I heard about the rumored YouTube Music Key on NPR the other day as I drove home and read a little more about it this morning at Techhive and Android Police. According to these sites, for a mere $9.99 /month after an introductory free month, users will get access to an ad-free, streaming service featuring many unique bonus materials, remixes, cover tunes, concerts, and personalized playlists.
YouTube, one of Google’s most prized possessions, is already a major music channel. Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers and most indie labels use it to promote their music and artists. But there is also a tremendous amount of music uploaded to the site that is not approved by the labels and which generates income for YouTube’s advertisers…but not for the labels.
This might be a problem when it comes to securing the licenses necessary to launch a competing streaming service. When I met with the labels in New York in June, I asked them whether anyone had approached them about streaming in high-definition. I was told that Qobuz.com is the only one that has requested “higher quality” files but that no decision had been made regarding CD quality files for streaming. YouTube undoubtedly has more clout than Qobuz but moving to high quality streaming presents a number of unique challenges.
Figure 1 – A collection of screen shots from YouTube Music Key service according to Android Police. Photo from Android Police site. [Click to enlarge]
The Android Police site claims that the images they’ve acquired show the site boasting of having “over 20 million high-quality tracks”. Just what constitutes a “high-quality” track at YT? We’ll have to wait and see but if the different levels of video quality on YouTube are indicative of how the audio might be made available, we might get audio that’s better than Spotify or Pandora. Maybe.
Right now, you can watch videos in a variety of different formats and resolutions on YT. At the top of the list is 720p. The “p” is for progressive…meaning every line of the video scan is displayed in order rather than “i” or interleaved which alternates the lines. Then there’s 480p or standard definition and various lower resolution down to 144p. It turns out that the only way to get the best audio quality on YouTube is to use the highest video setting. But the “highest” quality audio is still less than CD-Quality. So where would a paid premium YouTube music service come in to the mix?
Google might be the ultimate beneficiary of a paid music service on YouTube as it opens the door on a number of the services that Google has already in place…including content creation and curation. You already see the “ghost inside the machine” every time you do a search. For listener/subscribers of YouTube Music Key, it might mean that your playlists come curated, expanded, and even tailored to your own audio fidelity preferences…maybe that wishful thinking but I can dream.
The era of personalized music delivery is upon us…YouTube might be the first company to pull it off.