YouTube has launched its first music-streaming app.

Dubbed YouTube Music, the free app gives users access to the video giant’s entire library of music content. For users who want to avoid ads, the app is integrated with YouTube’s $10-a-month subscription service, YouTube Red, which comes with additional, exclusive features like offline viewing, audio-only mode and the ability to listen to music in the background.

In launching the app, YouTube is entering a music-streaming space dominated by Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.

YouTube would argue that it already is the biggest music-streaming service on the planet — and there’s certainly data to support it: According to YouTube data firm OpenSlate, when measured by monthly views, music is the second-biggest category on YouTube, behind entertainment and ahead of gaming. And it’s growing, with 73 percent and 94 percent increases in subscribers and views, respectively, in the music vertical year-over-year.

“There is no question that music is an integral part of the YouTube experience,” said Mike Henry, founder and CEO of OpenSlate. “There’s a lot of content for you to sink your teeth into, whether you’re a consumer or marketer.”

Indeed, music on YouTube isn’t just official music videos. Subcategories include cover songs, lyric videos (where it’s just audio overlaid with video of scrolling lyrics), remixes, historical recordings, concerts, user-generated content with a particular song as the soundtrack and more. That said, music videos are the most popular — at least at the top. The top 11 YouTube videos of all time are all official music videos, with each having surpassed 1 billion views.

That said, Spotify, Pandora and, to a lesser extent, Apple Music are no slouches, either. As of last June, Spotify said it had 75 million active users and 20 million paid subscribers. Apple Music, which launched at the end of June, had 15 million users and 6.5 million paid subscribers as of last month. Pandora’s Web radio service has nearly 80 million users — it’s unclear how many of them pay for its $4 ad-free version.

“[YouTube Music] is a legitimate competitor,” said David Rockwood, vp of community relations at GSD&M. “The issue is what they’ll be able to carve out of the market. At this point, who doesn’t have Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music on their device? Are you going to abandon one for the other?”

Another issue is Google already has a music-streaming service that more directly competes with the other services: Google Play Music — which, by the way, is already integrated with YouTube Red.

The big differentiator for YouTube Music is, of course, video. Whether that’s enough to convince users to use the app, or sign up for a YouTube Red subscription, is another matter entirely.

Music demographics OpenSlate_11.12.15
Demographic breakdown for music category on YouTube. Source: OpenSlate

According to OpenSlate, millennials are the biggest consumers of music on YouTube — all over 18 and able, if not willing, to fork over $10 per month.

YouTube is optimistic they will. The YouTube Music app was created out of the YouTube Music Key beta program, which launched late last year. According to a YouTube spokesperson, both YouTube Red and YouTube Music are a direct result of findings from the program, during which the company learned that people loved ad-free video, offline-viewing and background listening. Users also wanted an easier way to access music content on YouTube, which the app certainly offers.

The app has a seamless streaming setup, with users only needing to pick a song, artist or album, and the platform’s algorithms doing the rest of the work to create an always-on playlist of music they’ll want to listen to.

This is because, unlike other popular content categories on YouTube, music doesn’t require the viewer/listener to lean in as much.

“There’s no way you’re just listening to and not watching gaming videos. There’s no way you’re just listening to and not watching how-to videos,” said Henry. “There could be a whole subculture of people out there who are much more passively engaging with music content.”

Image via Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

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