specifically for the way we naturally hold our phones and view content via the vertical format. IGTV videos look naturally rendered, taking up the entire screen rather than being bracketed by ugly, thick black borders that typically appear if you hold your phone vertically and create a video (which looks hopelessly uncool).

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said that the mobile format will set IGTV apart. “We’ve reimagined what video is on mobile,” he said in a livestreamed announcement. In a blog post, Instagram pointed out that by 2021, mobile video will account for 78 percent of total mobile data traffic – so a mobile-first video uploading and sharing experience is long overdue. Continue reading