In 2011, Google created Google Play Music, the company’s first attempt at a paid streaming music service. That’s four years before Apple Music was introduced and certainly predates Spotify’s position as a known music industry force. Perhaps they were too early: No one really cared. In 2014, Google shifted focus to YouTube Music Key, which offered ad-free music videos for a small fee, and, once again, was met with mass indifference. That service folded into YouTube Red, the YouTube subscription service that offers original content along with ad-free videos. The last reported number of YouTube Red subscribers in late 2016 was 1.5 million users—a minuscule number compared to YouTube’s 1.5 billion monthly users. Converting free user to paid isn’t an easy task.
Yesterday Bloomberg reported that YouTube is taking another stab at it with a new service called Remix, set to launch in March 2018. The report’s most important note: YouTube has signed an agreement with Warner Music Group and is currently negotiating with Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Merlin, a collection of major independent labels.
The scant details provided in this report reaffirms a few questions I’ve kept in my head as an avid YouTube user. When I log onto the platform I’m greeted with five mixes that say: “YouTube Mixes: Nonstop playlists based on a song or artist.” (See below.) They’re often based on recent videos I’ve watched, but it’s certainly a far more centralized way of funneling music listening than even Spotify’s playlists or daily mixes. Extremely specialized playlists would certainly make sense, as YouTube’s primary way of discover is through search or side-bar and those aren’t as robust as what other services offer.
Last month Billboard reported the tension between record labels and YouTube continues—there’s little payout on song streams—so this news could imply there is still on-going back-and-forth conversations over royalty rates.
The business strategy of moving towards paid subscriptions makes sense—YouTube offers what all other streaming services do not: access to official records, bootlegs, concert footage, music videos and fan-made clips all in one place. Hopefully this new service embraces a bit of that messiness rather than creating another close system. They could win.