No one knows for sure if leaked photos of Google's new music subscription service, reportedly called YouTube Music Key, are legitimate. But if they are any indication of what Google has up its sleeve, then similar music startups ought to take notice.
The images posted by news site Android Police suggest what has become a pretty standard offering for streaming startups: a 30-day free trial to start, after which the service will cost $9.99 a month, and a broad selection of over 20 million songs with offline playback. None of these features stand out on their own, but when taken together with Google's access to artists' expanded catalogs--some which include decades-old concert footage released by Music Vault, a music and memorabilia site, last month--the service begins to get more competitive.
From fan recordings to rare concert gems and previously unheard mixes, YouTube is a treasure trove of music and culture. Which is perhaps why most music discovery occurs on the video-sharing site. A Nielsen study conducted in 2012 found nearly two-thirds of teens under the age of 18 used YouTube to listen to music, while adults turned to radio (67 percent), CDs (61 percent), YouTube (44 percent), and Pandora's jukebox service (32 percent). Streaming services like Spotify were barely on their radar, proving just how far Google's competitors have to go.
For music startups, curation and individuality are key to survival, so if YouTube Music Key boasts a larger selection of artists and videos, it will be hard to beat. Beats Music, acquired by Apple earlier this year for $3 billion, caught that company's eye thanks to its emphasis on human curation and hardware. And in another corner of the music startup business is Shazam, a startup that has differentiated itself with an app that lets people identify songs, say, in TV shows and access exclusive content such as links or photos. Shazam is rumored to be eyeing an initial public offering this year.
Though up until now Google's music services have been less than impressive, YouTube Music Key may put Google in the running with Spotify and Pandora, two dominant players in the crowded space. Stay tuned.