Features June 12, 2018

TMN went to the YouTube Music briefing and this is what we discovered

Brynn Davies
Assistant Editor
TMN went to the YouTube Music briefing and this is what we discovered

There’s been much discussion surrounding the new YouTube Music streaming service, which will eventually sunset Google Play Music.

Last Wednesday morning over assorted breakfast buns and coconut water, a small group gathered at Google’s (very cool) HQ in Sydney to hear about the “transition of YouTube into a music company”.

Speaking were Ruuben van den Heuvel, head of music content partnerships (ANZ) at YouTube, and the booming voice of T. Jay Fowler, director, product management at YouTube, who joined us over Google Hangout from the US.

YouTube is the most popular destination for music consumption in the world, with the largest music catalogue – (in the words of van den Heuvel, “FOMO isn’t an issue here”) – it’s baffling that their streaming service offerings keep missing the mark.

The 2017 IFPI’s Music Consumer Insight Report revealed that YouTube is responsible for 46% of all on-demand streaming time.

Despite this, 76% of users were looking for songs that they were already familiar with.

Is YouTube Music the missing link to merge the demand of their 1.8 billion monthly users with users’ desire to discover new music?

This is what we found out about YTM.

About the features

  • Human programmers work alongside algorithms to ensure maximum personalisation, e.g. No Christian metal accidentally served alongside regular metal, which otherwise looks the same to an AI.
  • Geo-tracking works alongside your listening profile e.g. YTM will learn what kind of music you like listening to at the gym, so when you rock up at 6am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, YouTube Music will have playlists ready and waiting.
  • YTM will map how your listening habits change over time. If you enjoy hip hop in the morning, easy listening through to midday, the latest pop tracks in the afternoon and old school jazz over dinner, it will eventually present the appropriate recommendations based on time of day.
  • Video content will be mixed in with music content, including video clips, live performances, interviews, vlogs, covers and any other music-related material that YTM thinks will be relevant to you.
  • YTM supports the local scene wherever you may be in the world, with recommendations pushing artists from your geographic location.
  • A constant reshuffle of home screen candidates will remove playlists you don’t interact with and replace them with new suggestions as it learns your preferences.
  • Official Artist Channels contain an artist’s full body of work across music and video, and they will eventually be able to have direct contact with fans.
  • To prevent the need to manually download music for offline listening, the app has an Auto Playlist which will download your favourite tracks and update with new releases in your taste every day.
  • A Hotlist tab which will reflect what’s trending in your area.

Essentially, a greater use of data analysis, AI and algorithms to create a more ‘lean back’ listening experience, plus the inclusion of video.

Nothing groundbreaking.

In saying that, it will be interesting to see whether the listening profile YTM offers is a more personalised service than those on other platforms.

i.e. can it pin my taste better Spotify does?

Their favourite catchphrase “deeply personalised” has been thrown around a lot.

As listening profiles need to be created from scratch, only time will tell how ‘deeply personalised’ it will be.


Why pay for it?

Paying for YouTube Music Premium will give you the features of YouTube Red (which will soon be replaced by YouTube Premium) and a bit more.

In exchange for $11.99 per month, you get ad-free music, background listening (music won’t cut out when you exit the app to do other things on your phone), and offline listening.

These benefits will extend across main YouTube as well. You also have access to all YouTube Originals’ series and movies.

It’s unclear whether content available on YTM Premium will no longer be available on regular YouTube. If free music content isn’t put behind the paywall, there’s less motivation to sign up for YouTube Music Premium, or any other paid streaming service for that matter.

Compared to YouTube’s 1.8 billion monthly users, Spotify and Apple music barely compare, with 170 million and 49.5 million monthly users respectively.

Regardless of whether you sign up to Premium or pay with your eyeballs, watch the impact of video streaming on your data usage.

van den Heuvel said that they are in conversations with service providers but couldn’t reveal more.

