Nielsen Entertainment SVP: Music’s Global Street Date Change Won’t Stop Piracy

David Bakula tells TheWrap IFPA’s claim of reducing piracy “seems like a shallow argument,” and he isn’t sure sales will rise

Last Updated: February 27, 2015 @ 1:20 PM

If Drake and Beyonce ever plan on dropping albums the traditional way again, their music will now land on a Friday, not Tuesday — an industry decision that doesn’t make much obvious sense to Nielsen Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of Industry Insights, David Bakula, whose company tracks music sales.

His opinion came after an announcement by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPA) that it had adopted Friday as the new worldwide release day for albums, citing a potential reduction in piracy as one of the reasons for the shift.

“To me, that kind of seems like a shallow argument, because unless you’re going to release at the exact same time everywhere… I don’t see how piracy is going to be completely destroyed by that,” Bakula told TheWrap on Thursday.

“The gains that we probably will see from the ability to market something one day before the weekend, if you capitalize on the strongest selling period of the week — that seems to be a lot more important to me than combating piracy,” Bakula said.

Bakula noted that the way time zones work, there will still be a period of potential piracy if albums all drop at midnight local time, as he expects — it’ll just be a shorter window. Previously, some other countries dropped their albums on a Friday, while the U.S. street date was Tuesday. This allowed up to three days for cyber-pirates to rip the music and post it online for illegal U.S. downloading. Now, that window is closing from days to hours — but it will still plausibly exist.

The IFPA isn’t also has a possible revenue boost on its mind  — after all, many people have more disposable income on a Friday after getting paid — but Bakula is also skeptical that the rearrangement of the sales week will accomplish that goal.

Under the previous system, artists could usually count on Tuesday sales, and then on a weekend spike and end-of-the-week strength as people buy CDs on the weekend. (More than half of all albums sold are still of the physical variety.) That’s now gone. Instead, artists and their labels will pad sales upfront, possibly score a positive sales story in the media on Monday, and then watch figures drop permanently at the end of the new sales week.

The maneuvering begs the question: Will consumers truly buy more albums, or will the sales week simply become front-loaded? Bakula believes it will be the latter.

“I think it would sell more in the first couple of days,” he said of a new album dropping on a Friday versus a Tuesday. “I don’t think we have a lot of history to tell us what that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday after the weekend are going to sell like. I think you’re probably just going to shift a whole bunch of the sales into the first couple of days.”

Still, he admitted that there could be a helpful weekend sales buzz that increases demand overall — much like the film industry’s Friday release dates do.

“The weekend box office is something closely followed by the industry, and now the weekend [music] sales is something that is going to be very followed by the industry,” he said.

“From our standpoint, we’ve got a lot of things to consider when changing what a week is going to look like,” Bakula concluded of the choices that Neilsen must make in how it now measures sales. “There’s history and there are analytics that are basically going to go out the window.”

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