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Alphabet Gets Ready to Pull the Plug on Google Play Music

By Anders Bylund - May 14, 2020 at 9:39AM

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An older service is passing the baton to YouTube Music, and the race against Spotify, Sirius/Pandora, and Apple Music continues.

Technology giant Alphabet (GOOG 1.17%) (GOOGL 1.16%) is preparing to send Google Play Music to that great gig in the sky. The music-streaming service was introduced in 2011, but Google stopped launching new features for it in 2016.

Big G will not abandon the music-streaming market, though. The YouTube Music service has been sprouting new features to match the Google Play Music platform over the years, and now Play Music users can migrate their cherished accounts to the YouTube-branded service.

The two music services will run side by side for the time being, but Google aims to shut Google Play Music down at some later but as-yet-unspecified time this year.

A young couple smile at each other, sharing a pair of headphones attached to one of their smartphones.

Image source: Getty Images.

What's new?

The move from Google Play to YouTube has been going on for some time. Former Songza and Google Play Music product manager Elias Roman announced the shift when he moved from Google Play to YouTube music in 2018. Playlists, uploaded songs, and preferences were always meant to remain intact across the two platforms, allowing a "soft landing" when Google Play Music finally goes dark.

This week, Google introduced a one-click solution for moving content and preferences over to YouTube Music, putting the Google Play version that much closer to the final coda.

Some users will see the transfer complete in the blink of an eye, but it could take several days for others. I suspect that my own Google Play Music library will take awhile since it contains more than 35,000 audio tracks, including some obscure stuff that I ripped from my outdated CD collection.

The move will give me some new breathing room, though. The old service lets you upload as many as 50,000 tracks in an online locker system, but YouTube Music has raised that limit to 100,000 audio files. Playlists can now contain as many as 5,000 titles, up from 1,000 tracks in the Google Play Music format.

Podcast subscriptions from Google Play will not end up on YouTube Music but on a separate platform known as Google Podcasts. I'm not sure why Google decided to create another stand-alone app rather than building podcast functionality into the YouTube Music platform, but there you go. Big G can be really inscrutable sometimes.

What's at stake?

At the end of the day, Google is trying to compete with music-streaming leaders Spotify (SPOT -1.87%) and Apple Music (AAPL 0.96%), as well as smaller names such as the Pandora unit of Sirius XM (SIRI -0.48%). They tend to offer some combination of ad-supported services and premium subscription platforms, cajoling users toward the ad-free bliss of paid subscriptions at every opportunity. The music locker is a feature unique to Google's music services nowadays unless you're willing to pay an additional fee for Apple's iCloud Music Library, which really only works on iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

It's a substantial market. Spotify sported 130 million paid subscribers and $7.1 billion in trailing sales at the end of March. Pandora boasted 6.2 million subscribers and $1.5 billion in annualized sales for the same period. Cupertino is more tight-lipped on these metrics, but Apple Music hit 60 million subscribers in the summer of 2019 and may have passed 70 million accounts by now.

The premium YouTube Music service will run you $9.99 per month, comparable to the paid subscription plans from Apple Music, Pandora, or Spotify. You could also add a couple of bucks to get the full YouTube Premium experience at $11.99 per month, which removes ad breaks from all YouTube videos and gives you access to the platform's simmering collection of original content such as the Sony Pictures (NYSE: SNE) comedy-drama Cobra Kai or an upcoming documentary on Paris Hilton.

A pair of white earbuds nestled on top of some dollar bils sticking out of a leather wallet.

Image source: Getty Images.

Google's real target

Sure, users won't have to choose between two confusingly similar music services anymore, but that's hardly Google's real ambition here. It's all about the Benjamins, right?

The company would love to trade in YouTube's $4 billion of quarterly ad sales for a more-reliable subscription model, and the minuscule price jump from YouTube Music to the full YouTube Premium package appears to make it an easy upgrade. And if Google weren't using the COVID-19 lockdown era to boost its chances of winning more business in the music-streaming market, I don't know when it ever would or could take this step.

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Stocks Mentioned

Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,291.44 (1.16%) $26.18
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
$2,304.27 (1.17%) $26.53
Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
$142.92 (0.96%) $1.36
Sirius XM Holdings Inc. Stock Quote
Sirius XM Holdings Inc.
$6.19 (-0.48%) $0.03
Spotify Stock Quote
$102.87 (-1.87%) $-1.96

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