My December In Media

Was Christmas busy for you? Mine was, and not just for the usual work-related reasons either.

December saw me spend much of the month popping up as the invited expert in a variety of media, all of which helped nicely to expose both myself and the Chart Watch site which saw a welcome boost in visitors over the same period.

So where did I end up? First in the queue was the gloriously talented Laura Snapes who was writing a piece for The Guardian about the hottest lady of 2017 – Dua Lipa. Read the article and you will see quotes from me, noting, in particular, the extraordinary way in the spring that she landed herself quite by accident with three simultaneous Top 20 hits which instantly made her one of the biggest names of the moment. I never really made the link myself when New Rules became a hit, but there is little doubt this was the momentum which propelled her to the top of the charts for the very first time.

This was one of those occasions when it only occurred to me after the fact to note one more pertinent point. Tolerating the slow burn of a brand new act is far easier than it used to be, given you can release ‘flop’ singles with minimal overhead beyond the actual recording. Digital distribution means you don’t have to press physical copies that might go unsold, and as countless big-name acts have proven you don’t even have to fund the production of a video until the track has become a substantial hit. If at all. If your first attempt fails, bin it and move on. You’ve actually lost very little. And that’s something that artists like Dua Lipa will find works increasingly to their advantage in the future.

Next, it was Christmas Number One season and things became a little frantic. First in the queue was Mark Savage from BBC Online, a reporter I’ve spoken to on and off for a number of years now. He quizzed me over the phone on the Monday morning about the Christmas Number One race which at that time was by no means the clear-cut race it turned out to be. So the resultant piece features me hedging my bets just a little but noting that Ed Sheeran has the nap hand with his multiple versions, plus the fact that he did the Strictly final that weekend and so was benefitting nicely from that exposure.

In fact, your favourite Chart Watch writer ended up quoted in several BBC News articles that week, largely based on quotes I gave in that Monday morning interview. So here is me noting how the Christmas songs on the front page of Spotify are by a strange coincidence the highest charting ones that week, followed a day later by my thoughts on how long it takes a Christmas song to turn into a bona-fide classic given our fondness for nostalgic hits rather than newly-recorded attempts at an artists’ pension plan.

However, it was to be Friday 22nd, the day that the Christmas chart itself was unveiled which would turn into my big day of media. It began with a tweet from a producer for the Drive show on 5 Live. Would I be interested in participating in a conversation about Christmas Number One hits generally later that day, and could I make it to a BBC studio somewhere? Would I ever. I told them I could attend at New Broadcasting House at their convenience and was duly booked in for a chat. It was a fun 20-minute segment featuring some other guests with their own unique perspective to add. Second only to the rather naughty thrill of appearing as an invited guest on the direct rival to the radio station I actually work for was the fun surprise of noting that the BBC’s security system still recognised me from when I’d had cause to visit the building two months earlier and they still had my picture on file for the security pass.

Here it is then, my big 5 Live Drive debut:

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Yet there was more. Earlier in the day, I had also been contacted by a researcher for the BBC News TV channel, someone also alerted to my potential as a pontificator on all things Christmas Number One. I noted to them that my booking on 5Live meant I was actually going to be present in the building around the time they wanted me to appear so it should all work out nicely. This necessitated a trip to the wardrobe to select a shirt, my first choice vetoed by Mrs Masterton who pointed out I was wanting to wear the exact same outfit I had used to appear on TV five years earlier. And these things matter apparently. Shirt and tie duly knotted, I was off into town to turn myself into a global superstar. Of a kind.

I was actually glad I’d done the radio appearance first. Because I am at home in a radio studio and was relaxed and happy and had already warmed up my opinions. It meant that being guided down to the green room by the enthusiastic intern who had become my personal runner for the evening and awaiting makeup was by no means as nerve-wracking as it might have been. So it was, to the surprise of several relatives and one or two colleagues who happened to be tuned in at that time, I made my first live TV appearance in 18 years. And all three minutes of it is captured below.

So there you are, another in my sporadic bursts of minor celebrity as I prove that if you try hard enough you can have multiple 15 minutes of fame, just spread out a little. But hopefully, this also proves that I give incredibly good copy, make a well-spoken radio guest and can scrub up well to appear on camera to be on television as well. And if you are a journalist or a researcher wanting to add some colour to a story about pop music or the charts, I can probably be of some use.

Oh yes, and this all helped to add to the usual Christmas time spike in interest in the Chart Watch UK site. Rather curiously the most-read piece of that period was not the Christmas Number One announcement itself, but that of the one before. Perhaps it was just a question of timing.

