The controversial HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” that premiered last March had fans and radio programmers debating whether or not Michael Jackson’s vast catalog of hit music should still be played.
Even with a strong backlash that was fast and fierce, predictions from critics and reviewers of Michael’s imminent downfall and a sympathetic interview of Jackson’s accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck from Oprah Winfrey, Jackson’s music survived.
According to Billboard, In the immediate aftermath, U.S. radio airplay of Jackson’s catalog dropped precipitously. Nielsen Music data showed that in the four weeks prior to ”Leaving Neverland,” his songs averaged 14,000 spins per week at radio, while in the 31 weeks afterward, through Oct. 3, stations played his music an average of 11,000 times. The radio audience for Jackson’s music fell 32.1% during this period. But the streaming consumption during that same 31 week period found that Jackson’s catalog never saw a decline. In fact, on-demand streams of Jackson’s catalog actually increased by 22.1%, outpacing the industry’s 21.8% growth.
“After I saw the documentary and played Michael Jackson, I got on the mic and said, ‘I hope no one here saw the documentary,’ and people didn’t say a word,” said Jeff Wittels, owner and DJ at Retroclubnyc, a New York dance club that spins ’70s, ’80s and ’90s hits. “They couldn’t care less.”
While WFEZ in Miami originally backed off on spins of Jackson’s music after the documentary aired, according to the branding and program director Gary Williams, “As far as far as complaints go, I maybe got two emails,” Williams said. “As soon as we went back [to playing Jackson’s music], we got a positive response.”
Programming directors and industry experts have attributed the phenomenon to listener loyalty, which bodes well for the Jackson estate, which plans to rollout new projects including a Broadway musical set to debut in August of 2020 and a 1,000 copy box set containing LPs and Blu-ray discs also sometime next year.