Retail, Social Media

Can YouTube finally break into music streaming?


Conrad Duncan, Journalist

After five years of delays, YouTube may have finally put together a streaming service that can compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. The new version of the simply-titled YouTube Music app incorporates elements of Google’s Play Music service, such as ‘context-based searches’, and the company hopes that it will be help them to take on the two giants of the industry.

Music has always been a major part of YouTube; it was revealed last year that it is the most-used site for music streaming, but its content has generally been uploaded by users. The sometimes-dubious legality of this has been a problem for the company and has got them into fights with major labels over payment in the past. YouTube Music is an attempt to move the website into a safer and more profitable direction. However, with Spotify and Apple Music already having 10s of millions of subscribers, is there space for another major streaming service? And if there is, what does YouTube Music offer that’s new?

Why pay for something that’s already free?

This has always been YouTube’s biggest problem with creating its own streaming service. Spotify and Apple Music launched with ‘freemium’ and monthly subscription models respectively, while YouTube has always been a free source of music. If users are going to be convinced to drop their existing accounts and join YouTube Music, or at least choose the service over Spotify or Apple, they will need something to draw them in.

One tactic that the company has suggested it might use is to ‘frustrate and seduce’ potential customers. In short, if you are the sort of YouTube user who uses the website like a streaming service (e.g. letting music playlists run for hours at a time), you may end up seeing more adverts in between songs, especially adverts for YouTube Music. The hope is that users will eventually give up on trying to use the website for free and opt for the easier paid service.

The most eye-catching incentive for users to switch to YouTube Music comes with its search capabilities. The service integrates Google Assistant software and takes advantage of Google’s powerful search algorithms. In practice, this means that you can search ‘trap song with flute’, for example, and find your way to Future’s ‘Mask Off’, or you could search ‘Drake and Lauryn Hill’ and find ‘Nice for What’, a Drake single that samples Hill’s ‘Ex Factor’. The feature puts it way ahead of Spotify and Apple Music in terms of user-friendly searching.

The other interesting feature with YouTube Music is its ‘location-based’ recommendations, a feature that was on Google Play Music. It works by using Google’s location-tracking software, which is often used for maps and food recommendations, to tailor music to where you are. This could mean a work-out playlist if it knows you’re at the gym, or a relaxation playlist if it knows that you’ve just got home from work. The feature is a unique one for YouTube Music, because Spotify and Apple Music don’t ask for your location, and at a time when people are becoming more conscious about who they give their data to, it’ll be interesting to see if people find this feature helpful or creepy.

But what makes YouTube Music significantly different?

Overall, the reviews for YouTube Music have been positive. Many have praised its simple design and ease of use and some have argued that it could be a serious challenger to Spotify and Apple. However, many have also noted that there’s not a lot that makes YouTube Music significantly different from its competitors. Spotify and Apple Music are very similar products, they offer most of the same songs and have many of the same features, but they sell themselves in different ways. Spotify sells itself on its curation capabilities, through its Daily Mixes and Discover Weekly playlist, as well as its hugely influential playlists like Rap Caviar. Apple Music sells itself on its star-power, with exclusive video content and high-profile interviews.

YouTube Music can do these things too and some have praised its recommendation features for already meeting the standard set by Spotify. But there are questions about whether it can do these things better than its existing competitors. Users might be loyal to YouTube but it’s still yet to be proven that they’re loyal enough to pay for it, in the same way as they do for Spotify and Apple Music. The foundations of YouTube Music are strong; it’s a solid, effective streaming service that people will actually want to use and for a long time, those basic features have been lacking from YouTube’s attempts at streaming. Now, it needs to work out a way to make itself really stand out.

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