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November 14, 2016updated 13 Jan 2017 11:44am

What do Google Play Music and Amazon Unlimited say about the future of music streaming?

Music streaming is shaping up to be a key battleground as Google revamps Play Music and Amazon launches an Echo tie-up with Amazon Music Unlimited.

By Alexander Sword

Major announcements from Google and Amazon reveal the direction that music streaming could take in the future, as tech companies bring their unique strengths to an already crowded market – but it remains an open question which approach will win out.

From Google, there was no less than a complete overhaul of the Google Play Music service using contextual information and artificial intelligence to provide users with a more personalised experience.

The revamped Google Play Music will apparently learn what users like through machine learning, and then combine this with information such as location, activity and weather from other Google services.

“When you opt in, we’ll deliver personalised music based on where you are and why you are listening — relaxing at home, powering through at work, commuting, flying, exploring new cities, heading out on the town, and everything in between,” said a blog post from Elias Roman, Lead Product Manager, Google Play Music.

“Your workout music is front and centre as you walk into the gym, a sunset soundtrack appears just as the sky goes pink, and tunes for focusing turn up at the library.”


Spotify has 40 million paying subscribers.

On Amazon’s side, the subscription service Amazon Music Unlimited, which expanded to three new countries today, is using an integration with voice control terminals Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot as its competitive advantage.

By using Amazon’s voice command technology Alexa, which is designed for controlling a smart home configuration, users can ask Alexa to play certain songs or types of music. This can include mood-related commands such as ‘happy’ or even artist nicknames.

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Both packages seek to bring greater customisation to the user’s experience, although Google’s aims to encourage users to hand over music choice to Google’s artificial intelligence while Amazon’s gives users more tools to make the choice themselves.

It remains to be seen whether Amazon or Google will be able to take on established players such as Spotify, which currently boasts 40 million paying subscribers. But the reasons for getting involved are clear: streaming is the fastest growing segment of the music industry, with year-on-year streaming revenues up 45.2 per cent in 2015, according to a report by the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry.

However, their approach illustrates how bringing features to streaming beyond the content itself could be decisive.

All of the services now have roughly equally sized catalogues in terms of music: somewhere between 30 million and 40 million tracks.

It is relatively easy for a new streaming service to get a large volume of songs; rather than having to individually do deals with record labels, new entrants can use already assembled libraries which collect content from record labels, including recordings and accompanying materials, and host these in the cloud.

There also isn’t a huge variation in price for the basic packages: usually around £10 per month.

In a fairly homogenous market, these more advanced features might be the key to gaining a greater market share.

Amazon has made a determined pitch to win users onto the combined Echo and Music Unlimited combination, with a special low price deal starting at £3.99 per month for Echo owners.

Amazon also provides another example of where streaming could go with its Prime Music service.

Featuring a smaller catalogue of around 2 million songs, this free offering with Prime shows how music streaming could be offered as a way to make an existing bundle more attractive, rather than exist in its own right.

However lucrative it ends up being (and it is still some way off from being a huge money-spinner), it is clear that tech giants are keen to win the streaming market. It seems likely that increasingly music streaming will not be about the music but about the peripheral features that the major players can bring to it.

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