Billboard Chart Beat Podcast

As the long-lived number one musical genre, country music enjoys a kind of mass appeal that combines age groups and the sexes. In Billboard’s Chart Beat Podcast, Nielsen Audio VP of Audience Insights Jon Miller and Scott Musgrave, Nielsen Music Head of U.S. Radio, discuss “How Country Rules Radio & How It's Adapting to a Streaming Era.”

“Country is very unique in that it seems to appeal evenly to people starting at the age of 18,” Miller points out. “Other formats certainly do not look like that. People are really passionate about country from a music and lifestyle standpoint.”

At radio, the number one format offers a unique mix of gold titles that can date back as far as 40 years, to the likes of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Miller tells Chart Beat columnist and longtime Billboard editor Gary Trust in the podcast. “That’s been an interesting topic in the country radio landscape, about how to properly mix gold with new music. Other formats can’t really get away with that much of a spread of music,” he notes. “Country (is still) so much about storytelling, it’s like a great novel. The storyline continues decade after decade.”

Nielsen has been ranking radio formats for about 20 years, Miller says, and country has been at the top of the heap for as long, “certainly through the 2000s, with other formats that also continue to be strong… news/talk and AC… but country has been number one for a long time.”

As streaming continues to become a major player across all genres, interestingly, country is just now playing catch-up. “That audience had been slower to adopt to streaming. As technology changes, an audience that historically wasn’t as prone to streaming or going outside of radio to get it is now picking up,” Miller explains.

And yet, adds Musgrave, country radio continues to “reign over streaming,” with 24% of all country music listening taking place over the airwaves, compared with 19% on-demand streaming. “Radio is still king, although streaming is significantly up for country. A few years ago, radio, CDs and in some cases, vinyl albums were still (on top). Now it’s really changing.” Over the past year, audio streaming of the genre is up +62%. “The numbers are growing every year. Country’s catching up.”

Musgrave stresses, “Radio is still going to be really important, but there’s an additional player there with streaming, another place to consume their music.” In fact, consumption overall is changing for music, he adds, as traditional album sales “obviously are way off,” as are digital sales, “and even the old iTunes model is officially going away.”

By the numbers, country music listening over radio is 18% higher than other genres; while on-demand streaming, in hand, is 21% lower.