After US slowdown, now audio streaming growth shrinks in the UK

The MBW Review offers our take on some of the music biz’s biggest recent goings-on. This time, following the news that audio streaming’s growth slowed in the USA in the first half of 2019, we turn our microscope on the UK. The MBW Review is supported by Instrumental.


Those who predicted that the growth of audio streaming would begin to slow down in the world’s biggest music territories in 2019 were correct.

And while the margin of that deceleration is nothing to panic about just yet, it does already hint that, for the global recorded music business to reach its potential in future, it’s going to need to ramp up its progress in so-called ‘developing’ markets.



MBW recently reported that on-demand audio streaming volume in the United States reached 333.5bn plays in the first six months of the year.

As revealed by Nielsen data, that was up 27.8% on the 261.0bn streams recorded in the equivalent period of 2018.

However, in real growth terms, this was a less positive story.

In H1 2018, US streaming volumes rose by 76.6bn year-on-year, but in H1 2019, Nielsen’s stats showed, this annual increase had fallen to 72.5bn – down by over a billion plays.



The United States is the biggest recorded music market on the planet. Now, we also have stats through for the world’s No.3 territory – the United Kingdom – and a similar trend is afoot.

According to BPI data analyzed by MBW, in the first half of 2019, UK consumers racked up 54.52bn on-demand audio streams in the territory.

This was up 10.91bn, or 25% on the same half-year period of 2018. However, this margin was smaller than that seen in the prior year.

In H1 2018, the UK saw 43.61bn audio streams, an increase of 11.76bn on the 31.85bn streams recorded in H1 2017.

The difference between the year-on-year growth seen in H1 2018 and that the smaller increase in H1 2019? Some 850m streams.

As you can see below, the pace of streaming growth in the UK appears to be slightly tailing off.



Something else worth noting about the new BPI stats, which were first published in British trade paper Music Week: they are broken down by quarterly increments.

This allows us to see the difference between Q1 and Q2 this year, which will help to indicate if a further deceleration in streaming growth might soon be upon us.

From Q1 2019 (26.56bn streams) to Q2 2019 (27.96bn streams), the UK saw an audio streaming increase of 1.4bn.

Sure enough, this was down by just over 100m streams versus the quarter-on-quarter increase the UK saw in Q2 last year, when 22.56bn audio streams were played – up 1.51bn on the prior quarter (Q1 2018).


The reason the recorded music industry really needs emerging markets to increase the revenues they pay from streaming services, of course, is because of just how reliant record labels and artists have become on the likes of Spotify and Apple Music.

To illustrate the point, take a look at these stats, based on the BPI’s tallies for digital and physical album sales in the UK in Q1 and Q2 in the past few years.

For the avoidance of doubt, these are ‘real’ album sales – as in, someone purchasing an entire album – as opposed to streaming/track ‘equivalents’. (MBW has combined physical and digital sales in our chart here.)



As you can see, the volume of album sales in the UK has nearly been cut in half in just the past three years, down from 31.1m in the first six months of 2016 to 16.59 in the same period of 2019.

That’s despite the success of albums from the likes of the UK’s biggest new breakout artist, Lewis Capaldi (pictured), this year.

The global record industry, then, will have its fingers crossed for the likes of Spotify and their expansion in territories such as India, the Middle East and South America.

As recent MBW analysis indicates, however, for audio streaming services, swift financial growth in these regions is anything but guaranteed.


The MBW Review is supported by Instrumental, which powers online scouting for A&R and talent teams within the music industry. Their leading scouting platform applies AI processes to Spotify and social data to unearth the fastest growing artists and tracks each day. Get in touch with the Instrumental team to find out how they can help power your scouting efforts.

 Music Business Worldwide

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