Liveblog: Christmas Number One 2017

Thursday, December 21st. 11am

This is probably the last live update it will be necessary to do given it is all over bar the shouting.

Preliminary numbers for the singles chart as of the close of play on Wednesday indicate that Perfect has notched up almost 68,000 chart sales compared to 52,000 for RiverLast Christmas languishes in third place with 45,000. That’s with significant streaming information missing (that is late arriving as always and doesn’t get folded into the live numbers until lunchtime) but based on yesterday’s calculations that only closes the gap by 1,000 chart sales or so.

Whether 13,000 or 14,000 copies in the lead it doesn’t matter. Ed Sheeran and friends are out of sight in the Christmas Number One race.


Wednesday, December 20th. 6pm

I should have just waited. Music Week has updated the midweeks this evening and given us some numbers to play with.

Suffice to say the surmising below is correct. 56,366 sales so far this week for Perfect are playing 42,836 for River. That’s a lead of more than 13,000. Which is pretty much insurmountable. For those agitating for Last Christmas to give poor late George a Number One as a tribute, note that it is as of close of play on Wednesday more than 20,000 chart sales behind Ed Sheeran. All the plugs on This Morning in the world aren’t going to help it from here.

Perfect by Ed Sheeran is the 2017 Christmas Number One. You read it here first.


Wednesday, December 20th. 2pm

I’ve got literally nothing concrete to report here, which has made for a curious couple of days. There’s a conspicuous lack of updates from anywhere official, be it Music Week or the Official Charts Company themselves. That would suggest they are happy to let speculation ride, and avoid clueing anyone into just how the gap between the Ed and Eminem singles is progressing.

But what we can do is make some educated guesses based on accessible numbers. We don’t have hard numbers, but do have sales proportions based on the iTunes popularity bars, which are a reliable barometer of how singles are selling in relation to each other, even if we don’t physically know how many that is.

So, at the time of writing although River remains the top-selling individual single of the last 24 hours, as it has been since release, it still cannot compete with the multiple versions of Perfect. All three of them are occupying places in the iTunes Top 10 and adding up their numbers we can conclude that as of right now Perfect is selling 185% of the amount River is. Which is one hell of a lead.

Over on Spotify, it is a different story. At the start of the week, Eminem’s numbers went berzerk, rocketing up by a fifth to further extend his lead at the top of the market. These are always a day behind. but we do know that on Tuesday (19th) River was streamed 605,460 times in the UK. The individual versions of Perfect are some distance behind (and indeed Perfect Symphony just hasn’t managed any market traction at all). Combined they only add up to 492,578 copies. Or a little over 100,000 copies behind.

So to put it another way, we know that Eminem is ahead of Ed Sheeran on the streaming side of things by the order of about 666 chart sales each day. But remember that sales lead above? If we take a guess and assume that River is selling 10,000 copies a day on iTunes (which may be an exaggeration or it may be underestimating it we just don’t know), then that means the combined sales of Perfect are 18,500 a day. That sounds a lot, so even if we halve the numbers we still end up with 5,000 placing 9,250. So Ed’s sales lead is anything between 4,000 to 8,000 copies s day. And that’s way more than the 666 copies a day that Eminem has on Spotify.

Now admittedly this is only based on one retailer for each market sector, but they are each far and away the leaders. So any differences in the numbers from other platforms are unlikely to skew these calculations too much. But based on the figures above, Ed Sheeran’s lead of 4,000 sales from the Monday midweek has almost certainly increased in the 48 hours since.

I’m still calling Christmas Number One 2017 for Ed Sheeran.


Monday, December 18th. 9pm

A busy old day today, for sure. Ed Sheeran is keeping things interesting.

First, here’s me chatting with the BBC News website to add some colour to their own story on the official midweek update which landed at 6pm.

As for the update itself, well the headline story was kind of what we were expecting based on guesses from the available numbers. According to the Official Charts Company, the combined versions of Ed Sheeran’s Perfect are enough to ensure it is the most-purchased track so far this week, Eminem’s residency at the top of the iTunes table notwithstanding. On streams, however, the reverse is true and indeed the midweek figures reflect what we’ve been reading from Spotify since the weekend. Combined, the streams of Ed’s track are strong but still not quite strong enough to overhaul the enormous popularity of River. It is even managing to withhold the onslaught of All I Want For Christmas Is You to ensure that perhaps incredibly (and reassuringly) the most played track of the moment is an up to the minute hip-hop album cut rather than a tired festive favourite.