Let’s hope they strike a deal that means streaming YTM doesn’t count toward our data usage, or that’s going to be one killer phone bill.


What does this mean for OG YouTube and Google Play Music?

The subscription business seems to be in conflict with YouTube’s core product.

The company is estimated to be on track to make $10 billion in ad revenues this year, according to eMarketer.

Putting the most engaged users behind an ad-free paywall diminishes the value of YouTube as a platform for advertisers.

Time will tell – the impact on YouTube is contingent on how many of their current users pay up and disappear from the ad-supported service.

Regarding Google Play Music: “We merged the teams about 14 months ago,” revealed T. Jay Fowler.

“While our intent is to sunset Google Play Music, this product that we’re talking about today is not it – it will be an evolution from where we are.”

There are a number of significant Google Play Music features not supported by YTM; specifically, the ability to purchase and download tracks into the locker, as well as merging a local collection into a cloud locker. “These are yet to come.”

“We are absolutely motivated to do this, as you can imagine, supporting two different apps in the same market is actually costly and there’s a lot of overhead. But we want to do it right, we don’t want to lose a single user,” confirmed Fowler. 


How is it different from other services?

A distinct advantage of YouTube Music over other services is the extensiveness of its catalogue. 

Apple Music plays host to over 45 million songs, while Amazon Music, Spotify, SoundCloud Go and others offer tens of millions of songs.

YouTube’s advantage stems from user-generated content like covers, live performances, remixes, interviews and more. 

In terms of user interface and aesthetic, innovation is lacking when compared to its competitors, especially considering the potential to create something entirely new given the video inclusion. 

It’s tall, black and minimalist, like Spotify, but a vast improvement from the bloated white design of Google Play Music.

The names of some playlists are barely altered; Clout Culture becomes Clout Rising, Viral 50 morphs into Blogged 50 and so on.

Playlist aesthetic between Spotify and YTM is also similar:


How will it benefit artists?

YouTube’s current user base is being touted as a benefit for artists to use the service – after all, they have the biggest audience for music in the world.

However, that doesn’t accurately reflect the users of YouTube Music.

The Official Artist Channel aims to bring all artists’ content under one roof which the artist, label and manager can control. “For artists, this means access to 100% of their audience. For fans, this means a single artist destination – one channel to subscribe to and experience an artist’s full depth of work,” van den Heuvel explained.

The Hotlist tab, which reflects what’s trending in your location, will give Australian artists an advantage. It was also suggested that Australian artists are given priority in succession play.  

In terms of royalties, it’s been a long battle between labels and YouTube to pay more to license music, as the ad-supported, freely accessible business has hindered the growth of other services – which are more lucrative for labels.

According to van den Heuvel, “we have worked with our label partners to renew our licensing agreements,” with no other details given.

It also appears that copyright policy hasn’t been revamped for the new service, with TMN being directed back to their Content ID technology in answer to this query.

You can read more about that here.

Currently, YouTube is exempt from liability infringements by users under the copyright safe harbour, and it is a taxing process for labels to get clips removed.


The cool thing?

How many times have you searched for an unknown track using random bits of information, hoping by chance that the internet understands?

Well, now it does.

While not a new feature, the ability for Google Home to understand natural speech and decipher a jumble of suggestions due to its massive catalogue makes it more accurate than ever. It’s a big point in Google’s corner compared to Apple Music, who reportedly spent $US400 acquiring Shazam, amassing one million music clicks per day to Apple Music and Spotify.

Google’s ‘smart search’ can decipher tracks using a few words – even if you get some of them wrong,

Tell your Google Home to “play me that song about rebels with the horns” and it will spit out Portugal. The Man’s ‘Feel It Still’.

Fowler was even able to give it the obscure directive: “Hey Google, play that hipster song with the whistling,” over the video hangout from across the room.

“Okay, playing ‘Young Folks’ by Peter Bjorn and John,” it replied.

I can see the TMN office having some fun with this one.

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