November 10, 2010 at 6:08 pm

French Study: Music Streaming More Popular Than Downloading

New evidence supports our sneaking suspicion that people are streaming more music than they’re downloading, as an increasing number of start-ups and established players realize the promise of music in “the cloud,” streaming it to smartphones, computers, televisions, stereos, cars, and eventually, we assume, our espresso machine.

A French study published on Tuesday found that for the first time in history, the French are streaming more music than they are downloading. (See the original article or PDF in French, or this somewhat clumsy babelfish translation.)

What about in the States?

A 2009 NPD Group study found that teens were streaming to more music and downloading less  – and of course, teens eventually grow up and get replaced by more teens, so this pattern of streaming increasing and downloading decreasing that has emerged in France appears to be mirrored here, and probably in other countries as well.

Update (11/11/2010): According to NPD Group, streaming and downloading are neck-and-neck in the United States:

  • U.S. music downloads: 30 percent in August, up from 29 percent in March
  • U.S. music streams: 29 percent in August 2010, up from 25 percent in March 2010

Those numbers clearly indicate that streaming is increasing faster than downloading in the United States, and that the tipping point that just occurred in France will soon take place here too. As for the French MediaMetrie article, The Echo Nest co-founder Tristan Jehan translated it into an English summary, available here:

  • Listening to streaming music on a computer just became more popular than listening to music stored on a computer.
  • Music streaming is the second most popular way to listen to music after regular sound systems, but more popular than either MP3 players or smartphones. Smartphones are rapidly catching up to MP3 players (and they can stream music too).
  • More than 10 million listeners — or 27 percent of all French internet users — listened to streaming music last month.
  • Listening to streaming music is the fourth most popular web activity after chatting, email and blogs.
  • Half of the people streaming music are under 25.

Again, these statistics apply to France, but it’s fascinating that music fans in that country are streaming more music than they download from music stores and P2P networks combined.

The days of the download as the predominant form of digital could truly be numbered, especially considering the predominance of streaming among the young — and the fact that streaming is no longer just about the computer, but the smartphone, tabletstereo system and television. Downloading isn’t going to disappear — heck, people still buy vinyl.

But it is certainly in decline, as more listeners switch to streaming. And considering the explosion of streaming apps, the recent closure of Limewire, and the growing connectedness of our devices, Americans are likely be doing a lot more music streaming and a lot less music downloading, just like our French cousins.

This phenomenon is not limited to music, by the way; another recent study found that Netflix’ streaming video service consumes over 20 percent of U.S. internet bandwidth during peak traffic hours.

Ten years ago, only file sharing networks could put up those kind of numbers, which should be a good omen for movie and music companies — and perhaps a sign that they should consider harnessing this behavior by encouraging more permissive music streaming services.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Obakeneko