Liveblog: Christmas Number One 2017 (antepost)

For the very latest Christmas Number One odds from all the online and high street bookmakers, just go to
December 6th, 3pm

The plot thickens. Last night Betfair voided the ENTIRE exchange market on Christmas Number One. I haven’t had this much fun since all the bookmakers installed “Strictly Come Dancing Theme” as the favourite when no such record existed or was planned.

December 6th, 1pm

Now much of the talk about the anticipation of the Christmas Number One race is framed in the context of the bookmaker’s odds. At the end of the day that is what much of this is about, the whole idea of the Number One record at the end of December being something special largely an invention of William Hill back in 1984.

But secretly the bookmakers hate markets like this. They are way out of their comfort zone, trying to price up a market of which they have no understanding and which is subject to the whims and tastes of the general public rather than performance on a sports pitch. It is a good publicity tool and sucks in a casual punter who might not gamble with them any other time of year save for Grand National weekend. But the risk they take is enormous. Especially when they are offering odds at the end of November or the start of December. They don’t know any more than we do what may or may not be selling – or even released – five or six weeks hence. So the early odds are largely guesswork. And if they’ve guessed incorrectly, they take drastic steps to correct themselves.

I was alerted on Monday to a series of tweets from one grumpy punter who has discovered his apparently shrewd stake at significant odds on an Ed Sheeran victory seemed set to be all but voided by SkyBet. The issue is the appearance of Beyonce alongside Ed on his single. Most bookmakers sensibly converted the existing market in line with changing circumstances. My bet with Ladbrokes on Ed at 5-1 is now a bet on Ed/Beyonce instead and the stake rides.

Not so at SkyBet, who earlier in the week appeared to have decided on a whim that a bet for “Ed Sheeran” is different to that of “Ed Sheeran and Beyonce” and are running both markets side by side. The implication is clear. If Ed/Bey top the charts for Christmas, then all those punters who backed him solo back in November were going to be out of luck. Their bet would be a losing one. That’s actually nothing short of a disgrace.

As late as Tuesday evening this was still the case on their site. You could back Ed/Beyonce at odds-on and Ed alone at a now massive 14-1. I noted at the time this was set to bite them on the backside, as it is looking unlikely that Beyonce is even going to be credited on the singles chart. Technically a bet for “Ed Sheeran” would have been a winning one according to the arbitrary rules SkyBet had elected to apply.

As of this lunchtime though they have changed their minds, and on SkyBet you can now get 8/11 for “Ed Sheeran (Solo or in Duet)”. Quite what has happened to those punters who had staked separately on solo and duet lines remains to be seen.

Mind you, they are still tied up in knots over different artists and different credits. Why else is it possible to back Clean Bandit three different ways at three different prices to be Christmas Number One? Bookmakers hate betting on pop music. This illustrates why.

December 5th, 3pm

Another day, another Spotify update. And this one is equally as startling as the Christmas songs have all fallen back sharply.

They are still huge, but not chart-swampingly huge as appeared to be the trend 24 hours ago. Most have seen their streams cut by close to a quarter of the numbers they did over the weekend. Based on past form this isn’t totally unexpected. Christmas songs tend to become more popular approaching and over the weekend, and there may be some further sagging as the days pass this week. That said, this still means they are starting from a much higher level than we’ve ever seen before. Where people like Mariah and Wham! chart on Friday will be a bassline, not an expected peak.

In the meantime, the focus can return to the important stuff. How far ahead will Ed (and Beyonce) be? How much of an impact will X Factor winners Rak-Su make (given the rest of the market had a two day stat). And how on earth is Rockstar still being streamed more than any other single, six weeks after it was knocked off the top of the charts?

December 4th, 10pm

So remember all that stuff I said last week about the Christmas songs being destined to peak far too late at streaming to have any kind of impact on the Christmas chart? Ignore it. Because as it so often the case with anything to do with chart watching, particularly in this day and age, everything we know is completely wrong.

This is a snapshot of the Spotify daily chart for Sunday, December 3rd. Reflecting a situation which seemed to spring up out of nowhere two days earlier.

