March 6, 2013 at 5:29 PM ET
Apple and Google are looking into the streaming music business, hoping to expand into the hot new market — or buy their way in. Apple is reportedly in talks with the Beats headphone makers about a new streaming service, while Google may be considering a paid music channel on YouTube.
iTunes and Google Music already give users access to their music while on the go, but not the same way as the likes of Pandora, Spotify and Rdio. The bigger companies offer music "lockers," where users can upload their songs to play on different devices, or music matching, where a scan of your hard drive tells the company what songs you have the right to hear. But these upstart services provide unlimited access to millions of tracks in return for a flat monthly fee, something more desirable to many listeners.
Streaming isn't yet as popular as more traditional listening methods, like plain iTunes or even the radio, but it's gaining popularity, partly because of how easily it works with smartphones and tablets, with their limited storage space and increasingly robust wireless connections. The tech giants can't afford to be left behind in that market, or lose the chance to snap up a promising new company for a bargain price.
To that end, Apple is reported to have had talks with Beats Electronics, maker of the popular Beats line of audio gear, which is working on a new music-streaming service code-named Daisy. Apple CEO Tim Cook met with Beats CEO Jimmy Iovine in February, Reuters reports, to talk about Daisy and how Apple might get involved.
Google, for its part, is looking to expand the music presence on YouTube, already huge thanks to deals with artists and labels on the Vevo music platform. Vevo and YouTube serve millions of songs per day via music videos, with Google relying on banners and pre-roll ads to generate revenue. It was reported by Fortune, however, that it may be considering a subscription model.
Such a service would likely allow paying users to skip ads and stream music easily to their devices with fewer restrictions (for instance, letting tracks play in the native music player rather than on YouTube itself).
Who's to say when Apple and Google (and others, like Amazon and Samsung) will actually make their moves? The decision often comes down to economics: The music labels want more, the tech companies want to pay less, and the listeners, well, they generally don't want to pay anything at all.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.