How the YouTube Music Rollout Should Have Gone
Let’s Imagine an Alternate Universe| 7 min read
This whole YouTube Music thing has been really poorly handled. It’s not entirely clear where the overlap is between existing services and subscriptions, what will happen to users’ content, and when anything is actually happening (some users are using the new YouTube Music app, but others, like me, got an ad for it and are still seeing the old version).
The problem, it seems, is Google’s lack of orchestration and vision for their products. Sometimes Google really gets things right, but right now, media and entertainment is not one of them.
Let’s imagine an alternate universe for a minute. One where there are larger changes as part of this whole YouTube Music thing. One where these changes would make sense, and you might imagine reading a news article like this:
Goodbye Google Play, Hello YouTube
Google Shaking Up Subscriptions, Doubling Down on YouTube Brand
Today Google announced it was doubling down on the success of the YouTube brand, rolling all of its various media and entertainment services into one. This may sound familiar (Google Play, anyone?), but it reflects a stronger focus on entertainment and recognizing what works with the YouTube model. The existing YouTube app and site itself will continue to operate largely the same with user-uploaded content, but the service is adding a few sections, tweaking its premium subscription services, and revamping a few apps for a more coherent experience.
Google Play Music and YouTube Music will be combined under the latter’s name, marking the largest change for the music service since its purchase and integration of Songza. It looks poised to take on Spotify with curated playlists, daily mixes, and that smart algorithmic curation from Songza. Users’ libraries amassed over the years (from both uploads and purchases on Google Play Music, plus likes on YouTube) will move over to the new app along with their playlists and custom radio stations.
The YouTube name of course brings over a trove of both official music videos and user-uploaded covers that will be smartly tagged alongside the existing library of songs. It sounds like it should be much tidier than the existing YouTube music listening experience, while still allowing for easier discovery and filling any holes in the content selection.
Google’s various video services will also be cleaned up. YouTube TV will inherit the massive library of movies and TV shows from Google Play Movies & TV (yes, that was an actual product name), opening it up for the first time to customers in markets not currently covered by the cable-like subscription service. That subscription will remain largely the same, offering cable channels and associated on-demand content to subscribers.
With the integration of the Google Play library, it starts to feel a lot more like a serious Netflix or Hulu competitor. YouTube Originals — content produced by the service and some of its top creators — will also be made available on-demand or as part of a subscription to the TV service.
YouTube Podcasts was the service nobody expected, but one that makes a lot of sense. Many podcasters already leverage the video sharing platform for distribution, and this new service brings that existing content plus the podcasts from the old Google Play Music service into one purpose-built app and site for podcast listening. The recently-announced doubling down on podcasts seems to be happening under this umbrella, with the tight integration into Google Search and Assistant being badged with a new YouTube Podcasts icon.
What we’ve seen of the new app looks great with all of the features you’d expect, including cross-device syncing, playback speed controls, dead air removal, a sleep timer, and auto-queuing of older or newer episodes. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into this app once we’ve had some hands-on time.
Farewell, Google Play
What about the other Google Play services? Google Play Newsstand was already pulled out of the Google Play brand with the introduction of a revamped Google News. Google Play Books will be simplified to Google Books, where it will retain its large library of ebooks, digital comics, and audiobooks. So it would appear the YouTube brand is focused on audio and video content, while Google is dismantling the “Play” part of the Google Play brand.
As such, the Google Play Store on Android will simply be renamed to the Google Store, still surfacing content from each of the YouTube and Google services, including apps and games for Android and Chrome OS (which makes the lack of Android branding make some sense). This might be confusing at first, but since the experience stays largely the same, it feels like users will adapt pretty quickly.
The Google Play branding always seemed clunky to me, so I’m happy to see it replaced with YouTube for audio/video content and the simplification of the other services.
New Subscription Pricing
With this swath of changes, there was a lot of concern over the pricing model. Today, a “YouTube Red” subscription offers ad-free YouTube viewing plus the inclusion of a few other services for one singular price. Google is giving each service its own subscription, but keeping an all-inclusive option for those who want all of the content and perks.
YouTube Music will undercut both Spotify Premium and the previous plans from Google Play Music, with a YouTube Music Premium subscription bringing all of the ad-free listening and offline support for $8/month. A free, ad-supported radio version will remain, as will the ability to purchase songs or albums on their own.
YouTube TV will keep its pricey cable-equivalent $40/month subscription, rebranded as YouTube TV Live. With the inclusion of both live cable streaming and on-demand content, that price remains competitive. What’s new is a $10/month streaming-only YouTube TV Premium subscription which eschews the live TV and cable content for a more traditional Netflix-like subscription. This includes all YouTube Originals plus a rotating selection of ad-free content from other studios. It’s a dollar cheaper than Netflix’s Standard subscription plan, but we’ll have to see how good the selection is before judging if it’s worth the price.
YouTube Podcasts will be free, which makes sense since most monetization happens via ads in the podcasts themselves. Something surprising was a seemingly Patreon- or Twitch-type funding model with perks like ad-free listening. We’ll have to see how this works for podcasters, and what sort of funding levels exist.
Finally, a new YouTube Premium subscription seems to replace YouTube Red, which will include the premium plans for both YouTube Music and YouTube TV for $15/month (saving $3/month of their individual plans), plus ad-free viewing and offline support on all existing YouTube content. This seems like a great deal given the addition of streaming content from YouTube TV.
If you’re an existing subscriber to Google Play Music All Access, YouTube Red, or YouTube TV, you’ll be grandfathered into YouTube Premium at your current price. For new subscribers, the decoupled pricing can work out to be cheaper or more expensive than the previous plans, depending on what content they crave. But Google tells us the new models let people pick and choose, plus ensures that the revenue is going to the proper content creators: i.e. musicians, independent content creators, or TV studios depending on which subscription is purchased.
Back To Reality
Unfortunately, none of the above is actually happening. Instead, Google sloppily announced a new music streaming service (YouTube Music) with a new subscription model (YouTube Music Premium) that replaces their old music-focused video streaming service (YouTube Music), but not their existing music streaming service (Google Play Music) nor its premium subscription (Google Play Music All Access). Also, YouTube Red is getting a price hike and being renamed YouTube Premium, and will now include YouTube Music Premium.
…It’s all a mess.
Now, maybe my alternate universe is nothing more than a longtime Google user’s personal dream, but I imagine a more cohesive shift like that would have been much better than just introducing yet-another-music-app and sort-of-but-not-really reworking the subscriptions. I don’t have insider knowledge of the content licensing fees and agreements, but this seems like it would be a much more sensible sell to musicians and movie/TV studios when it comes to pricing.
Thanks to AndroidPolice.com for all of the great journalism, plus the sources sprinkled throughout this piece. Go give them a read!