Skip to content

YouTube Plans to Annoy You Into Paying for Its Music Streaming Subscription

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Youtube Head of Global Music Lyor Cohen and Chance The Rapper attend GQ and Chance The Rapper Celebrate the Grammys in Partnership with YouTube at Chateau Marmont on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for GQ)

For the last few years, YouTube has been trying to convince people to pay for upgraded access to the historically free site, mostly without much success. Soon, they’ll try again, with a yet-unnamed music service to compete with Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal. The pitch involves combining two already existing services, which have a combined user count that’s only about 15 percent the size of Spotify’s paid subscriber base: Google Play Music, the streaming service of YouTube’s parent company, and YouTube Red, the premium subscription tier of YouTube itself.

The pitch is compelling enough: you’d theoretically have access to Google Play’s standard-sized music library, plus all of the live versions and other rarities that are only available as YouTube clips. But how does the company convince the tens of millions of new users to sign up that it would need to compete on the same level as the big guys? Their strategy so far sounds… not so good. Lyor Cohen, the former label exec and Kanye West lyric who’s now YouTube’s global head of music, told Bloomberg that the company plans to target people who listen to a lot of music on YouTube already and “frustrate and seduce” them with more ads, in hopes that at some point they’ll break down and pay. From Bloomberg:

People who treat YouTube like a music service, those passively listening for long periods of time, will encounter more ads, according to Lyor Cohen, the company’s global head of music. “You’re not going to be happy after you are jamming ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and you get an ad right after that,” Cohen said in an interview at the South by Southwest music festival.

“Our top priority at YouTube is to deliver a great user experience, and that includes ensuring users do not encounter excessive ad loads,” the company said. “For a specific subset of users who use YouTube like a paid music service today — and would benefit most from additional features — we may show more ads or promotional prompts to upsell to our paid service.”

YouTube already makes plenty of money from advertising. The subscription service offers an opportunity to make more, of course, but the company is also hoping that it will get the major labels off its back, which have long criticized it for hosting unauthorized music or not paying enough royalties. Maybe the deliberately irritating ads will work, or maybe they’ll just convince people it’s finally time to pony up for Spotify.