Warner gains, Sony holds, Universal falls in US 2016 market shares

Universal Music saw its distribution share of the US recorded music market fall last year – while still managing to claim more than 35% of consumption across all formats.

That’s according to new data from trustworthy market monitor BuzzAngle, which shows that UMG’s US distribution market share by volume (covering streams, track downloads and album sales) in 2016 stood at 35.8%.

According to MBW estimates, this represented a year-on-year fall in Universal’s overall share (again, by volume – not value) of 2.3%.

That was largely by virtue of a major gain for Warner Music Group, whose share of the combined streams/tracks/albums market jumped by 2.5% up to 20.9%.

Sony’s share gained very slightly on 2015 – up 0.1% to 27.5% – while independently-distributed labels saw their share fall by 0.3% to 15.8%.

(As you can see below, although BuzzAngle’s new annual report doesn’t provide like-for-like 2015 data, it does supply annual percentage growth – enough for MBW and its big calculator to confidently estimate how the market changed across each company year-on-year. Nb. BuzzAngle’s ‘Album Consumption’ data refers to total album ‘projects’, including converted track downloads and streams.)

As MBW pointed out yesterday (using BuzzAngle data), the independents have a strong argument that their market share is actually bigger than this figure.

If major-distributed independent labels (such as Concord, Disney and Glassnote) were to be reclassified as ‘independents’ (ie. on an ownership, rather then distribution basis) they would have laid claim to a 35.1% overall US market share in 2016.


In terms of streaming alone (across both audio and video platforms), UMG’s share of the US distribution market saw a softer fall in 2016.

BuzzAngle data shows that UMG-distributed tracks were played more than 152bn times across audio and video streaming platforms in the States last year – up by 38.4% annually.

But that still wasn’t enough to stop the major conceding streaming market share.

Largely by virtue of the fact that Warner’s portion of total streams grew by a significantly larger percentage than anyone else’s (+49.8% on 2015), MBW estimates that UMG’s streaming-only market share slipped by 0.7% to 35.3%.

By contrast, Warner’s annual US streaming share grew by a full percentage point – up to 18%.

Independently-distributed labels also saw a rise on streaming – up 0.3% to 18.5% – while Sony lost 0.5% share to finish with 28.3%.

That puts UMG and Sony as No.1 and No.2 in streaming – with the independents at No.3 and Warner at No.4.

It’s interesting to note that, compared to the overall market, the indies leapfrog Warner into third place when it comes to streaming plays.

That’s probably because of indie labels being less reliant on major label distribution for streaming than, for example, in the physical world.

In addition, the abundance of self-released (some may say ‘amateur’) music available on streaming services may have an effect.


That just leaves good, old-fashioned album sales, across both digital and physical formats.

Some bad news for the indies here: according to MBW estimates, independently-distributed albums lost 3.4% market share in 2016, down to 14.6%.

UMG also lost significant share in the year – while comfortably remaining market leader – with its tally falling 2.9% to 35.1%.

Warner, meanwhile, saw a relatively gigantic spike.

Its album sales share jumped by a whopping 5.8%. Within that gain – as recently argued by Vivendi – you’d expect posthumous sales of Prince and David Bowie LPs played a significant role, alongside frontline success with the likes of Coldplay, Twenty One Pilots, the Hamilton OST, Kevin Gates and Charlie Puth.

Finally, Sony saw a gain in album sales across the year, up 0.6% to 27.8%.

A decent chunk of that would have been thanks to Adele’s 25 (pictured). According to BuzzAngle, it finished the year as the US’s biggest-selling album of 2016, shifting 1.55m units in the year.

25 was also the biggest-selling album of 2016, it’s been confirmed, in the UK and Germany – both territories where it was released by independent XL/Beggars.

Music Business Worldwide

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