Google this week unveiled its latest plan for music, announcing a revamped YouTube Music coming on May 22 and the new YouTube Premium. There’s some progress in the company’s strategy, but overall, it’s clear Google still has no idea what to do with YouTube.
I’m not even talking about the fact that there are now seven YouTube apps for your phone. (I’m hoping YouTube will solve this by using Google Play’s new Dynamic Delivery functionality, at least on Android.)
I’m talking about the years of confusion around Google’s music efforts (Music Beta was first unveiled at the company’s I/O developer conference in May 2011) and YouTube’s growing part in it all. It’s great that Google wants to consolidate its various media content offerings, but it’s frustrating to watch the company refuse to put its foot down.
First, Google would like you to forget all its previous attempts. Forget about Music Beta, Google Music, All Access, YouTube Music Key, and YouTube Red (arguably the most confounding name in the list). But that’s not all. Please also forget about what you know about YouTube Music, because the YouTube Music launching next week is different from the current YouTube Music.
Oh, also please try to forget about Google Play Music, but not yet, because that’s going away at some point, but we don’t know when. Additionally, YouTube Red is becoming YouTube Premium, which comes with YouTube Music Premium. You get access to YouTube Music Premium with Google Play Music, by the way, but not YouTube Premium.
Confused yet? If you want to listen to music using a Google service, you have three starting points: YouTube, YouTube Music, and Google Play Music. Eventually, you will have only two choices, YouTube and YouTube Music, but that will take a while because Google Play Music has a ton of features (including podcasts) that YouTube’s apps don’t support.
Google is creating way too many points of friction. The company is hell-bent on creating a music app from scratch, convincing YouTube users to embrace it, and then trying to upsell those few users. This strategy has been failing for years.
Instead, Google should take what it learned with the previous YouTube Music experiment and bring it back into YouTube. Make the music experience in YouTube better. Make it so good that YouTube’s 1.8 billion monthly logged-in users will see no reason to leave, no reason to fire up Spotify, and plenty of reasons to subscribe.
YouTube should get a Music section, plain and simple. There should not be such a thing as a standalone YouTube Music app or a YouTube Music service or this latest YouTube Music Premium nonsense — all those features should be accessible in a music tab in the app. The only paid option should be YouTube Premium, which gets you the ad-free experience, all the extras you expect from a paid music service, and all the other extras YouTube can uniquely offer.
Google’s ownership of YouTube should be used to its advantage in the battle against Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Deezer, and Tidal. That’s not happening — Google continues to confuse its users and push them back toward the competition.
There are already multiple ways to listen to music, and Google insists on adding not one, but many. Google’s music offerings are relaunching yet again next week, and yet again they’re going to flop.
YouTube Music will just be another app no one really cares about, another failure, another missed opportunity.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.