In the year of the European Copyright Directive (see p4) the ‘value gap’ debate still hung over YouTube’s music activities in 2019. Yet there’s plenty more to talk about in terms of its growth and expanding features too.
Music is a huge part of YouTube, with video and music analytics firm Pex claiming in June that music videos generated just under 2tn views on YouTube in 2018, representing 20% of total views on the platform, even though they were only 5% of its content.
YouTube has yet to announce subscriber figures for its YouTube Music service which, given the regularity of milestones from rivals like Spotify (which has to, as a public company) and Apple Music (which does not) may leave you wondering whether YouTube isn’t shouting about its numbers because they’re not yet worth shouting about.
That said, consultancy Midia Research estimates that Google Play and YouTube Music combined had 16.2 million subscribers by the end of June, putting it fifth behind Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Tencent Music in that order.
YouTube’s global head of music Lyor Cohen, in an attempt to quell industry grumblings, has been forthright about the company’s ability to convert ad-supported users into monthly subscribers. Perhaps a public milestone or two will result in 2020 to back that up.
PRS for Music CEO Robert Ashcroft was somewhat cynical when we spoke to him in April. “The challenge for them, and therefore for us, is that their free service is so good,” he said of YouTube’s moves. “Sooner or later, we’ve got to see some sort of distinction between the two [tiers] which is sufficiently compelling to make people want to pay. I can understand their reticence to make the free service worse, though: then they’ll risk losing customers.”
Even so, YouTube remains a crucial music-marketing platform, and the company spent 2020 rolling out new features, including bankrolling mini-series and documentaries for artists ranging from Billie Eilish and Mark Ronson to Burna Boy. YouTube’s ‘premieres’ feature remains one of the best ways artists can gather fans in one place for a big ‘moment’ – the debut of a new music video – while its livestreaming activities continue to span festivals, awards shows and one-offs like Coldplay’s recent album launch in Jordan. Well, two-offs in that double-performance example.
Tensions with rightsholders remain above, but at the level of YouTube Music,
there is hard work being put in to serving artists – who know that not being on YouTube is like being invisible in the modern industry.
Something else we’d highlight about YouTube’s role in the modern music industry is its strength in high-potential markets: India and Africa (if not China, for availability reasons) in particular.
Earlier in this report we’ve talked about YouTube’s scale in India, where it has 265 million monthly active viewers – something that’s helping the top Indian artists rank even higher than the big western stars in the platform’s global charts. 3m downloads of the YouTube Music app in a week after its launch in India, and 15m in a month and a half, also showed its clout.
In Africa, too, YouTube is already a huge music platform, and one which, in contrast to the ‘value gap’ debate in the mature music markets, has won goodwill from artists for paying them anything at all.
Finally, 2019 was the year YouTube’s metrics came under the spotlight, as Indian artist Badshah used Google Ads to break the platform’s 24-hour-debut views record, before having that title whisked away as YouTube changed its chart and record rules. Loophole closed.
The enduring question – and not just for music – is how to ride the evolution of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. As Vevo explained in a pair of talks at Music Ally conferences this year, success can be all about the details of videos and their metadata. Just another reason why YouTube remains such a fascinating platform.