Google’s music and video streaming strategy is a mess

A truly single, unified system is apparently on the way though. USA Today reports that Google Play Music will eventually vanish — but there’s no timeline on when that’s going to happen. T. Jay Fowler, head of Music at YouTube, said it might not happen until next year. The new YouTube Music is launching this Tuesday (May 22nd), so that means nine months — at least — of a dual-service system. And it’s unclear, at least right now, what will happen to the locker system of Google Play Music when it closes. Will it be integrated into the new, upgraded YouTube Music? According to CNET, Google will be “closing gaps” between the two services, so…hopefully?

One more thing. YouTube Red is being rebranded as YouTube Premium. It will cost $11.99 per month, though, instead of the current $9.99 price. New subscribers will therefore have two choices: pay $9.99 per month — the equivalent of a Spotify subscription — for only music, or pay a little more and get access to YouTube Originals and complete ad-free streaming (YouTube Music only strips ads in music-related videos) too. Oh, and the whole thing is different from YouTube TV, Google’s attempt at combining YouTube Red with traditional cable TV channels.

So to recap: a new YouTube Music is coming. Google Play Music is sticking around, but will eventually, probably go away. YouTube Red is now YouTube Premium. And to get everything, you’ll need to pay $11.99, otherwise it’s $9.99 for the music stuff. Finally, if you’re on a budget, you can try the free, ad-supported version of YouTube Music. exhale. If Google’s aim this week was to simplify its offerings, it has failed. Badly.

It’s a shame, because YouTube is a unique platform, and the new YouTube Music could be a compelling service. Today’s announcement, though, is convoluted and poorly communicated. And the result, I suspect, will be a negligible change in subscriber uptake.

If I were Google, I would have waited until all of Google Play Music’s features — including the “locker” — were working inside YouTube Music. Then the company could have announced the platform as a true replacement for Play Music. Give people a month or two to say goodbye to the old streaming service, then push on with YouTube Music. And for simplicity’s sake, stick with two prices: free and $10 per month. Call the second option “YouTube Pass” and bundle YouTube Red/Premium — originals, downloads and all. Sure, you’re leaving money on the table, but that would be a straightforward and, I think, attractive offer; one that could draw meaningful subscribers away from Spotify, Apple and others.

Right now, Google, you’ve swapped some mess for a different pile of mess.

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