YouTube enters crowded music streaming market

Streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and iTunes Radio have become a distinct part of the listening experience for many digital music fans. In the background, for years YouTube has been the destination for many music listeners looking for a quickie, predating many streaming services. The distinction between these listening experiences has become YouTube’s chronic inconsistency. But this appears to be set to change with YouTube’s recent announcement of its own paid streaming service, YouTube Music Key.

Users have come to appreciate the ability to open playlists on music services like Spotify and have music saved from previous listening sessions. While YouTube has offered playlist services for years, they have never quite become a part of how most people listen to music. Where music-streaming services have become a reliable source of music entertainment (thanks to library consistency and tolerable ad frequency), YouTube has lagged in recent years as a result of the constant deletion of bootlegged content and ever-increasing ad times.

YouTube Music Key will utilize the existing platform of and its relevant mobile apps, which will cost a promotional $7.99 and was released in beta on Tuesday Nov. 18. It will offer ad-free listening, as well as the ability to save content for offline listening.

With the paid “premium” tier, YouTube will also launch a free, ad-supported service. The service differs from the existing YouTube listening experience in that there will be video-free songs in addition to YouTube’s extensive collection of songs with official music videos.

According to The Financial Times, the launch of YouTube’s streaming service comes right around the time of Google’s agreement with the rights agency Merlin that represents a number of indie labels. These agreements will allow Google-owned YouTube to stream content, as opposed to its previous restricted ability to publish music videos. This also solves one of the major problems YouTube has had over the years: deleted content.

Now, rather than relying on frequently deleted unofficial content uploaded by regular users, listeners can rely on official uploads by record labels. According to YouTube’s blog, “Until today you couldn’t easily find and play full albums. In the coming days, you’ll be able to see an artist’s discography on YouTube, and play a full album with both their official music videos and high-quality songs our music partners added to YouTube.”

Yet, the question of how to generate paid users remains. With services like Spotify having already established themselves with dedicated user bases, YouTube’s shift to audio-only streaming is certain to have serious competition right from its launch.

This isn’t Google’s first venture into the music streaming market. Its first attempt, Google Play Music, hasn’t seen the same success in attracting listeners as Spotify or iTunes Radio. In an already crowded digital music market—given Google’s previous missteps—it will be interesting to see how successful this service will be.