There’s been a lot of rumblings from Googleland again about the new YouTube streaming service that it’s preparing to introduce, with most of more recent ones being about how Google is struggling with getting everything just right before it launches. There’s good reason for the company to be so cautious as there’s a lot riding on the decisions that are being made right now, at least in the music sphere.
The launch of the new YouTube streaming service has actually been expected for months, and if I didn’t actually know people who have seen it for themselves, it might be easy to think of the launch whispers as just a diversion to throw off the competition, a nice rumor to scare the pants off of Spotify, Pandora and Beats Music. That said, all indications are that the service is being crafted to be a serious contender in the music streaming space, but the fact of the matter is that there are three major issues facing Google here, and none of them trivial.
The biggest question is how to top something that’s doing so well already under its own momentum. YouTube is already the largest music discovery engine online, beating all competitors by a large margin, according to the Nielson’s Music 360 Report. You don’t hear a lot of complaints or “if only it did” comments from its users, as most are quite content with the on-demand access that they have now. Oh, and it’s free too. How do you surpass that without becoming just another service groveling for some of Pandora or Spotify’s marketshare?
By delivering picture along with the audio, that’s how, which raises the second question of how Google gets around delivering that picture without it resembling a late night at a Karaoke bar. Word has it that the company is looking into licensing different types of artwork to play behind the music; some static and some dynamic. Ideally the graphics would have at least something to do with the artist, but many videos today get by just fine with abstract graphic designs.
For many who consume music on YouTube, the video portion isn’t all that important, since many videos (mostly the DIY kind made by fans) might only contain a few still photos acting more or less as placeholders. In other cases, the lyrics are a big part of the video, but still secondary to the music. Official music videos still get an enormous number of views, but the simpler ones get nearly as many in the aggregate. So exactly what can a video streaming service offer that the viewer doesn’t already have to make it compelling enough to subscribe? That’s what’s taking so long to figure out. Get this right and it might turn out to be a killer feature that sets the service far apart from the competition, but get it wrong and Google will hear a collective groan that will be louder than any of the PR surrounding the launch.
The next thing is how to introduce a new service without cannibalizing its existing Google Play All Access (that name really has to change). Google’s pay service is far behind most of the other services subscriber-wise already despite a huge number of Gmail and Gooble+ subscribers, but you have to wonder if there’s some trepidation in Googleland that introducing another new service will push users out of their current one, or even keep new ones from signing up.
There’s an old salesman’s adage that goes something like, “Give someone more than two choices and they’ll get confused and won’t buy anything.” One more choice in Google’s own music ecosystem might be enough to make anyone serious about a subscription throw their hands up and run to one of the many competitors (and there’s more of them coming online every day).
Understand that for Google these are actually good problems to have. YouTube is still king of the hill in online music (and without even trying), and everything in its entire music inventory could tank and the company would hardly break a sweat. This is all the more reason to eye the service’s launch with interest to see if the time spent thinking this through was truly worth it or not.