Ah, YouTube; as far as subscription services go, it’s a bit of a weird one. Historically, as users, we’ve understood that anyone with the means can upload content, and good or popular content is rewarded with a share of the revenue from advertisements shown to viewers. There’s been some amazing content produced over the years, but YouTube was never really a place to access ‘premium’ content like feature-length movies or TV shows. It was more about skits, video blogs and Let’s Plays.
That was, until major record labels saw YouTube’s popularity and started using the platform to share music videos with the public. Ever since then, the question has been asked by mobile users in particular: when will I be able to minimise the YouTube app and keep listening to the song? The answer is (of course) when you pay a subscription fee to make up for the fact that your eyeballs aren’t potentially being exposed to the advertisements which make them money. Which is fair enough; they have overhead costs to cover, but the real question is, is the new option of a YouTube Red subscription worth the money?
The magic is in the music
Let’s not beat around the bush here; although the subscription service offers exclusive access to some unique YouTuber content like ScarePewDiePie, its most marketable component is music. YouTube Red isn’t trying to compete with Netflix, but rather music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. Their secondary mobile app, YouTube Music, forces you to team it up with a 14-day free trial of YouTube Red when you first link your Google account. It does this because having a YouTube Red subscription is the only way to access the features which distinguish YouTube Music from the regular ol’ YouTube app – audio-only mode, background listening and the offline playlist.
So, let’s take a look at the appeal of this subscription service.
You do technically get more bang for your buck
True to the nature of YouTube, the app boasts a lot more content than just audio tracks, namely, videos. As well as official music videos and concert footage, there’s also a plethora of fan-made content including covers, dances or even just slideshows of the song’s lyrics. Don’t want to waste your WiFi on video content you don’t care about? Just flick on audio mode and enjoy only the music.
There are also some serious benefits of being the biggest thing in video sharing since, uh, the invention of the Internet. YouTube has basically everything; from the biggest names in music all the way through to the most obscure amateurs. This means its audio offering arguably surpasses almost every other competitor, provided you’re really into indie or fan-made remixes.
Why I won’t make the switch
Full disclosure: I’m a devout Spotify Premium user and initial exploration of the YouTube Music app had my body suffering rejection spasms. After a bit more poking around and a cup of tea, I’ve adjusted to the interface and I’ve still found it lacking for what I feel are some pretty fair reasons.
Yes, YouTube Red offers some considerable advantages over its competitors and it’s priced the same as other options ($14.99 AUD/month on an iOS device) but I still won’t switch. Why? It’s not a music service, and that’s what I want. I’d consider it if I was interested in all the additional video content without advertisements, but I’m just not. At the moment, the non-music video component of YouTube is a small selection of exclusive shows I won’t watch and an offline viewing function I won’t use (you might be more interested if you have a long commute). This makes it a pretty expensive way to skip ads, and not much else.
Bro, do you even music?
Despite obviously relying on the appeal of its music-related features to boost subscriptions, it feels like not much effort was put into the YouTube Music app; it barely even compares to Google Play Music (its counterpart from the same parent company). You can’t subscribe to artists, download albums in order for offline listening or make playlists at all beyond the utterly awkward method of liking individual items to get them (maybe?) added to your offline mixtape.
Your offline mixtape is also limited to a measly assortment of 100 items, which is laughable – Spotify allows 3,333 tracks per device across 3 devices, and you can choose to download them by song, album or an entire playlist. It’s straightforward and easy.
What a user wants
As a consumer, I don’t just want access to the biggest library of content; I want an enjoyable way to engage with music and discover new things. YouTube Music (feat. YouTube Red) doesn’t do much to cater to this at all; it just sets me down and expects me to let its search engine algorithm drag me around in the rut of the same artists and genres based on my existing viewing history. Or worse; what’s trending worldwide, which is just code for ‘statistically tolerable’, because there’s over 3 billion internet users since 2014 and they’re really not all that similar.
On Spotify, if I want a break from my regular jazz/funk/hip-hop fusion or Russian folk renditions of video game soundtracks (don’t judge, my tastes used to be more conservative until my eyes/ears were opened to possibilities of sound) I’ll pick from one of thousands of user-created playlists tagged for basically anything you can imagine – moods, genres, special occasions, even activities such as working out or cooking dinner. It gives off a sense of human creativity that you just don’t experience with YouTube Music and its very Google-y logic. Spotify have put in the hard yards in app design and it’s paid off – or at least it has when it comes to my fifteen bucks.
What do you look for in a subscription music/video service? Tell us in the comments.