YouTube’s long-rumored subscription music service is here. On Thursday, the video-streaming site announced the May 22nd debut of YouTube Music, a new standalone music-streaming service available to consumers via an ad-supported free tier or a premium tier at $9.99 a month.
The new service features much the same that we’ve come to expect from other streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music – playlists, official versions of millions of songs, and ad-free and offline features for the premium tier – while layering on the offering of YouTube’s trove of official song music videos and other artist-related video content. Available in both mobile and browser-based versions, the service has a simplistic home screen that adapts to give dynamic recommendations based on users’ history, location and present activities.
YouTube’s global music head Lyor Cohen and head of music product T. Jay Fowler say they know they’re late to the game – but the point is not to steal Spotify's user base, and rather to introduce more variety into the scene and lure in music fans who haven't yet signed onto music streaming at all.
“I think the industry is excited, because one of the greatest fears the industry is having is they could wake up one day and it could be just two distributors,” Cohen tells Rolling Stone. “We are trying to help build the connective tissue with the labels and to partner with them. And we heard them loud and clear: They wanted us to be in both businesses, advertising and subscription. Because they believe that the future of our business is with two engines.”
In a demonstration to Rolling Stone, Cohen and Fowler showed how the service adjusts to users’ habits; the order of its playlists and suggested songs also shifts as users open the app more often. One of the unique features offered on YouTube Music is an automatically-updating offline playlist that saves a certain amount of users’ music without the need for manual input. “Probably where we’re going with product here is taking a lot of that friction away from using a streaming service and making it dead simple to get music to play,” Fowler says.
Fowler confirms that YouTube Music will replace Google Play Music. Subscribers to Google Play Music will get access to the new service automatically, and the blog post notes that users will "still be able to access all of your purchased music, uploads and playlists" for now, but the two services will merge in the near future.
Fowler says YouTube Music’s target demographic includes music fans who haven’t yet signed up for a music-streaming service in the past and YouTube fans who will want to have all of their video, music and artist content centralized on one service. While YouTube and YouTube Music are separate platforms, they will share user data and history.
Beyond offering music fans more diversity in the music-streaming landscape, YouTube Music's executives hope the new service will serve as a signal of goodwill to record labels and artists, who have complained in the past about the low payouts and piracy problems within YouTube's core business, its free video service. Cohen and Fowler say they are working to bring free streamers onto the premium tier by stressing the benefits of ad-free play and offline streaming. (Cohen said in March that the strategy is, frankly, to "frustrate and seduce" users to the platform alike.)
“It’s good for consumers to have the choice,” Cohen says. “We have a really really powerful advertising business and are going to build a really powerful subscription service. We wanted to make sure that we heard the record industry. And they want two engines on the plane.”
In tandem with the new service’s launch, YouTube Red (the company’s subscription video-streaming service) is also being rebranded YouTube Premium at a price point of $11.99 a month for new users, and it will include a YouTube Music add-on as part of the subscription. YouTube Music launches Tuesday in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Mexico. Other countries will be offered the service in the next few weeks.