Will YouTube's new streaming service make labels like the platform? | Features | MN2S

YouTube and the music industry have a fraught history. Will the launch of YouTube’s new streaming app make a difference?

Every year since 2010, the most-viewed video on YouTube has been a music video. With only two exceptions (viral sensation ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ and Russian kids’ series ‘Masha the Bear’) so have the entire top ten. This says something fundamental about YouTube: for all its vloggers, movie trailers, conspiracy videos, sketches and TV clips, YouTube is fundamentally a music platform. Despite this, the company’s remuneration and copyright practices have continually put YouTube at odds with the wider music industry.

YouTube’s new streaming service is a step in the right direction

Last week, YouTube launched the streaming app YouTube Music in 17 countries. From an outsider perspective, it would appear that this is an attempt to assuage critics from within the industry. A Spotify-style streaming app appears far more legitimate than YouTube’s user-upload-ridden, low royalty video sharing service. And though there are no signs that YouTube’s original platform will change, those watching music videos on the service have been prompted recently to give YouTube Music a try instead.

YouTube Music’s official selling points are its smart discovery system (hardly unique in the streaming app market) and its abundance of live and alternative versions of songs, which are already all over YouTube. The advantage of YouTube Music, for users at least, is that it allows ‘background listening’, whereas YouTube itself cuts out the sound the moment the screen is turned off.

YouTube Music’s subscription tier will presumably help fund rights holder royalties. The video service’s low royalty payouts have always been a source of criticism, so this will likely be welcomed by many in the industry. But if YouTube, and parent company Alphabet Inc. (formerly known as Google) are hoping this will sweep other criticisms under the rug, they will likely be disappointed.

Things still aren’t the way the wider industry would like them to be

Royalty payments aside, YouTube’s biggest threat to the music industry model is user-uploaded song videos. Millions of users add content to YouTube every day, and a large chunk of that is copyrighted material. Using the YouTube search bar, you’ll likely be able to find multiple videos for any song you are thinking of. Likely only one of them will be official.

At the time of writing, a video entitled ‘MARSHALL JEFFERSON – MOVE YOUR BODY (The House Music Anthem)’ has 5.5 million views. Since the video is static, really we should say 5.5 million listens. The uploader, YouTube user Yaza House, is no doubt a passionate dance music enthusiast who wanted to share the classic Marshall Jefferson track with a wider audience. However, since Yaza House has no affiliation with Jefferson, or the song’s label Trax Records, neither party makes any money every time it is played.

This, not the low royalty rates for official music videos, is the industry’s main gripe with YouTube. Since ‘Move Your Body’ was uploaded so long ago, and there appears to be no official alternative video, it would seem that the song’s rights holders are content with this unofficial video being its main YouTube presence. But in many cases, those who should be receiving royalties are understandably more upset.

If artists or labels want to crack down on unofficial song uploads, YouTube has a system called Content ID, which automatically searches for copyrighted content that matches files rights owners send to them. You won’t find the new Beyonce/Jay-Z duet album on YouTube, likely because the rights holders have uploaded the album to Content ID. (You will find ‘reaction videos’ of the album, which often include much of the copyrighted music, but that’s another matter entirely.)

Rights holders can also submit copyright takedown notices to YouTube if they see that their material has been infringed on a specific video. Putting the onus on labels and artists to pursue copyright infringers has never been popular, but so far YouTube have found no alternative way to tackle the issue.

While YouTube Music will likely go some way towards healing the divide between YouTube and the music community, it’s unlikely to mend things entirely. But for as long as YouTube maintains a monopoly on online videos, artists and labels will just have to accept that they need their content on the platform if they want to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Read more: YouTube music industry war

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