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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The UK's first official music download chart !!! ???

This evening the BBC broadcast "the UK's first official music download chart" on BBC Radio 1, and on the Internet report that "...industry figures hope the chart will reflect the changes in how we listen to music."

Hopefully the BBC fully understands the objectives of such industry figures, as the manner in which they decide to allocate their airtime could affect the musical landscape, and more specifically unsigned musicians' ability to compete with the established music industry. To summarise one aspect of the current situation - the music industry will always be motivated to secure airtime for their music in order to boost their sales and it is important that the BBC adopt a representative approach when allocating chart airtime as they are publicly funded and have a duty to serve the public, not the music industry.

As the BBC also report that "James Gillespie, of The Official UK Charts Company, which is compiling the countdown, told Radio Five Live he hoped the chart would also help boost single and album sales" it would appear that the BBC are fully aware of this industry motivation.

However, Mr Gillespie also says "It is going to be the first time that UK music consumers can see which is the most popular download track" !!! I have not seen the BBC challenge this statement from Mr Gillespie, and specifically question how downloads from unsigned musicians who enable listeners/consumers to download music directly from their websites are going to be tracked by this "official" chart.

This is important as the Internet enables direct interaction between producers of content, such as music, and potential consumers. It could enable musicians to bypass the established music industry - especially if they are allowed to operate on a level playing field, which would require equal treatment from public service broadcasters. In this instance it would seem necessary for the BBC to give unsigned musicians equal inclusion in their "official" chart if download rates justified such inclusion.

It would be a shame if such musicians were locked out of potential chart exposure provided by the BBC, and which the public would value, especially if the BBC is truly of the opinion that they are enabling "...consumers [to] see which is the most popular download track". Interestingly, looking at the top 20 for the first Official UK Download Chart (1/9/04) all are signed to record labels.

Whilst it may currently be the case that the most popular downloads are of music produced by musicians signed to record labels, I think that if an unsigned musician were to release a massively popular song that was downloaded by the public over the Internet the BBC should be expected to recognise this so that it can receive its fair allocation of airtime. This is particularly so when the chart being promoted is described as "official".

Alternatively the "official" tag could be dropped from BBC promotion, and another mechanism introduced by the BBC to give popular unsigned musicians airtime. Otherwise it would appear that the BBC is acting as a promotional service for the record industry, and is forgetting its public service remit by relegating unsigned musicians to some form of unofficial existence even if, on the basis of popularity/downloads, they similarly justify chart airtime.

UPDATE: Sean Dodson of The Guardian has written an article on how the "official new download chart is throwing up some surprise hits" as at 28 October 2004.

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