November 17, 2011 12:08 am

Google launches rival to Apple’s iTunes

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Google launched its long-awaited rival to Apple’s iTunes service on Wednesday with a free music streaming service and cloud-based locker capable of playing tracks through web browsers or to Android-based mobile devices.

The company has signed licensing deals with three of the four big music labels – Vivendi’s Universal Music, Sony Music Entertainment, and EMI – but has yet to agree terms with the fourth, Warner Music. It has also signed hundreds of independent labels and will have the rights to stream as many as 13m tracks.

The service would initially be limited to the US, Google said. The company said it had to date activated 200m Android devices worldwide and is adding 550,000 new devices a day – although it declined to specify US sales.

The music launch was hailed by the participating record labels, which have been attracted by Google’s large audience and willingness to make large upfront payments. “We expect this to be a rich new revenue stream for our artists,” said Rob Wells, president global digital business at Universal Music Group. “Any new legitimate place to consume music is a fantastic anti-piracy tool.”

The launch of Google Music and an online music store in the Android Market – which already sells apps, movies and books – comes amid a flurry of new streaming service launches. Spotify, the streaming subscription service, recently launched in the US and is integrated into Facebook, while Apple and Amazon have launched cloud-based music and video services.

Google Music will be integrated with Google Plus, its recently launched social network, with users able to share tracks and playlists. The launch comes after a beta test which was used by 1m people, the company said. “We learned that being able to stream your music from any web browser was a big hit,” said Jamie Rosenberg, Google’s head of digital content. More than 100m free songs had been distributed, he added.

Users of the new service would be able to upload up to 20,000 songs from their own music collections for free and stream them to any Android device, the company said –in contrast to Apple’s iTunes Match, which offers a similar service. “Other cloud music services think you have to pay to listen to music you already own,” said Mr Rosenberg. “We don’t.”

“This is about artists and their music and new ways to connect artists to their fans,” he added.

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