My interview with the BBC was based on the vague details we had at the time, the press release from the Official Charts Company (and their subsequent website story) playing up the fact that the race is very close indeed. Suggesting we have a genuine battle on our hands.

Leaked figures suggest a slightly different story, most indications seem to be that Perfect has done 34,000 copies so far this week with River lagging behind on 26,000. The Wham! single in third place is indeed a very close third, but only in the sense of being another 4,000 copies distant.

Right now, Christmas Number One is Ed Sheeran’s (as a lead artist) to lose. It all comes down to what happens next to the Eminem track now that we are beyond the weekend. Sag or surge. The next 24 hours will confirm whether this is actually still a race.

Meanwhile, over on the Facebook group desperate to see a 33-year-old single which people listen to every year regardless top the charts, they aren’t taking the news very well.

All A Fix In Favour Of Sheeran Anyway


Monday, December 18th. 3pm

Patiently awaiting the lifting of the 6pm embargo on the official singles chart midweeks, so to pass the time let’s note what seems to now be the regular Monday morning “people being grumpy at bookmakers” thread.

As we noted at the weekend, there’s a mysterious lack of Eminem in the latest odds for Christmas Number One, this despite all indications being he is now one of the leading contenders to grab the crown. The problem is the presence of Ed Sheeran on the Eminem track. Having tied themselves in knots over the whole issue of whether the Beyonce duet counts as the same record as Ed solo, most bookmakers cheerfully converted all Ed Sheeran stakes into bets on “Ed Sheeran solo or duet”. But that is clearly intended to cover his own record. What happens if he is the guest on someone else’s? One chap on Twitter atempted to find out:


Paddy Power (or their social media team) wrestled with this for a few tweets and then concluded:


Except that’s wrong and that’s not what they are doing. At the time of writing no bookmakers have laid odds on Eminem being Christmas Number One, precisely because if they do they will have to pay out twice if he does it – to those punters backing Eminem and also to those who backed what is now established as a bet on “anything with Ed Sheeran on it”. And technically you cannot have a first-past-the-post market where two winning lines are possible. Unless they apply their own dead heat rules which will cause no small degree of social media fume.

However, this does raise the scenario of Eminem and Ed topping the Christmas charts and the bookmakers electing not to pay out given that Ed is only the guest star and not the lead artist. Although then they would technically have to void the entire lot, given that no odds were ever laid on what was eventually the winning act.

The moral? If we ever see Christmas Number One betting again, you can bet your life we’ll have to bet on the title of the song that tops the charts, not the artist as has traditionally been the case.

4pm Update:

Paddy Power eventually clarified the position, one which we can asume is being followed by all the other bookmakers:


…and that’s why, confusing though it may be, you cannot bet on Emimen being Christmas Number One. Because of the chap who appears on his record. Even if that isn’t the one people were betting on in the first place.


Sunday, December 17th. 5pm

Sunday means nobody at work in offices so nobody to put out anything resembling a full status update on the Christmas Number One race. All I can say is that for the moment it is quite intriguing, simply because the multiple versions factor means it is more or less impossible to read anything into the available live charts. Although since when did that stop us?

On the face of it, Eminem’s River is surging ahead. It has been lodged at the top of iTunes ever since release and according to the Spotify numbers made available this lunchtime, has consolidated its position as the most streamed track of the moment. As I noted before, take this with a small pinch of salt, Eminem hits burn out very quickly indeed and his progress once we move beyond the weekend is more significant than anything he does now.

Ed Sheeran performed on the Strictly Come Dancing final show on Saturday night, and that at the very least sent his online sales berzerk. Perfect Duet is at No.2 on iTunes with Perfect Symphony just behind at 3. Meanwhile, the original album version is at the present moment the sixth most-purchased single of the last 24 hours. Cumulatively all are enough to wipe out whatever sales lead Eminem might otherwise have had.

Streaming though continues to be the problem child, maybe surprisingly for a man who was streamed so much in the spring his entire album swamped the Top 20. The three versions of Perfect combined clocked up a total of 511,703 streams on Saturday, just short of the 545,077 enjoyed by the Eminem track. The tactic of releasing multiple takes of the song has almost certainly given it a boost in the rump of the sales market, but there is little evidence so far that it has had a significant effect on its streams. People are listening to the track, but selecting their favourite version and sticking with it rather than necessarily consuming them all together.

