YouTube Music is coming to the next critical battlefield for streaming music services: India. The company announced this week it’s launching its ad-supported version of YouTube Music for free in the country, as well as YouTube Music Premium, its subscription that offers background listening, offline downloads and an ad-free experience for ₹99 a month.
In addition, YouTube Premium, which extends offline play, background listening and the removal of ads across YouTube, is also launching in India. This will include access to YouTube Original programming like Cobra Kai, BTS: Burn The Stage and others, and ships with the Music Premium subscription for ₹129 (rupees) per month.
This is not Google’s first entry into the streaming music market in India. The company already operates Google Play Music — and now, those subscribers will gain access to YouTube Music as part of their subscription, the company says.
India is a key market for streaming services because of its sizable population of 1.3 billion people, many of whom are still coming online for the first time. (Only some 483 million are active internet users today).
However, Spotify’s entry into India has been complicated by a licensing dispute with Warner Music (WMG’s Warner/Chappell publishing arm, specifically). That conflict led to Spotify arriving in the market without some of today’s biggest artists, like Cardi B. and Ed Sheeran. The case has been ugly: Warner sued Spotify asking for an emergency injunction; Spotify then accused Warner of “abusive behavior;” and Warner called Spotify a “liar.”
Despite its legal troubles, Spotify hit 1 million users in India within a week of launching. That bodes well for its potential when it gets through the legal battles.
Unlike Spotify, YouTube Music is fully licensed as it enters the region — a potential competitive advantage for the time being. It also has a deal with Samsung where Galaxy S10 owners can gain four months of YouTube Premium/YouTube Music Premium for free. (But Spotify has a deeper Samsung partnership, involving preinstalls and Bixby integrations.)
For YouTube, a win in India is needed, as its streaming music service hasn’t picked up traction to date.
To some extent, that’s because YouTube users know they can get to music videos for free, but it also has to do with Google’s baffling strategy in operating two separate brands around music. Apple doesn’t make this mistake. It leverages the power of its platform to promote its only music service, Apple Music.
That may have gotten it into trouble, though — today, Spotify filed a complaint with the European Commission over the “Apple tax” levied on its rivals and its restrictive rules.
Google has said it plans to merge its two music services at some point, but for now the split likely leads to confusion.
“India is where the multi-lingual music scene thrives,” said Lyor Cohen, global head of Music, YouTube, in a statement. “It’s interesting to note how Indian artists have consistently claimed top spots over the last few months in the Global YouTube Top Artists chart. With YouTube Music, we are hoping to bring the best in global and Indian music to millions of fans across India, and give them an immersive music experience, with the magic of music on YouTube,” he added.