If anything could qualify as the end of the debate between whether the future of digital music lies in downloads or streaming, it could be the launch of iTunes Radio. The fact that Apple–the pay-per-download giant–is placing bets on music streaming is very telling, but the September release of iTunes Radio has also opened for debate another question: Which provider will offer the best service?
“An arms race is afoot,” RCA Records President and CEO Tom Corson told Rolling Stone.
And, thus, the battle is on among music streaming companies, from the long-running Pandora to the rumored YouTube streaming service. Though the war is sure to be a lengthy one, some industry experts are weighing in on who is faring best so far and why.
Right off the bat, Pandora’s early entrance into the music streaming game gives it 70 million advantages over the new services. With all of those active users, Pandora also has the support of long-time advertisers. Indeed, CNBC reports that Pandora runs advertisements for eight to 10 minutes per hour.
Spotify allows users to get more hands on with their playlists than Pandora, with hand-curated collections of songs. The Huffington Post calls Spotify “more robust” than other streaming music services. In addition, it’s integration with Facebook is a unique feature that makes the music listening experience more social, even for lonely office workers.
Though comparatively late to the music streaming scene, iTunes Radio already has two big advantages over the longstanding Pandora:, according to CNET: human-curated stations and global music rights. There is also potential, states CNET, in the combination of iTunes Radio, Siri and automobiles. “iTunes Radio is a clear threat,” said BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield in the CNET article. “[Siri is] key to giving iOS an important place in the car and beyond, and making iTunes Radio a true ‘Pandora Killer.’”
A YouTube music streaming service is still officially a rumor, but there is lots of buzz about it nonetheless. Forbes predicts that such a move would essentially be a rebrand–although a smart rebrand–of Google’s existing service, Google Play Music All Access.
“YouTube … is a brand that everyone knows, and most kids already use it to discover their music,” wrote Bobby Owsinski in the Forbes post. “Adding a streaming music function becomes only just a new YouTube feature, not a new service.”‘
So, music streaming services, get ready to rumble! What all this ramping up means to the consumer is that the future of music has been decided. Notably, the expansion of iTunes’ scope from digital downloads only to streaming seems to be an indication that the industry in changing gears. Almost certainly, the features of each service will evolve as both the technology and competition heats up, and the broad reach of better established brands like iTunes and YouTube will give the original names in streaming–such as Pandora and Spotify–a run for their money.
One thing is for sure: Music lovers who want more songs at their fingertips–at all times–will be sharing the victory with whichever service rises to the top.