h

Is YouTube Music doomed to fail?

This week, YouTube’s long-awaited streaming service YouTube Music launched in Australia – we were one of five countries to get it first, alongside the US, Mexico, South Korea and New Zealand. 

On the surface, YouTube Music looks like it has the goods to take on Spotify and Apple Music. First, it’s starting with a strong base: one billion people use YouTube every month for music. Secondly, it’s combining millions of "official" tracks and albums with rarities, remixes, performances, covers and music videos uploaded by YouTube's users which will give it exclusivity. It’s big on personalisation: playlists of new releases and mood-makers depending on past listening. YouTube Music is offering two tiers – the free one, and an $11.99 a month ad-supported one.

The problem is that YouTube users have long made it clear they won’t pay for their music content. It’s not their concern that the subscription tier is included, because YouTube is under the pump from record companies who are so enraged that it’s paying them and their artists so little that they’re lobbying governments to compel YouTube to increase pay-outs. In their 15 years of doom and gloom, with piracy and crashing CD sales, record companies were brooding about how they gave away their music to radio and MTV in the name of free publicity and watched them develop billion dollar empires standing on their shoulders. The good times are back again, but the record industry is not going to repeat that lesson. YouTube’s parent company Google’s past attempts to make users pay for their content have not been what you’d describe as a success.  Trying to make their consumers pay for their content hasn’t had a lot of success. In fact, YouTube Music is the fourth attempt. There was Google Play Music in 2011 which is about to be rolled into YouTube Music, so you can imagine what a big smasheroonie that was. 2014 brought YouTube Music Key (cue more ho-hum yawns) and a year later popped up the YouTube Music app.

Google Play and YouTube Red reportedly have a total of seven million subscribers. Compare that to Spotify’s current 75 million, and Apple Music which last week hit the 50 million payers mark. Don’t forget Amazon Music which with its Alexa devices is tapping into that huge listening audience that previously hasn’t gotten into streaming because it thinks it’s too hard. YouTube Music is coming into a market that is over-crowded, and where the two leaders are savagely fighting it out for relevance. So YouTube needs to count on its points of difference – particularly the “exclusive” user-generated content – to make attempt #4 a success. Or else it will join that great digital graveyard with the likes of Samsung’s Milk Music, which bit the dust after two years; Rdio which filed for bankruptcy before Pandora picked it up; Guvera which crashed and burned on its own global ambitions, and Grooveshark which the labels destroyed because too much of its user-generated content was illegal.