By Liana B. Baker and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - In a sport where music can play a big role in drawing in the audience, figure skating has introduced songs with lyrics at the Olympics, a move that has boosted several songs on at least one streaming service.
Data from Amazon.com showed that some half a dozen songs featured at the Pyeongchang Games had become much more popular on its streaming music users.
The soundtrack to the 2001 film "Moulin Rouge," Cinematic Orchestra's 2007 song "To Build a Home" and Coldplay's 2014 song "O" saw major boosts in streaming during Olympic competition this month, a spokeswoman for Amazon Music said.
Dmitri Aliev, an Olympic Athlete from Russia, skated his free program to "To Build A Home," and songs from "The Little Miss Sunshine" soundtrack, which together saw the largest percentage increase in streaming, as high as nine times the average stream per minute.
Amazon said the boost was caused by "To Build a Home" being less recognizable than other music used by skaters.
Song from "Moulin Rouge" saw the largest boost in streaming for ice dance after Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's performance in the team event, which helped Canada win gold.
U.S. pairs skater Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, as well as U.S. skater Vincent Zhou performed to songs from the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack during the Games.
In addition to an increase in streaming, songs used in competition "experienced major listening spikes right after performances by voice requests on Amazon Music via Alexa," an Amazon spokeswoman told Reuters in an e-mail.
Alexa is Amazon's voice-controlled assistant. Users might be making voice requests for songs during live events like the Olympics so they do not have to stop to find the songs to stream on their mobile devices.
One of these spikes occurred during the free skate of U.S. ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue set to "Caught Out in the Rain" by Beth Hart, a song that saw an increase in voice requests of 60 times its average.
Even though songs with lyrics have become the shiny new thing in Olympic figure skating, some instrumental pieces still sparked an increase in listening.
Japan's Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed used music by Ryuichi Sakamoto's "The Last Emperor" and "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" from 1980s films. Streaming for these pieces rose to six times their daily average.
For ice dance, another Coldplay song "Paradise" saw an increase in voice requests that was only beaten by covers of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack.
Adam Rippon from the United States also skated to Coldplay's "O."
American ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani, who won two bronze medals in Pyeongchang, said the decision to skate their long program to "Paradise" had nothing to do with increasing Coldplay's exposure, but was meant to change people’s views of the sport by using modern music.
"We're keenly aware of the fact that people have a certain perception when it comes to figure skating at the Olympics. That they are going to hear a particular genre of music. But the sport needs to grow as times change," Alex Shibutani said.
Shibutani added that he and his sister "relate to Coldplay more than we relate to classical music."
(Additional reporting by Rory Carroll and Elaine Lies in Gangneung, South Korea; Editing by Peter Rutherford)