Google wades into the music streaming wars

The tech giant is making its Google Play playlists free in the US, just before Apple Music's launch.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 02 Mar 2016

The music industry is engaged in a battle bloodier than Oasis vs Blur as America’s tech giants and popstars face off in a bid to win control of the music streaming market. Google entered the fray yesterday, launching a free service just days before Apple Music hits the airwaves.

Google Play Music users can listen to pre-created playlists such as ‘having fun at work’ and ‘poolside chic’ (so hawt) interspersed with adverts like Spotify’s free version. Its $10-a-month version let’s you pick songs, listen offline and dispense with the ads. So also pretty much like Spotify.

Apple Music, also $10 per month, is launching on June 30, with an internet radio headed by former Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe as well as a standard streaming function. It’s now paying artists royalties during users’ three-month trials after pop superstar Taylor Swift stepped in.

Spotify, which has 75 users – 25m of them paying, recently raised $350m to fund its fight back. And let’s not forget rap mogul Jay-Z’s effort Tidal. That seems to be more a ripple than a wave for now: although it has the backing of huge names including Madonna, Rihanna and Kanye West it’s struggling to gain users without a free option. And yesterday it lost its second chief executive in three months.

That should be good for consumers, who now have a dizzying array of options. And it’s a big win for the companies that get it right: the streaming market is set to more than double from $3.3bn last year to $8bn in 2019, according to Midia Research.

But it’s a bit of a bizarre decision on Google’s part. It announced it would be introducing a YouTube subscription service called MusicKey last November, although it is still being tested.

Still, it seems odd to suddenly divert attention back to the rather lackluster Google Play offerings. Then again, it probably doesn’t cost a company as big as Google much to fire a few shots.

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