I’m not going to lie to you, that is pretty damn scary. Because this has literally never happened before. It is almost as if the recent cultural phenomenon of the British public declaring the onset of advent to be “the start of Christmas” and flinging up decorations, both internal and external, as well as pitching up to the office wearing fluffy antlers has extended to tastes in music. Whereas once we would grumble at radio stations stirring in festive songs before even the first few advent chocolates had been consumed, now we are on the verge of a situation where contemporary popular music is being swept aside by listening patterns which focus solely on songs made 20-30 years ago. And in some cases far older.

Yet the true reason for this is far subtler than that. Because it is Spotify themselves who seem to be solely responsible for this incredible skew. Literally the first tile on their “genres and moods” screen in the app points to Christmas playlists. And if you happen to be in the mood for that kind of thing,replica hublot watches they are making it easy for you.

Indeed if you click through to the first offered playlist “Christmas Is Coming”, what are the first few songs in that list? You guessed it, the exact same songs which have barged their way to the top of the live charts.

Even the appearance of the previously unknown Ariana Grande track Santa Tell Me at Number 17 on Sunday’s daily live chart is explained by this playlist – it is the seventh track on it.

Why is this all significant? Well because Spotify for good or ill owns the lions’ share of music streaming and has the most sway over the numbers which go to make up the Official UK Singles chart. If their subscriber base continue to hit this playlist (and others like it) in those kind of numbers then all talk and speculation over which contemporary hit single stands the most chance of becoming Christmas Number One becomes moot. Because aged classics like All I Want For Christmas Is You and Do They Know It’s Christmas will barge everything else out of the way.

This is why compilers such as Billboard have long had a policy of excluding tracks from the vintage long tail from the reckoning that compiles the Hot 100. The British charts have traditionally taken a more relaxed stance. It if sells (or plays) then it goes in, a policy which has led to some quite joyful spontaneous comebacks for older hits in the past. But if we end up in a situation where the December charts are full of exactly the same old songs, in exactly the same order year in, year out, you can guarantee there will be voices for change from within the industry.

This will also be grist to the mill for those grumblers who moan that passive playlist listening should not be part of the streaming numbers that count towards chart compilation. My argument to counter that has always been that you still have to listen to a song for at least 30 seconds for that to happen, and if something on a playlist has that “shit click” factor then it will be skipped in numbers equally as large. The cream will rise to the top. The problem is that Christmas classics have no shit click factor. They are classics because they are so loved. And if you have chosen to stream a playlist of these vintage songs, it is highly unlikely you will dislike any of them enough to skip ahead before the 30 second cut off point.

For now, this has stood even the current chart race on its head. Sheronce were supposed to be more or less a lock for Number One from now until the end of the year. I’m genuinely unsure as to whether this is still going to be the case.

November 30th, 6pm

So it is Beyonce.

One of the more intriguing questions of the week was finally answered by Ed Sheeran on Thursday lunchtime, leading those select few in the industry who knew and who were sworn to secrecy to finally breathe a sigh of relief that they are allowed to talk about it. The question of whether this new “remix” is any good for now remains unanswered. My only guidance here is the the view of one contact who responded in the negative. Quality aside, there is no doubting this new version will give Perfect a significant sales and streaming boost. Enough most probably to send it to the top of the charts next week. Enough to stay there another fortnight? That remains to be seen. The bookmakers know which side of the argument they are on. Ed Sheeran (with or without Beyonce) is now odds-on favourite to be Christmas Number One.

November 26th, 11pm

Christmas Number One 2017 won’t be Last Christmas by Wham!/George Michael.

That may sound a bold statement to make, especially given that the golden oldie was installed as an early favourite by just about every bookmaker going, still at the time of writing the favourite choice even on the more informed Betfair Exchange markets. On the face of it, it is an obvious sentimental choice, a final commemoration of poor late George Michael, coinciding with the first anniversary of his death.

It also isn’t totally out of the question that a festive classic could end up dominating the singles market by the end of December. As Christmas approaches these seasonal favourites are streamed in ever-larger numbers. Sweeping aside all other contemporary hits to become virtually the only songs played online in large numbers. This is indeed what happened last year, the Spotify daily charts for Christmas day almost totally dominated by Christmas songs. Last Christmas naturally one of them.