On balance though, Ed has an edge still which would concur with the early flashes we saw on Saturday. If he keeps that up during the week he should still be on course to be Christmas Number One, with or without any Eminem drop-off.

As for Christmas classics? They are up there too, but I suspect both Mariah and Wham! are going to be left knocking on the door of the Ed and Eminem (with Ed) show.

Meanwhile, there’s still no further whispers of the phantom Adele single. And the bookies remain bizarrely leaden-footed with not one of the major firms yet offering odds on an Eminem victory. With five days to go, we are in the extraordinary situation of not being able to back the single which stands an even money chance of winning the race.


Saturday, December 16th. 3pm

We are a little over 24 hours into the chart week, so what do we know so far?

  • Based on a Saturday lunchtime sales flash from the Official Charts Company, Ed is ahead already. This one seems to be a little more meaningful than the one they issued this time last year. Back then we had an update which featured zero streaming information and gave an artificially high indication as to the status of some singles. Many of which in the event never even made the Top 75. This time they appear to have more data to work with, and all seems to be in order with the news that Perfect has a narrow edge over his nearest rival.

 

  • That nearest rival is indeed something out of left field rather than the tedium of Mariah or Wham! Eminem’s new album Revival is released this week and naturally enough many of its tracks have taken up residence in the top streamed tracks of the moment. Far and away the most popular though is one called River which features the additional vocal talents of one E. Sheeran. At the time of writing it is the solid sales leader on iTunes and was the most played track on Spotify on Friday. I’m cautious as to how to view this, as big deal Eminem singles tend to open strongly and then fade away as the week progresses. Plus you must remember there is only one of him and a great many different versions of Ed Sheeran. I’d actually love a Christmas chart race to be between two contemporary and brand new hit singles (even if the same man appears on both). Let’s just hope that he keeps up.

 

  • There is one rather startling move on what might be an otherwise moribund betting market. All the major bookmakers still taking bets on Christmas Number One suddenly installed Adele as second favourite, at odds of an average of 3-1, late on Friday afternoon. This appears to be down to reports in Friday’s newspapers that she is planning a charity release of her own, tying in with her own interest in the ongoing plight (if we can call it that) of those displaced by the Grenfell Tower disaster. For now this is a ghost single, nothing has been announced or released. But that’s not to say such a record couldn’t suddenly become a Number One contender, even if released midweek at the last minute. Yes, we’ve already had a Grenfell charity single top the charts this year, so you do kind of wonder what the appetite for another will be. But never underestimate people’s desire to virtue signal or just try to attract good karma with a sideways charity donation at Christmas. However with every passing hour that no such single materialises, the greater the challenge will be to propel it to the top of the charts.

Speaking of the bookmakers. How funny is it that nobody is actually offering odds on an Eminem Christmas Number One? At least not at the time of writing.


Friday, December 15th. 2pm.

The talking is over, let Christmas battle commence.

We are now formally into the sales week which will determine the identity of the 2017 Christmas Number One. All sales and streams logged from midnight last night until midnight next Thursday will count towards the compilation of the Official UK Singles chart. It is due for public unveiling by Radio One from 4pm next Friday. During the course of the next week, this particular blog will analyse the latest numbers, rumours and market movements as they become available. I hope to give you a heads up as to just how the charts next week are shaping up.

Last year was enormous fun. This year, not so much. Today Ed Sheeran released what is now to be called Perfect Symphony, a brand new version of his current Number One record featuring a new guest vocal from Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. Sales and streams of this will combine with both the original Perfect and the Beyonce-featured Perfect Duet. He clearly wants to be Christmas Number One and he and his label have gone all out to achieve this. Having gamed the singles market last winter with a simultaneous single release, ensuring Ed locked down the top end of the charts right the way through to the release of his album, the singer and his label have apparently gamed the Christmas market too. Ed Sheeran will start and end 2017 on the top of the charts.

That is unless Mariah Carey pulls off a Christmas miracle with a track over two decades old. Mind you, it is not as if there is room to bet on this. Some of the fun in previous years has been in monitoring the Xmas Number One market on the Betfair Exchange and watching the flow of money in real time. Having tied themselves in knots over the whole Ed/Beyonce issue and been forced to void the existing market, the online bookmaker hasn’t seen fit to create a new one. Possibly because they also know this race is more or less a foregone conclusion and the liquidity in it for other contenders will be practically zero.

Liveblog: Christmas Number One 2017 (1 Week To Go)

For the very latest Christmas Number One odds from all the online and high street bookmakers, just go to Oddschecker.com
December 13th, 1pm

So what of the other contenders that were, given we are all but assuming Ed Sheeran has wrapped things up?

