Breaking down the year’s most important stories in the world of streaming and looking forward to what’s next.
Only a handful of years after crashing the gate as a mistrusted invader, streaming is now thoroughly absorbed into the music industry establishment. This evolution is borne out by the numbers. In 2016, streaming became the leading way most Americans listen to music as well as the source of a majority of industry revenues—both firsts. Music listening through streaming continued to climb in the first half of 2017, and the money followed. The trend shows no sign of slowing down.
A big part of the story is the rise of subscription streaming services, with more than 60 million paying users at Spotify, with another 30 million-plus at Apple Music; Amazon has snuck up in third place with a reported 16 million subscribers. But many people are still paying by sitting through annoying little commercials: Globally, some 1.3 billion YouTube users listened to free, ad-supported music on the service over the course of just one month earlier this year. As the largest streaming services grow more dominant, smaller competitors like SoundCloud struggle, while others fall by the wayside. Recordings may be more readily available than ever now, but they’re being treated less like a public utility than as yet another natural resource to be divvied up among corporate giants. For the industry’s biggest players, though, streaming could lead to a new golden age of profits.