YouTube has wanted to roll out ad-free streaming music services for some time, to compete with other, Internet-based streaming services, and it’s going to begin testing this new service within days. The idea is to charge users to watch, listen to, and download music without ads, and the situation looks bleak for independent artists who don’t like the idea: Google has said that it will take any artists and labels who don’t sign up for the service off of the platform entirely – paid or non-paid, traditional video streaming. It’s a bold play from YouTube, and it’s ostensibly a strong-arm of the music industry, owing to the fact that YouTube is now indispensable to the marketing industry at large. If or when the pushback comes, YouTube’s response, if any, will be telling, and could shape the future of streamed media at large.
Google’s Chromecast over-the-top smart TV solution has been gaining popularity since its release, but the limited stable of apps from familiar online content providers has been preventing a mass user-base from developing. Today Google announced the device’s support for 10 new third-party apps from companies like Vevo, Songza, and Plex. Plex is especially interesting, as it is quite popular with home theater enthusiasts, and thus could bring the Chromecast into more critical media serving applications. Be on the lookout for more Chromecast apps in coming months from similar vendors, because this is certainly not the last drop of apps for the device.
Netflix has begun talks with American cable providers in an effort to integrate with their set top boxes. If they manage to ink a deal with major American television providers, it would mark a major change in thinking about mainstream media dominance, showing Netflix to be such a major player that it can no longer be ignored. U.K. provider Virgin Media recently announced a partnership with Netflix that will allow its customers to search for Netflix shows seamlessly within the standard cable channel browser. Netflix’s positioning as a lower-cost alternative to cable television has made it a clear and present danger to cable providers all over the world, and teaming up could allow traditional providers to maintain some relevance as television viewing shifts more and more online and on-demand.
YouTube is on the road to becoming an even more complete solution to internet broadcasting, opening up live streaming to users with as few as 100 subscribers. Other sites, like uStream, have offered live video streaming capabilities for years, but by expanding their range of services to include this, YouTube could effectively shut down its competitors in this realm due to its ubiquity in internet video. Other updates to YouTube’s service include allowing all users to upload custom thumbnails for videos, and allowing video annotations to link externally, giving content creators additional means of monetizing their content. YouTube’s been a giant for years, but this update makes it an even more complete solution for content creators and brands.
Amidst artist criticisms of streaming services, Nielsen released numbers that demonstrate just how streamed music is on the rise. In the first six months of 2013, streaming music was up by 24% to nearly 51 billion streams, while overall sales of albums and tracks were down by 4.6% over a year ago. The top track of the six months, unsurprisingly, was the Harlem Shake, which was streamed 438 million times, with the next closest contender, Thrift Shop, at 187 million streams. So no matter how the streaming issue resolves itself, it remains clear that streaming music is a medium that listeners are clamoring for.