If you backed Rita Ora, sadly it looks like you did your money. Just like I did. Two weeks ago it wasn’t a completely fanciful notion that she might ascend to Number One and stick there, but crucially she needed to get there in the first place to have a position to consolidate. Three solid weeks of knocking at the door essentially sapped all the momentum she had with Anywhere and right now although still popular, the single is on the verge of fading away. Number 2 was for her a huge success, cementing her big mainstream chart comeback this year. But Christmas Number One was just never to be.

Do X Factor winners Rak-Su stand a chance? Certainly, they impressed the first week out, their debut single Dimelo complete with Wyclef Jean and Naughty Boy in tow made good the potential deficit of not being available until Sunday evening. It raced to a solid Number 2 chart position to become the highest charting X Factor winner’s single for three years. But you still have to remember that these sales were largely front loaded, a result of the outpouring of support they enjoyed in the wake of triumphing on the TV talent show. In order to remain this close to the top of the charts they have to cross over into a wider audience. This is by no means impossible given the music they perform and the entertainment value they provide, but on midweek evidence this just isn’t happening. Dimelo remains a distant second on iTunes behind Perfect Duet and their Spotify streams are showing little sign of advancing beyond 160,000 or so a day. That’s barely enough to put them in the Top 30 streamed tracks of the moment. Number One is beyond them based on current evidence.

The one wild card remains the festive classics, and in particular the near-constant seasonal champion All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey. Just as last week, the weekend saw demand for the festive favourites go through the roof once more. The Mariah track is swapping places on a regular basis with Post Malone’s Rockstar at the top of the daily Spotify listings and has essentially moved into the pole position online it seems destined to occupy from now until the end of the year. It isn’t quite the most streamed track overall, the two competing versions of the Ed Sheeran song meaning that combined it is managing about 439,000 plays a day compared to Mariah’s 350,000. But that is by no means an insurmountable deficit. The jury is out on just how many streams the Bocelli version of Perfect will add, and as we move closer to Christmas itself and the demand for Christmas songs grows even larger it would be dangerous to completely rule out the possibility of an upset. And fascinatingly the bookmakers have not cottoned on to this yet. They seem to have a sentimental attachment to Last Christmas, pushing Mariah out as far as 9-1 in some place. If an upset does indeed take place that will be an absolute mugging for them.

Hoping that a 23-year-old record poses some kind of challenge to the market leader to give us some kind of race next week. That’s how far we’ve fallen people. Two more days of the phoney war to go anyway, then the survey for the Christmas chart can properly begin.

December 12th, 6pm

So with a few days having passed and the dust settled on the latest UK singles charts, what have we learned about the prospects for the Christmas Number One in a week and a half?

Well, working on the continuing theory that the single which replaced Camila Cabello’s Havana at the top of the charts is effectively nailed on, we can presume that Ed Sheeran and Perfect will be top of the charts for the next fortnight with some ease. The release of the brand new Perfect Duet version resulted in what Music Week reported as a 174.9% week on week increase in chart sales. The Ed Sheeran track vaulted to the top of the charts to give him his fourth UK Number One with a sale easily double that of his nearest rivals (who themselves clocked up that total in a little over four days).

Shortly after the announcement on Friday it became clear why his label rejected the idea of adding duet partner Beyonce to the single’s chart credits. Because there is yet another duet version of the track set for release, this being a rather less well kept secret this time around and so in short order, it was revealed that in the week of the Christmas chart itself there will be one final(?) version of Perfect released, this time with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli on co-vocals.

Now, whilst this may not quite give the single the kind of boost the Beyonce version did, it is yet another set of sales and streams to add to the cumulative today. This essentially pushes the single far out of the reach of practically everything else in the market. The multiple versions of the same single stunt has been tried before, most notably by “chartjacker” Alex Day in 2011, but never on this kind of scale by a mainstream and established act. The man who began the year by releasing two singles at once and nailing down the Top 2 for weeks on end and who released an album in the spring which saw every single one of its tracks enter the Top 20 is now going to top the charts for Christmas by gaming his single in a quite inspired manner.

Is it a racing certainty? Well yes, if you believe the bookmakers, with literally no value to be obtained from any kind of bet on Ed Sheeran (or his multiple partners) right now. But that’s not to say there aren’t other contenders. In the next update later tonight I’ll deal with who they are and just why they might still be in with a chance.