When 2014 began, I wrote that it would be the "Year of the Streaming Service." So far that predication is coming true—perhaps in ways that few of us ever anticipated.
Since that time, Spotify reached the 10 million-user mark. While that was no surprise, attaining that milestone served to solidify their position as the streaming service to beat.
Also, it wasn't much of a surprise that Beats Music launched—it had been expected for a while, and their emergence in the field was welcomed by many.
What is truly making 2014 out to be the Year of the Streaming Service are a couple of events that happened over recent weeks and a couple more that are shaping up now.
While it was no surprise that Beats Music launched, it was a major surprise that their parent company, Beats Electronics, would almost immediately get purchased by Apple. While that purchase included Beats' booming headphone business and will help reestablish Apple as a leading consumer electronics company, it will also help them become a force in the streaming marketplace.
Now comes news that services from YouTube and Amazon are launching.
The recent talk about YouTube's service has mostly focused on parent company Google's treatment of Indie labels and their licensing deals. Setting that aside for a moment, a paid streaming service from YouTube represents a way to leverage the enormous user base of what was originally a free video streaming service that has become a go-to music discovery platform. Though details of the new service are still emerging, being able to monetize all those subscribers through a paid, ad-free service will be a tremendous step forward for YouTube.
The other new service, from Amazon, was just quietly launched. Amazon Prime Music, available only in the US, offers "unlimited, ad-free streaming" of "over a million songs and hundreds of playlists." Because Amazon is advertising Prime Music as a free service, I might say that it is just another way for Amazon to increase membership in its existing Prime service by marketing the added value of streaming music. While the basic offering sounds pretty standard, what is even more interesting is how Amazon is partnering with other services, namely iHeartRadio, to provide further incentives to their users.
In addition, Amazon has introduced the Fire Phone, making both Amazon product launches much more significant. Consumers may not automatically switch to an Amazon streaming service if they already use one of the others. However, that chance multiplies when the Fire Phone and Prime Music are used together. And this synergy represents what Amazon does best: leveraging the company's scale.
Once associated solely with books, Amazon has continually developed new products and services. That strategy is now being applied to streaming music. As I wrote earlier about Apple buying Beats Music to keep iPhone users from leaving the company for another service, it would appear Amazon is attempting to do the same.
Amazon and Google both know their users, and their ability to serve streaming music to them means that expectations for what constitutes a streaming service will continue to grow. This expectation will further shape competition and encourage the other services to change their offerings and thereby strengthen the overall streaming business. In addition, Amazon's strategy of using Prime in conjunction with other services means they can build out without being a direct competitor, taking a little pressure off them while still allowing their business to grow.
A couple of new streaming services will only serve to increase competition and consumer choice. Both are good things in the continued growth of the streaming marketplace.