Making Sense of What YouTube's Music Service Means For Music Videos

Posted by Adam Fairholm on June 18, 2014 in News

Staff Post

Update 1: This article has been updated with new information from a CBS article that confirms that YouTube will remove videos from the free version of YouTube for non-compliant labels.

Update 2: We added some information from TechCrunch that notes that Vevo music videos will not be removed from YouTube.

Update 3: Digital Music News has posted YouTube's full, 32-page contract for indie labels. If you have several hours to kill, check it out!

A slew of articles were posted yesterday reporting that YouTube will be going ahead with a premium streaming music service, and that some indie labels are not happy with the terms. Not only that, but it was reported that indie labels who don't play nice and sign up will have their content removed from YouTube. The acts that were in danger of having this happen are artists like Adele and Jack White.

If this is true, this has massive implications for music videos, as YouTube is by far the most popular space for music video hosting online. Frustratingly, there a lot of conflicting reporting going on, so here are the salient points we've been able to pull together:

- YouTube is definitely planning on a paid music service that will be launching sometime this year, similar to Spotify or Rdio, but built into YouTube itself.

According to CBS The new YouTube premium music service could allow music video viewing without pre-roll ads, as well as add offline playback for mobile devices.

- YouTube has signed up 90-95% of labels for this service, but indie labels not getting as good of a deal as bigger labels and holding out for better terms (This has produced the odd situation of indie labels defending Spotify and Rdio). Yesterday's Gizmodo article on the issue is definitely the clearest, most concise explanation we've read on the issue.

- Gizmodo updated their story yesterday to note that Google confirmed the Financial Times article that Gizmodo references in their article. This ostensibly means that Google confirmed two disturbing items from the FT article: there will be a "mass cull" of music videos from non-compliant labels, and that cull will be "in a matter of days."

- VEVO music videos on YouTube are safe.

- Digital Music News has jumped into the ring with an article saying that their own anonymous source familiar with the issue says that videos from non-compliant labels will not be pulled down, but will instead lose their monetization for videos with music. If DMN's article is correct, it means essentially no change for music video viewers, but labels will not be able to make money off of videos with music not in the YouTube Music Pass system.

- The theory in the Digital Music News article has been called into dispute due to Gizmodo's confirmation from Google, but others have also called into question if Google's confirmation is really a confirmation that music videos are going to be in fact taken down from the site completely.

- A CBS article has a source that confirms that non-compliant artists will be removed entirely from YouTube:

The people also confirmed that a small number of independent artists who had not agreed to new deal terms will have their videos blocked in some countries starting in a few days, even on the free version of YouTube.

Confused yet? One of the points of confusion around this is that we really don't know what YouTube's music service is going to look like. Some reporting on this issue has suggested that the new paid music service will add options on to existing music videos that anyone can watch for free, and that the music service will be bundled with the current music monetization features that YouTube make available to labels now. That seems to indicate that if a music video isn't part of that service, they can't just use the monetization features ala-cart, they need to buy into the whole music service system. In that case, music videos would still be viewable, but just monetized.

Billboard's story on this issue adds an interesting element, saying that one of the reasons why YouTube would need to entirely block music from non-compliant labels is that it would create a situation where music that was not available on the paid subscription would be available for free on the "free" version of YouTube. This implies that videos would be actually removed altogether, a scenario that Gizmodo's confirmation from Google supports.

At the heart of this, in our opinion, is what exactly falls under the umbrella of "music streams." Is watching a music video a music stream? A lyric video? A video marked [Audio] with just a picture? Will YouTube's new service have a Soundcloud-like player for just audio or will it pull music videos entirely under the umbrella of premium content?

As viewers interested in music videos, the big question remains: will this make it harder for me to watch music videos? We'll have to wait for some more concrete information from YouTube/Google to answer that definitively. Conflicting reports and unclear nomenclature have made this a difficult one to figure out, but at this point things don't look good.

Adam Fairholm is the co-founder and lead developer of IMVDb. You can find him on twitter at @adamfairholm.

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