google play music

As long goodbyes go, Google Play Music’s has been LONG.

It was July 2017 when YouTube’s global head of music Lyor Cohen first revealed plans to merge Google’s music streaming (and cloud locker) service with YouTube’s equivalent – then called YouTube Red, but since rebranded as YouTube Music.

Nearly three years later, in May 2020, YouTube announced that Google Play Music would finally shut down “later this year”. Now today, it’s revealing the actual timeline for that process.

“YouTube Music will replace Google Play Music by December 2020,” explained a blog post that’s just been published by YouTube. “Users will have the opportunity to transfer their music libraries from Google Play Music to YouTube Music in that timeframe.”

But the Google Play Music app will actually be retired before that date. “Starting in September 2020 in New Zealand and South Africa — and in October for all other global markets — users will no longer be able to stream from or use the Google Play Music app,” continued the post.

So, Google Play Music users will need to switch to YouTube Music (if they want to) in September or October, but they’ll have until December to transfer their playlists, music uploads and purchases, and ‘likes’ data across using YouTube’s transfer tool.

“For Google Play listeners that have not yet started the transfer process over to YouTube Music, now’s the time. Listeners can also choose to delete their Google Play Music data, and we will clearly notify all users before they lose access to their Google Play Music library and data,” suggested the blog post. People who don’t choose to switch will also have their subscriptions cancelled in September/October, after a notification.

It’s been just over seven years since the original launch of Google Play Music All Access (as it was known then) in the US. Initially available in the US, it combined Spotify-style on-demand streaming with the existing Google Music cloud storage locker (which had launched in 2011) for people’s own digital music collections.

In July 2014, Google acquired music startup Songza, which had pioneered the idea of mood and context-focused playlists that has since become such a big part of the music streaming world. Those features were added to Google Play Music later that year.

(When the history of music streaming is written, Songza will deserve a decent writeup for its wider impact on the medium, alongside another startup acquired by a bigger streaming service: playlists app Tunigo, which Spotify bought in 2013 as its first step into curated playlists.)

Although the service would continue to be developed – a free radio-style feature in 2015 and a deal making it the default music player on Samsung’s new smartphones and tablets in 2017 – by then YouTube had its own music subscription service in beta, which became Google’s strategic priority.

The official launch of YouTube Music Premium came in June 2018 (including this Music Ally interview with Cohen and colleague T. Jay Fowler about the thinking behind it).

How popular has that been? In February this year, YouTube revealed that it had more than 20 million paid subscribers for its YouTube Music and YouTube Premium services. Meanwhile, in June, consultancy Midia Research estimated that YouTube Music and Google Play had a combined share of 6% of the 400 million global music subscribers at the end of March 2020 – around 24 million people.

YouTube is a significant partner for the music industry in terms of royalties. It says it paid out more than $3bn to music rightsholders in 2019 alone. That’s their share of its advertising and subscription revenues. However, in terms of paying subscribers, Midia’s estimates put YouTube Music and Google Play combined in fifth place globally, behind Spotify (32%), Apple Music (18%), Amazon Music (14%) and China-focused Tencent Music (11%).

The Google Play Music shutdown could give YouTube Music a small boost in subscribers, but the bigger benefit is likely to be the ability to finally focus 100% of its resources on the latter service – even though in practise, Google Play Music has been in maintenance mode for much of that long goodbye.

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