A Glance at the UK Sales Charts

There has been a lot of conversation about how the UK singles charts work. To inform the discussion, Media Insight Consulting CEO Chris Carey teamed up with Berklee College of Music post-grad student Chiara Michieletto take a quick look at how the Charts have changed in the last 20 years.

With streaming (a consumption measure) playing a prominent role in the charts (historically a sales metric) we have seen Drake spend almost 16 weeks at number one.[i] We have also seen a low turnover at the top of the charts, with songs staying in the charts a lot longer, but therefore not allowing new entries in.  Streaming perpetuates this, by measuring repeat consumption from the same person, whilst a sales chart would have only counted that one person once, at point of purchase.

We wanted to put these figures in context, so we conducted a comparison between 4 weeks of chart entries (Top 40 singles) in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016. The month put under examination was kept constant in the analysis, September. This data collection and analysis aims at capturing the change of the behaviour of new chart entries from 20 years ago until now.

After studying the evolution of the behaviour of new entries in the charts over the past 20 years, the difficulty that new artists have nowadays encounter to break in to the charts becomes even more apparent.

Lets be clear; 20 years is a long time ago! Playstation was about to launch their first console, the internet was still dial up, Netscape was a popular browser, Now 33 was released and Napster had yet to be invented.  Oasis released What’s the Story, Alanis Morrisette released Jagged Little Pill and an optimistic Lightening Seeds song about football coming home topped the charts (before England’s semi-final defeat).  Yes, that was a long time ago, but it is important to look back to understand how things have changed over time.


Looking at the data, the number of new entries in the charts nowadays has become staggeringly low compared to their historic counterparts. In September 1996 there were 54 new entries in the Top 40’s compared to 12 in September 2016. In fact, not only has the number of new entries in the charts declined, but the rate of decline has accelerated in recent years.

More than that, when you break these entries up, you can see that it is getting much harder to get in to the mid end of the chart. Breaking in to the Top 10 has always been challenging – as it should be – and it remains that way. But the lack of variety in the middle of the charts is a concern.

The dynamic is probably caused by the slow manner in which songs fall out the charts nowadays, since streaming consumption does not fluctuate in the way that sales behaviour does, those songs that are less popular this week than last week are cushioned by a number of those fans still streaming them, whereas in a pure sales chart they would fall sharply.


[i] Drake almost reaches record breaking single https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jul/29/bryan-adams-retains-record-for-longest-time-at-uk-no-1-charts-drake

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