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YouTube today announced Music Premium, Google’s long-awaited new Spotify competitor, but in a manner that leaves all their current subscribers in the dust. The changes unbundle YouTube Red’s ad-free video viewing from its music service and subscription, which gets confusing and uncertain. I’ve been a huge advocate for Google’s music efforts, but with that said, this transition is being handled extremely poorly.

I can’t believe this is necessary, but because there are so many conflicting terms getting thrown out, here is a glossary of all the inanely-named Google subscription services that we are dealing with in this article:

  • Google Play Music (2011): The original Google music subscription.
  • YouTube Music Key (2014): The original YouTube music subscription.
  • YouTube Red (2015): Replaced YouTube Music Key, added ad-free viewing across the YT platform.
  • YouTube Music (2015): A new app that limited YouTube to its music features; now being rebranded and re-released in 2018 as a ad-supported music service (think Spotify free).
  • YouTube Music Premium (2018): The new, incoming paid tier for YouTube Music; will eventually replace Google Play Music.
  • YouTube Premium (2018): The new replacement for the current features of YouTube Red.

Each one of those terms has a different meaning, got it? You don’t? Welcome to the club. No consumer-facing service should be this haphazardly grafted over time, like a Frankenstein monster of pivots and deals, but here we are. Now, the least Google could do is provide a clear FAQ with guidance as to what to expect for users of all types, but instead all we’ve gotten are these incomprehensible statements on YouTube’s blog:

While fans can enjoy the new ad-supported version of YouTube Music for free, we’re also launching YouTube Music Premium, a paid membership that gives you background listening, downloads and an ad-free experience for $9.99 a month. If you are a subscriber to Google Play Music, good news, you get a YouTube Music Premium membership as part of your subscription each month. And if you use Google Play Music, nothing will change — you’ll still be able to access all of your purchased music, uploads and playlists in Google Play Music just like always.

To extend the features of YouTube Music Premium beyond the music app, we’re soon introducing YouTube Premium, the new name for our YouTube Red subscription service. YouTube Premium includes ad-free, background and offline across all of YouTube, as well as access to all YouTube Originals including Cobra Kai, Step Up: High Water and Youth & Consequences. YouTube Premium will continue to provide an ad-free experience, background play, and downloads across the millions of videos on YouTube. But because it includes our brand new YouTube Music service, the price will be $11.99 for all new members. If you’re already a YouTube Red (soon to be YouTube Premium) member, don’t worry you’ll still enjoy your current price.

Still not much clarity, is there? One of the factors that makes it so confusing is the history of overlap between Google Play Music and YouTube Red. For years now, Google Play Music and YouTube Red have been interchangeable and identical in their offerings, since one includes the other. That means subscribers who want one often grab the other since both are included anyways.

For example, I’m a Google Play Music subscriber, but I use YouTube Red all the time, so I don’t want YouTube Music Premium, I want YouTube Premium. Just because I initially signed up for Google Play Music doesn’t mean I don’t care about ad-free YouTube, it just didn’t matter when I signed up, since both services were offered as a bundle. There’s a ton of people subscribed to one or the other who use benefits of both subscriptions heavily, and these people are all confused and worried that their benefits will change under the new regime.

Therefore, if it’s unbundled, I expect that all current Google Play Music or YouTube Red subscribers should be grandfathered in to receive YouTube Premium. In fact, I called Google support to get more information, and was reassured verbally that nothing will change for current users, which I hope means that current Google Play Music or YouTube Red users retain all the current benefits they have at their current pricing, but also they said that right now “there are no specific details regarding the Family Plan,” which I consider to be totally unacceptable considering you have subscribers who don’t know what’s happening!

They made this chart too, which I believe was meant to be helpful, but it’s not, really:

This isn’t the first time Google has done something like this. The company has a tendency to hassle early adopters: many users who joined Google Voice in the late-00s are still experiencing the pitfalls of Google’s messaging strategy. So, on behalf of all ten million subscribers who are, like me, adrift at sea, I’m going to hold back my unbridled rage and instead have written up a list of logical questions which Google should probably publicly answer before this transition happens:

  • What will happen to those who initially signed up for Google Play Music and then received YouTube Red as part of that subscription, and vice versa?
  • Will the new YouTube Premium still include Google Play Music?
  • Will current subscribers lose any benefits as a result of this transition?
  • What is to come of the family plans?
  • Will users who are grandfathered into older prices be able to retain their pricing and benefits?

and most importantly:

  • With regards to YouTube videos including music from user uploaders, like for example Proximity‘s YouTube channel, are these considered part of YouTube Premium or YouTube Music? What about live sets, like Boiler Room performances? How will YouTube differentiate between music and a video containing music?

This last question is the most complex, since YouTube Music Premium’s press release touts the availability of “remixes, covers, live versions as well as deep cuts you can’t find anywhere else,” a topic we covered extensively in the past. But where is the line drawn? If a user-generated video that has ads enabled features a live rendition of a song available on YouTube Music Premium, does a YouTube Music Premium user get to watch that video without ads, or do they need a YouTube Premium subscription for that benefit? It’s a subtle question, but one that needs to be answered in comprehensive detail if users are to understand what these changes mean for them.

I still believe in YouTube Music and Google’s broader music efforts, so I won’t be cancelling my subscription yet, but I do want to put everyone on notice that this needs to be cleared up for the sake of the customers. Most publications are reporting the news of YouTube’s music transition without noting any of these ramifications, because they aren’t users of Google’s music services, but as someone who’s been using Google Play Music since the beginning, I’ve worked through these shifts and know how dicey this could get.

For now, I invite the YouTube Music and Google Music teams to engage in a public conversation with us, your users, about what you’re up to and thus how we should proceed.

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