Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Just like that, 2016 is almost here.

But I'm not even nearly done with 2015. I'm scrambling to get tasks, allocated for this year, completed. Time is running short and the pipers have arrived, hands out, expecting (figurative) payment.

That's the story of 2015. Everyone who thought they were getting something for free discovered there is always a price tag. Someone ever-present in the background, tallying the debt. Not necessarily a bad thing, nor sinister, but a revelation to many none-the-less.

The U.S.A. thought they were receiving unqualified support against Syria by backing rebels. Turns out they were fighting with ISIS.

Foxtel thought they owned the subscription video service in Australia. Turns out audiences were accounting for their grievances and jumped ship en masse (to Netflix and Stan) as soon as alternatives arrived.

And now Google launches Youtube RED, their subscription service for Youtube.

But you get Youtube for free. Why would you pay?

Because Youtube is not what you thought it was.

Yes, there are still cat videos. The occasional viral hit worth sharing. But Youtube's greatest success is not as a video player, it's as a streaming music provider.

Come again?

Yes, you think Spotify or MOG when 'streaming music' is mentioned. Maybe even Tidal, if you have little sense but deep pockets.

But the truth is that Youtube is the jukebox of choice for an entire generation.

And Google knows this too. Original content on Youtube has been a disaster. The opium that keeps Youtube in business is teens and tweens streaming new music.

But steaming audio on Youtube has always had its technical limitations. The app must stay open and active, no background listening. There's enough pre-roll advertisements to give a marketing executive nightmares. Search results that deliver a tsunami of unrelated junk.

But it's all about to change.

For the monthly subscription price, Youtube RED users will be able to: disable all commercials; continue to listen to the audio while the screen is locked, or while you are in another program; and filter for only actual songs in the search results. There's also exclusive access to certain Youtube original content.

"So what?!" you say. "That doesn't prove they are moving towards being a music streaming service."

I'm not finished.

Your subscription price also includes access to Google Play's music service. A direct competitor to Spotify and the other sharks in the subscription music ocean.

Even the product description from Google makes it abundantly clear where Youtube knows its future lies:

'...listen to videos without watching them...'

Does that statement imply there is much focus on the visual aspects of the service to you?

Hilariously, the Youtube RED announcement has come after a backlash against the growing ubiquity of pre-roll advertisements. There seems to be barely a video on the service that isn't plugging related products.

The heart of the angst comes from the expectations of the term "free". Youtube was "free", for all intents and purposes, despite costing millions to maintain the infrastructure that supports the site.

But to you, the user, it cost nothing.

Then advertising arrived, on a minor scale, to ensure the service had some vital revenue. You lived with it.

Until the scrub fire became a firestorm. Seemingly, every single video with a pre-roll commercial. How was there the demand for this? Surely there is a saviour to rescue us from this surge of garbage?

Of course there is. Youtube itself. For a fee.

They've created a business model to collect what you owe. All those years of free content? It was never free. And they'll tax you at the root of your addiction: your music. That's where the money is.

So many things we thought we knew the answer to keep changing. A viral hit could make you a millionaire, apparently. But the world's largest video service just became a jukebox.

2015. What a strange and interesting year.

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