This is the first study of its kind in the world for music streaming: between 1% and 3% of online listening is fake, according to data for 2021 in France, unveiled on Monday by the National Center for Music (CNM) who oversees the sector.
It’s a plague. “By artificially inflating the volume of consumption of one or more titles, we increase the notoriety and economic value of a project or an artist”, denounced the Union of Independent French Phonographic Producers at the beginning of December.
Between 1 and 3 billion fake streams
According to information from platforms (Deezer, Qobuz, Spotify) and distributors (Universal, Sony, Warner, Believe and Wagram), the CNM establishes that in France, in 2021, between 1 and 3 billion streams, “less”, were false, i.e. between 1% and 3% of total plays.
It is “certain that the reality of false flows goes beyond what is detected, without it being possible to reach a precise figure, since they do not enter the field of detection”, develops the president of the CNM, Jean-Philippe Thiellay.
The “data circulating in the media, much higher than 3%, are not based on any established and proven data, which does not allow them to be contradicted”, adds the manager.
Some professionals “indicated that they were contacted directly by service providers with their offers for artificial stream enhancement, and Deezer noted an increase in detected fraud in 2022,” he further explains.
France Inter got a mail with the prices of a company that promises “100% French” streams, which “are not bots (virtual listeners, ed) but real people who listen to your titles”. According to this radio, prices range from 129 euros for a package of 10,000 to 20,000 streams to 6,499 euros for more than a million streams.
“Pirate imaginations are rich and ever-changing”
The CNM, for its study, has collaborated with most of the players in the sector. But the institution regrets “that players such as Amazon Music, Apple Music and YouTube were unable or unwilling to share their data according to the defined observation perimeter, despite all the guarantees of confidentiality”.
The Authority defines the fraudulent manipulation of online plays as “the artificially increasing the number of plays or views, by robots or individuals, for the purpose of generating income, improving a title’s performance in the charts, and/or driving a recommendation system (playlist, search)”. “Stream farms (networked computers, ed), account hacking, the imagination of pirates is rich and evolving”, still regrets the CNM.
All areas are affected: hip-hop, pop/rock, classical, French song or background music. In detail, on Spotify and Deezer, “the vast majority of streams detected come from hip-hop/rap: it is quite logical given that these are the most listened to genres (over 50% of the first 10,000 on Spotify and 40% on Deezer) ”, still notes the CNM.
However, “compared to the total number of listens of hip-hop/rap titles, these fraudulent streams represent only a very small percentage, 0.4% on Spotify and 0.7% on Deezer”.
In comparison, the share of streams detected “as fraudulent out of all listens of a given genre is significantly higher for background music (4.8% on Deezer).”
Distribution of income in a “common fund”
In the current distribution system of streaming music revenues – generally a common fund divided in favor of the most listened to – those who “inflate their ratings take away a share of compensation from all those who do not cheat”, analyzes the CNM.
Saying that he takes the manipulation of streaming “very seriously” and is making “efforts” to combat this phenomenon, a Spotify France spokesman for his part assured that these artificial streams “have not had any impact on the remuneration of the artists”.
Fighting this fraud means running into a trap: “In most cases, the sponsor originating the stream manipulation request will rarely be identified and identifiable,” admits the National Center for Music.
The institution proposes the development of an “interprofessional charter for the prevention and fight against the manipulation of online interceptions”. The CNM will also carry out a new study in 2024.