Ever since Penske Media Corporation took control of Rolling Stone two years ago, C.E.O. Jay Penske has been reviving and modernizing the 52-year-old publication—and bolstering his relatively under-the-radar media-mogul status in the process. Under Penske’s stewardship, the print edition was re-conceived as a monthly product, one that’s been featuring artists and influencers who feel more relevant to today’s readers than to their baby-boomer parents.Rolling Stone has also sought to put itself back on the map as a destination for political coverage, with half a dozen politics reporters, a Washington bureau chief, and Matt Taibbi back as a full-time staff writer. In January, Penske doubled down on his reboot by acquiring the 49 percent of Rolling Stone that he didn’t already own, after initially buying Jann Wenner’s majority stake for $50 million in 2017.
Now, Penske is aiming a cannon directly at one of Rolling Stone’s main rivals in music coverage. On Tuesday morning, P.M.C. is set to announce the creation of a competitor to the Billboard charts, which have been the go-to authority for ranking the popularity of songs and albums ever since their debut in 1940. Rolling Stone will now offer its own set of charts—including the top 100 songs and top 200 albums—which P.M.C. says will be more effective than Billboard’s in three key ways: they will be updated daily as opposed to weekly, they will go deeper on streaming data, and they will be completely transparent about their measurement methodologies.
Billboard gets its data through an exclusive deal with Nielsen SoundScan, but Rolling Stone will use Alpha Data, a three-year-old analytics start-up formerly known as BuzzAngle Music that has been building up clout within the industry since its 2016 launch. P.M.C. invested in BuzzAngle last year and is giving it a significant boost by pairing the service with Rolling Stone. “Rolling Stone is the most widely recognized brand in the music space,” Penske said by phone from Los Angeles on Monday, “and we think it should be used in other ways to help people discover music.” That said, P.M.C. is going up against the age-old gold standard, so it’s not like taking down the Billboard charts is a surefire bet. In either case, the news will be alluring for those in the music industry, who tend to get worked up over chart positions the way TV-news professionals do over ratings, or publishers over Web traffic. Might there be a dash of hysteria when there’s a different No.1 song or album on the the Billboard charts versus the Rolling Stone Charts? (They go public on May 13, and Alpha Data will continue to sell its analytics to record labels and other B2B operations.)
In addition to Rolling Stone, Penske has expanded his empire over the past few years by snatching up publications including Variety, Women’s Wear Daily, and Peter Brant’s Art Media Holdings. Last year, P.M.C. got a $200 million infusion from the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which also has a joint-venture with Bloomberg. P.M.C. is profitable and has more cash than that on-hand, according to someone familiar with its finances, and is planning to make further acquisitions.
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