‘Billboard’ Frees Charts for Web Audiences

NEW YORK As Michael Jackson fans jammed the Web to read about the pop star’s recent death, hordes of readers turned to the iconic Billboard music charts to fully grasp his impact on music history.

The Jackson charts told a compelling story. Decades of sales, airplay and musical trends delivered twists and turns for an audience with a suddenly voracious appetite for all things Jackson.

It’s this appetite for the story behind the numbers that aggressively plays into Billboard’s new online play.

As part of a site launch going live today, Billboard is opening up its entire chart history to the global audience and giving music fans the tools to participate in the past, present and future of music.

Users of the new Billboard.com will be able to personalize the way they approach music discovery while interacting with friends, fellow fans and even the musicians themselves.

One feature, called Soundtrack of My Life, allows users to create a string of songs tied to key moments in their lives.

Billboard, like Adweek, is owned by the Nielsen Co.

One of the big distinguishers Billboard expects to have in the crowded music space is its ability to free the decades of chart data to a consumer audience. For the first time, the Hot 100 chart will be freely available for all 100 listings.

“We’ve been on a path to make this Billboard brand as relevant as we can to as wide an audience as we can,” said Howard Appelbaum, publisher of Billboard.

Through music provider Lala, site visitors will be able to buy music directly from the charts from a database of 6 million Web songs.

Downloads will sell for 89 cents to $1.10 apiece. Another new feature will let visitors vote on their favorite songs. The results will be the basis of new, user-generated charts slated to launch later this year.

The relaunched site is the latest step in Billboard’s diversification beyond its business-to-business roots. Until the early 1990s, the 115-year-old magazine received the lion’s share of its advertising business from record companies and retailers. As that pool has dwindled with consolidation in the music business, Billboard has leaned more heavily on consumer-driven business, licensing its name and content to dozens of media companies from MTV to Reuters.

“This [licensing] is a really good and important business for us now,” said Appelbaum.

Appelbaum has plans to double his site’s traffic in the coming year, which he believes will consistently open the door to a wider variety of advertisers in categories like telecom, fashion, liquor and food.

That won’t be easy, though. Name recognition aside, Billboard.com stands at No. 24 among music sites with 4.7 million monthly unique visitors, per the title.
From Pandora to Imeem, there’s no shortage of Web sites where music fans can stream and download songs. But Billboard contends it has much more than streaming.

Josh Engroff, vp, digital for the media and entertainment group of Nielsen Business Media, which houses Billboard, says the new site will ou perform sites that just offer streaming because of the totality of features on offer, such as its depth of songs available, social networking features and the ability to customize playlists using the Billboard charts.

While other music sites like Pandora have introduced audio ads, Billboard.com is eschewing their use so as not to turn off listeners.

“If we create the best consumer experience, I think we’re going to be able to monetize that in the way that’s best for the audience,” Appelbaum said. To get there, though, he acknowledged, “We have a lot to do.”

Dave Martin, vp, digital media at independent media agency Ignited, where he has several entertainment clients, said Billboard’s name recognition would be an advantage over bigger music sites, as would its decision not to bog down the consumer experience with audio ads.