Last.fm, owned by CBS Interactive, is not looking like it's going to be a big winner in the streaming music space. It's been in geographic retreat. It's losing money. It's no longer a taken for granted reference point when discussing streaming music services or web radio. So their current test of a YouTube-powered music player raised some questions as to their future plans. But if they do try to go All YouTube, All The Time, it makes one wonder if music publishers and rights holders will allow that to happen.
Last.fm Is Losing Ground
Last.fm has been losing ground for a while.
With a flood of newer, highly regarded, heavily marketed music services coming on the scene, Last.fm seems unlikely to be a major contender in the future of streaming music.
So the news that they were testing a YouTube player was taken as a likely sign that they were planning to avoid licensing fees by playing freely embeddable videos from YouTube.
In the U.S. they are offering the new player via a link as an experimental option. The page looks pretty much the same as the current free player.
Can YouTube Be Used To Evade Licensing Fees Long-Term?
I had wondered about this option when a flood of music tech startups appeared using YouTube and SoundCloud, in particular, to power their streaming music services.
So I asked Turntable's Billy Chasen about that when I spoke to him back in April about the newly launched Piki (which later shut down).
He said that services that relied solely on YouTube and SoundCloud would eventually face licensing issues if they got popular. As small players they are generally ignored but once they show signs of life, high traffic, funding, lots of media coverage, then rights holders would be tracking them down.
Such was the case for HypedMusic which, according to its creator, made it to no. 28 on the U.S. iTunes Free Music Apps chart and no. 1 in France and on other international iTunes stores. HypedMusic shut down after an initial RIAA warning because the owner was not prepared for a legal fight.
Though CBS can certainly handle some court action, it seems unlikely that their lawyers would cosign a total shift to YouTube without considering the issue of licensing.
Perhaps Last.fm's Plans Are A Bit More Complicated
Obviously we'll see how this plays out.
But if they can figure out a way to have a free YouTube-powered service that cuts licensing fees even if it doesn't eliminate them, then that could become their free ad-supported service allied with an ad-free subscription service.
Not sure how plausible that is but I imagine the next move will be based on whether or not listeners show an interest in the new option.
- HypedMusic Shuts Down After RIAA Warning
- Turntable.fm's Billy Chasen Discusses Piki: Human-Powered Music Discovery App Now On iTunes
- Last.fm Cuts Back Free Music Offerings
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is currently relaunching All World Dance. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.