YouTube Music kicks YouTube Red to the curb

YouTube Red is becoming YouTube Premium for $2 more a month, and Google Play Music will eventually disappear.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
4 min read
Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

YouTube is remixing its subscription services, relaunching its Spotify-like YouTube Music as a $10-a-month membership mostly devoid of video and recasting YouTube Red's ad-free, paywalled video tier as YouTube Premium -- with a $2 price bump. 

In addition, Google Play Music, the other subscription streaming music service from the same parent company as YouTube, will be going away eventually. In a briefing this week, the company promised it will be closing gaps between the two services over the next month, so Google Play Music members don't lose the features they've grown accustomed to, including a cloud-based MP3 storage locker. 

Watch this: Google replaces YouTube Red with YouTube Premium

The new YouTube Music will continue to cost $10 a month, the standard price for a subscription streaming service. The new YouTube Premium, which bundles Music with the original shows and ad-free viewing of the current YouTube Red, will cost $12 a month. That's $2 more than the price for Red today, which already bundled access to the Music service too. 

Cheapskate alert: Current YouTube Red members -- and anyone who signs up for Red before YouTube Music launches Tuesday -- can lock in the $10-a-month price for both. Also, current Google Play Music subscribers who live in countries where YouTube Red operates will automatically be grandfathered into YouTube Premium (the $12-a-month service) at their current $10-a-month price.

A chart of the prices and features included in YouTube Music and YouTube Premium
Enlarge Image
A chart of the prices and features included in YouTube Music and YouTube Premium

Even if you don't pay, the new YouTube Music is still available free with advertising, according to the company's blog post late Wednesday. People who pay for a $10 membership get a full experience without any commercials, including listening to music in the background while they tool around in other apps and the ability to download music so they can listen to it offline. But free users on YouTube Music can play specific music on demand, they have unlimited skips, and can play specific songs in playlists.

YouTube is the internet's biggest video site, with more than 1.8 billion accounts tuning in every month. Much of that "viewing" is actually music listening, as music videos consistently rank among the most popular clips on YouTube, making it one of the biggest single sources of music listening worldwide. In theory, that gives YouTube a unique position to recruit people to music subscribers. 

"YouTube in general is where most music is consumed. If there was ever a company that could build a successful subscription business, it would be YouTube," Lyor Cohen, YouTube's head of music, said this week in an interview. 

But YouTube has a spotty track record with music subscriptions. 

In 2014, it debuted YouTube Music Key, a subscription service that never expanded beyond a small, invite-only crowd of testers. In 2015, it revamped the concept to launch the original YouTube Music, coming a month after the company introduced Red, its $10-a-month subscription service that strips away ads, unlocks original programs and gives members other mobile perks. 

YouTube has never disclosed how many people subscribe to YouTube Music (or YouTube Red, for that matter), but its subscription music service has largely existed in the shadow of Spotify , the biggest streaming music service with 75 million paying members, and Apple Music , with its closest competitor with 40 million subscribers

Next Tuesday, YouTube will try again, by launching its reinvented YouTube Music app in the US, South Korea, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, followed by another 14 countries in the following weeks. 

It's YouTube, but hold the video

In a counterintuitive move, the music app from the world's biggest video service will be largely devoid of video. On the app's homescreen, you scroll past shelves and shelves of recommending music and playlists -- individualized selections of new releases, a My Mixtape personalized playlist, collections similar to an artist you've been listening to a lot lately, a selection called Throwback Jams -- before you get to recommended music videos and professional clips of live performances.

T. Jay Fowler, YouTube Music's head of product, described the service as "deeply personalized," pulling from all account history on YouTube. "It's a little bit of an art and not a science, because you might be using YouTube to research something, and we really want to be playing things you want," he said. 

YouTube is taking one page out of Apple Music's playbook and rejecting another. Cohen said that the new YouTube Music will "spend an enormous amount on marketing" the new service (a la Apple Music), but it won't be striking exclusives for album releases. 

"We don't want to participate in it," Cohen said. "We want the consumer to...get what they thought they were getting."

(Exclusives are also verboten by Lucian Grainge, the CEO of No. 1 major label Universal Music Group, ever since Frank Ocean blessed Apple Music with his 2016 album Blond through his independent label just days after completing his contractual obligations with Universal. Cohen and Grainge, both long-time music industry execs, were recently pictured together with Kanye West when the rapper was on a tweetstorm.)

YouTube Music won't completely forsake exclusive content, though. It will work with artists and music acts on exclusive "shoulder" material, like YouTube's live streams from Coachella, the company said. 

Read a review of YouTube Music

Originally published May 16 at 6:41 p.m. PT.
Updates, May 17 at 5:10 a.m.:
Adds more details on pricing and features of YouTube Music and YouTube Premium; 9:57 a.m.: Includes details about free, ad-supported YouTube Music. 

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