But that was on Christmas Day itself, when these songs reach their natural peak. And as I noted the bottom of this piece, the Christmas chart will be based on the market totals between the 15th and 21st of December. During which time the golden oldies will be nowhere near their streaming peak, just as last year. Factor in sales too – Last Christmas is already selling steadily as it and its companions always do at this time of year, edging their way into the iTunes chart. In order for an old single to stand a chance of topping the charts in that particular week, those still bereft of a copy would be required to hold off from purchasing one until that week in particular. And that just isn’t going to happen. Because it isn’t happening right now.

Also, let us face it, it is hardly something to aspire to. A tired 33-year-old song which every casual music fan in the country knows backwards managing to outpoint every other contemporary hit single the week before the holiday? I can’t think of anything more disappointing to see. And thankfully we won’t have to.

No, Last Christmas won’t be Christmas Number One. And by installing it as favourite the bookmakers are set to make a fortune from those suckered in by the hype.

November 25th, 6pm

An update from Oddschecker who have noticed the amount of money flowing through them for Ed. According to their figures, over 40% of all bets placed in the last 48 hours have been for Perfect. Savvy punters have spotted what we noted yesterday. The prospect of a new version of the single gives it a very important edge.

November 24th, 12pm

Ed Sheeran just announced something significant.

Contacts within the industry had in the past few days passed on chatter that “something big” was planned in relation to his current hit single Perfect. Whilst its presence near the top end of the singles charts at present always made it a possible contender, it seemed a tough ask to expect it to climb to the top for Christmas. This is a track which has already peaked at Number 4 back in March when it was an album cut, was reactivated as a single two months ago and has spent three straight weeks locked at Number 6. It was going to need a hell of a kick to propel it close to the top of the charts.

Well, now it looks like it has one. The Official Charts Company are quoting an interview he has given to Channel 4 Radio in the UAE where he has revealed that next Friday (1st) will see the release of a new “remix” of the track. “It’s a really fucking big deal. And I’ll drop who I’m doing it with next Thursday. The vibe is that it’s a remix to Perfect. I’m just basically going to ‘Despacito’ Perfect.”

Best odds you could get on Perfect being Christmas Number One on Friday lunchtime were 5-1 at Ladbrokes. I’ve a feeling that won’t last. Sheeran’s just delivered a brand new reason for even those who are bored of a track which hasn’t been off the radio since the summer a new reason to buy and listen to it.

November 23rd, 7pm

I know, I know. It seems early. But it really is that time of year again. That one time when even the most long-lapsed pop music fans suddenly start to take a keen interest in what is at the top of the UK charts. When everyone is suddenly a self-professed expert on something they pay absolutely no attention to the vast majority of the time. It is time for everyone to speculate just what will be Number One in time for Christmas. This also is the only time of year you can place bets directly on the pop charts, the bookmakers are also hoping to profit from this speculation along the way.

Well here is the good news. Because I’m a self-professed expert who happens to pay attention to the charts all year round. So on these pages over the next few weeks, I hope to be able to steer you through the minefield of speculation. Hopefully documenting along the way the market changes as the sales position becomes clearer.

It seems prudent to point out that much of the speculation you may read elsewhere will be wrong. The continuing exponential growth of the online music streaming market over the past year has changed the way the market for music operates forever. Assumptions based on the way things used to work (release big single the week before, watch everyone download it, profit) will inevitably be wrong. Whilst this year has seen its fair share of singles make instant chart impacts and fly straight to the top of the charts, there have equally been plenty which have traced a graceful upwards path and then once established at Number One sit there for an extended period.

Last year should have given you a clue as to the extent that the old rules no longer apply. Last year’s favourites failed. The parade of specially released singles with either a charitable or mischevious aim had simply faded away to nothing in Christmas week. Instead, the Christmas Number One was a proper pop record, Rockabye by Clean Bandit. It was one which had actually begun its life at the top of the charts at the end of November. Nobody in the mainstream media predicted this. Those of us who backed it at 66-1 in early December did, however.

So welcome along to this liveblog. Over the next few weeks I’ll explain just why some of the earliest assumptions as to the destiny of this year’s prize are wrong, keep a close eye on the betting markets and note where the smart money is going, and as the next few weeks progress shill blatantly for the Chart Watch UK site which will have the week by week analysis of each new singles chart.

The 2017 Christmas Number One will be announced on Friday, December 22nd at 6pm. It will be based on sales and streams (mostly streams) tallied between Friday 15th and Thursday 21st. Which is bad news for one single which is the early favourite in the bookmakers’ markets.

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