YouTube to tap music streaming market

NEW YORK • YouTube on Thursday entered the increasingly crowded field of music streaming, hoping to reach a new audience through a user-friendly service that seizes on the video giant’s vast variety.

Called YouTube Music, the platform will offer songs with and without video, and users will be able to switch instantly to an audio-only mode.

In a feature it hopes will be a key selling point, YouTube Music will create non-stop stations tailored to users,who can fine-tune how much variety they want.

YouTube, the world’s third-most popular website after its parent company Google and Facebook, aims to take advantage of its quirky possibilities by offering artists’ original tracks alongside cover versions, live footage and user-generated content.

Mr T. Jay Fowler, director of product development, who was involved in earlier services Beats Music and MOG, said he hoped to draw more people to streaming instead of simply competing with other companies.

The video behemoth on Oct 28 launched YouTube Red, a premium service that allows advertisement-free access to subscribers.

YouTube Music – which was announced alongside YouTube Red without full details – is compatible with Google’s Android system and Apple and will initially be available only in the United States.

The streaming service will be free, but will come without advertisements for subscribers to YouTube Red, which costs US$9.99 (S$14.20) a month.

Google will still operate its audio-driven Google Play Music streaming service, with YouTube Music expecting some consumers to use both platforms.

Streaming, which allows unlimited online music on-demand, has been growing rapidly. Music label conglomerate Universal Music Group said on Tuesday that for the first time, more than half its digital revenue came from streaming in the latest quarter.

Spotify is by far the largest streaming company with 75 million users, 20 million of them paying. But it has faced growing competition from new entrants Apple Music and rap mogul Jay Z’s Tidal, which have both tried to distinguish themselves through original content and video.

YouTube, in turn, learnt that it needed to focus less exclusively on video during a trial phase known as YouTube Music Key. Listeners wanted to turn off videos when driving or exercising for fear of using up their batteries or data allotments.

“It really comes down to portability and I think, to date, YouTube has not been seen as a portable experience,” Mr Fowler said.

While YouTube Music will highlight rising new artists, the service is largely targeting the casual fan who may have been listening to the same songs for years.

“The magic of YouTube is this massive catalogue,” Mr Fowler said, but added that the main message was “low effort, high reward”.

Going one step further with portability, YouTube Music will constantly cache tracks so that a user can come back while offline – a feature that is possible but not automatic on most streaming services.

Streaming, despite its growth, has come under fire from a number of artists who say that the proceeds are paltry. Even before its entry into streaming, YouTube has been a frequent target of music industry representatives alarmed by users’ ability to post nearly anything online.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe