YouTube is already demoing the service to critical partners, with one confidential presentation happening in London last month. And what they’re showing is this: a fully-baked, monthly subscription service that revolves around higher-quality music videos, and promises to create serious problems for every streaming music competitor. “Spotify will have a serious problem once this is launched,” one executive assured Digital Music News, relaying details from the London demonstration.
“They will have a very, very serious problem.”
For now, YouTube is staying extremely tight-lipped on the release. At the recent SF MusicTech Summit in San Francisco on October 1st, YouTube head of Strategic Partnerships Isaac Bess flatly denied having any knowledge of the upcoming YouTube Music, despite extremely direct (and multiple) questions from Digital Music News.
Launch by Christmas
That sort of evasion is going to get more difficult. According to a separate source, YouTube Music is planning to go live by Christmas, if all goes according to plan. That aggressive timetable would create instant problems for leading streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, and Rhapsody, and could beat the now-lagging Beats Music entirely.
‘Cleaning Up the Chaos’
In terms of the top-level vision for this release, another source with knowledge of the plans pointed to a release that will ‘remove the general chaos’ of YouTube’s current music offering (but not eliminate it, see below).
That is, if you want to call YouTube’s music smorgasbord an ‘offering’ at all: currently, users are forced to sift through endless uploads and ‘MCN’ channels looking for their favorite music, or grab an ad-choked VEVO stream. Playlists work well on YouTube, except that you can’t take them anywhere (for the most part).
In terms of available catalog, results are often spotty, incomplete, and almost always have differing sound quality levels. The actual videos are typically a mix of images or actual videos, with random-and-sudden takedowns depending on the content owner.
YouTube Music: Top-Level Features & Costs.
All of that would be cleaned up with this release, according to the second executive. At a top-level, YouTube will be focusing on all-you-can-eat premium, higher-end videos at a very aggressive monthly cost, potentially in the ‘single dollar digits’ (we have little information on pricing, however.) Here are some of the other, top-level aspects of this release:
Complete, millions-plus catalog of videos, similar to Spotify but with videos.
Easily-accessible, pre-assembled albums, curated playlists, and histories.
Offline cacheing to mobile devices and tablets (unconfirmed for launch).
Perfectly-synched playlists, histories, and accounts across 3+ multiple devices.
HD-quality videos of consistent quality.
‘Video as a layer’: Audio-only listening will remain an easy option (and possible a lower-bandwidth solution on devices in a future release). On a laptop or desktop, videos are easily subsumed into a stack of browser tabs.
Integration into broader Google Play suite of services (unconfirmed for launch).
Pre-licensed security against sudden DMCA takedowns.
Simple, more elegant search results, without endless multiples of the same songs and karaoke covers.
Easily-access viewing histories and recommendations based on previous activity.
Licensing Question Marks.
YouTube and its Google parent appear to be in the final stages of licensing YouTube Music with all three majors. We do not have information on publishers or indie labels at this moment.
The Role of VEVO.
A huge, dangling question in all of this relates to the role of VEVO going forward. After all, VEVO specializes in higher-quality – and quality-controlled – videos and experiences, with joint venture major label backing. But whether VEVO will be integrated into the upcoming release remains totally uncertain, especially since VEVO’s model largely revolves around higher-end advertising, which would be eliminated by the premium YouTube Music offering.
‘Devastating Impact’ for Spotify, Beats, Rhapsody, Deezer, Pandora, Muve Music, Rdio, et. al.
According to executives who have seen the product, YouTube Music ‘bears strong resemblance to Spotify’ in the sense that ‘all the content is there, just [as] videos instead of straight streams.” That, coupled with cacheing portability and multi-device synchronization, means that the entire streaming music space now faces a very, very perilous competitor. At present, YouTube’s music traffic alone utterly dwarfs all streaming competitors, including Pandora, and the plan is to keep that ‘chaotic,’ unpredictable, and ‘ad-heavy’ experience intact.
And why not? It offers the perfect up-sell opportunity for more serious music fans, most of whom have little room for a second subscription service.
YouTube/Google’s Tendency Towards Mediocrity
This could be the biggest x-factor: Google’s (and YouTube’s) repeated tendency to launch an ill-supported, mediocre product (with massive media attention). The splashy, earth-shattering product then basically disappears six months later.