YouTube has launched its new standalone music app. YouTube Music, which was once just a section of the general YouTube service, is now available as a free download on both the iOS App Store and Google Play. This is one of the musical offerings with a premium experience lumped into the YouTube Red subscription. Although anyone can use the YouTube Music app for free, those with the Red membership will get an ad-free experience and other perks such as offline listening.
How does this new plan from YouTube stack up against the other streaming options on the market? The obvious distinguishing factor for YouTube Music is video. Other streaming services have hinted or explicitly voiced interest in adding visual content to their audio offerings, but YouTube is still the head honcho when it comes to video. Plus it already has a vast catalog not just of official videos, but also live shows, covers, and other special performances to tempt listeners.
YouTube Music is doing a few other things differently than its many competitors. For instance, while it is on the side of computer algorithms, the service doesn’t have pre-made playlists for mood or genre. Instead, you pick a video and YouTube’s computers will create a playlist based around it. Or you can opt to turn off the video component entirely and just listen to the audio of the uploads.
Those are some unique elements, but the bottom line is still the question of conversion. Will people care about the particular features of YouTube Music enough to pay for them? There are good cases on either side. Combining the typical music subscription service with premium access to the other video content on YouTube means Red appears to be a two-for-one bargain. Plus Red subscriptions include access to the Google Play Music platform, making it a three-for-one. Finally, in its free form, YouTube has a built-in audience of more than a billion people; it would only take a fraction of them converting to start yielding big revenue numbers. However, that existing community that loves both the music and video of YouTube has been trained to expect that content for free, and with a lot of advertisements. Research has shown that many listeners are resistant to paying anything for a music service, and YouTube’s reputation as the free music source could be very hard to shake. It seems like the most promising target demographic are the people who are currently paying customers of the Google Play Music program, but encouraging listeners outside of the Google family to make the leap could be an uphill battle.