New YouTube streaming music service could bring order to online chaos

Jason Mraz
Recording artist Jason Mraz speaks with extras during a video shoot with YouTube stars in Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

YouTube has long been the de facto streaming service for music fans looking to hear a song on a moment’s notice. But now the video site looks to be getting into the music-streaming game more officially.

According to many reports, including Billboard and Company Town, the Google-owned site looks to debut the new paid service, which will follow Spotify’s general model, before 2014 and potentially as soon as next month. The service would be geared toward mobile users and allow them to skip the advertising that accompanies most YouTube music clips.

Early estimates suggest a $10-a-month price tag for the new service, and it could also allow users to briefly store songs on their devices for offline listening. It could make for a more streamlined version of the chaotic sprawl of finding music on YouTube, which has upended the way young listeners search for and listen to music onlne.

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The news comes during the run-up to next month’s YouTube Music Awards, its own attempt at a VMA-like awards show (which has come under some fire for perpetuating top-40 pop instead of rewarding outsider artists). But taken together they’re a clear sign that YouTube is finally acknowledging what fans have long known -- it’s the first place listeners go to discover new music and to hear favorite songs with minimal friction.

As much as the site’s reputation rests on viral cat videos, it plays an essential if complicated role for musicians, and a formal streaming service could begin to make sense of the vast galaxy of radio-rips, lyric videos, live performances and official music videos that populate the service today.

The move comes as YouTube tries to wring value out of its explosive mobile growth, which has leapt from 6% to 40% in just two years. But mobile commands lower ad rates that prompt some rights-owners to pull songs from YouTube’s current mobile streaming. It’s unclear which labels might have struck licensing deals with YouTube for a potential service.

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In 2012, Google introduced its own Spotify-like streaming service, Play, and sources suggest that subscribers to Play would get free access to the new YouTube service. The new service could also be complicated by the expected launch of a similar platform by Beats by Dre, the massively popular and profitable headphones company.

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