Apple Music: We Still Have Some Questions
The world finally got a look at Apple Music. The subscription service includes Beats 1 radio programming, costs $9.99 per month (or $14.99 per month for the family plan) and will launch on June 30. It has a typically sleek Apple design and will be available on Apple mobile devices, Apple TV, and Mac and PC computers (and Android devices in the fall). It lacks the social features of Spotify, but has a social-like feature called Connect. Users' iTunes catalog and playlists automatically port to the subscription service.
After a long wait, the presentation by CEO Tim Cook, SVP Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine provided many answers. Many questions remain, however.
-- Will Apple Music have any exclusive content? Apple regularly gets exclusive tracks for digital albums at the iTunes Music Store. Beats 1 will have exclusive artist interviews. Apple Music would make a big splash if it launched with exclusive streaming rights to an artist. The number of streaming holdouts is dwindling but still includes the Beatles -- the band's downloads are sold exclusively at the iTunes Music Store -- AC/DC, Garth Brooks and Tool.
-- How will Apple Music roll out across the globe? It's safe to say Apple Music will launch first in the United States. A handful of other countries could get the service at the same time. But given the short time frame, one would think Apple may stagger the service's release just as it released the iTunes Music Store in waves over a decade. Not so. Apple's press release says Apple Music "will be available starting on June 30 in over 100 countries."
-- Is Apple really going to get the necessary licenses by the end of the month for all countries? Apple took nearly a decade to launch the iTunes Music Store in over 100 countries. That gives Apple a foothold for licensing in these markets. But licensing for over 100 countries, all at once, is an immense task.
-- Do iTunes Radio and iTunes Match fit into Apple Music? Apple Music incorporates on-demand streaming, the Beats 1 radio service and the iTunes Music Store. But the keynote made no mention of Apple's two other music services. Our guess is iTunes Radio and iTunes Match will be kept separate -- at least for the time being -- because their licensing deals call for revenue sharing and royalties distinct and separate from Apple Music royalties.
-- Will Connect help artists financially? Cue's presentation did not mention royalties involved with Connect. There is a precedent here. Deezer4Artists, an artist service launched by subscription service Deezer in December 2012, allows artists to upload non-album content like demos and live songs. Then-CEO Alex Dauchez told Billboard that artists would be paid royalties on this extra content.
-- Can Apple get artists to use Connect for social marketing? A major-label marketer tells Billboard that Connect looks like "a one-way messaging system" instead of a true social tool. Connect does have integration with Twitter and Facebook, but it doesn't appear to create a conversation with fans within Apple Music. "Just pushing to another social medium doesn't allow interactivity," this person says. "With Spotify, you can share and message with people and it becomes its own social ecosystem." What's more, a post to Connect would require duplication at Twitter and Facebook to create posts that tag or link to artists. "A lot of those functionalities are erased once you push from one platform to the next."
-- Will the service serve independent and emerging artists better than existing streaming services? The company touted emerging artists twice during the keynote -- once during Trent Reznor's voice-over, when the veteran said, "We've built an ecosystem that we hope can provide the tools to grow, sustain and nurture a career," and also when Eddy Cue highlighted indie artist Loren Kramar. In a sense, this wasn't a surprise. Rare is the streaming service that doesn't talk about breaking emerging artists and/or helping independent artists. But can Apple do better?
-- Is Apple passing on high-quality audio? Tidal has made audio quality one of its calling cards. No other subscription services have followed suit. Beats Music, the Apple Music precursor, does not offer high-quality audio streaming.
-- Does Ian Rogers have a role? The high-profile Beats Music CEO has followed Apple's decorum on keeping a low profile since being acquired by Apple last year. Rogers was reportedly assigned to run iTunes Radio after the acquisition. Since iTunes Radio appears to be separate from Apple Music, Billboard is wondering if Rogers has a hand in the new subscription service.
-- When will Apple kill Beats Music? As of Monday afternoon (June 8), Beats Music was still taking new subscribers (and offering 14-day free trials). The service will become redundant after Apple Music becomes available for Android users.
Billboard will be searching for the answers to these and more questions that will certainly crop up in the coming days.