Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Google should acquire SoundCloud: We need a YouTube for audio

For years now I’ve been waiting for Google to deliver an audio equivalent to YouTube.

A service that could finally make it possible to host podcasts, music, interviews and any other user-generated audio using Google’s fast and reliable cloud infrastructure. Each year at Google’s I/O developer conference I wait with bated breath to see if this will finally be the year Google tackles user-generated audio content. Sadly, that day is yet to come. So why is Google so hesitant to provide an online audio distribution platform?



Nowadays every musician worth their salt uses the internet to help promote and distribute their music to a global audience. It was obvious back when MySpace was at its peak that the audio player was an integral part of the experience. People want to share their own audio content with each other. Yet to this day Google have chosen not to bring an audio service to market. I can’t say Google have failed, because in all honesty, they’ve never even tried, and that’s what I find so odd.



There’s obviously a huge opening for Google to build an audio equivalent to YouTube, which would not only add another string to their bow, but would also provide an additional revenue stream, whilst potentially saving bandwidth at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.



How could such a service save bandwidth you ask? Well, YouTube videos are regularly used as a means to host audio files, such as songs, interviews and podcasts, with no interest in the video aspect whatsoever. The main problem with this awkward solution is that you are streaming video footage that’s surplus to requirements, usually taking the form of a gallery of still images used as placeholders instead of video footage. Not only does this use up additional bandwidth, but it also requires significantly more battery power on mobile devices just to display a video when all that is important is the audio. This is not what YouTube was designed for.



Video podcasts are a popular occurrence on YouTube, but the audio-only versions just aren’t catered for by Google. Instead, you have to host audio files on your own server, or on another third-party service, such as PodBean, podHoster and jellycast.



As for advertising revenue, adverts can easily be displayed on the web site that hosts the audio content, just as they are on YouTube.com. Adverts even appear in embedded YouTube videos on third-party web sites. The same could be accomplished with embedded audio content too.



There is one area that would be hard to monetise however, and that would be within podcasts that are downloaded and played on mobile devices using apps. When there’s no real-estate to display adverts, monetisation becomes a little more difficult. The only way to reach the listener is via sounds. One solution to this would be to insert adverts either end of the audio files themselves before they are streamed or downloaded, similar to Spotify’s advertising model, only the advert would be hard coded into the file.



An audio file containing adverts could be compiled on demand, handled server side and passed on to the use in a matter of seconds. It’s a complex solution, but it’s something I’m sure Google’s army of programmers could achieve if they put their collective minds to it.



As you can see, there is a lot to take into consideration. Building a platform for such a service takes time and effort. Not only would it need to be reliable, but it would need an elegant user interface, attractive design, innovative commenting solution and intuitive content authoring features. Sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it? The thing is, such a service has already been built and would be the perfect solution for Google, and that service is called SoundCloud.



SoundCloud is a hugely popular audio distribution platform that launched way back in 2006. It’s used by musicians and media professionals all around the world, with a user base of over 20 million. It ticks every box when it comes to design, features, apps, statistics, distribution and accessibility. SoundCloud is also on the verge of rolling out a game-changing podcast service, which is currently in testing, making it possible to download episodes via RSS feed directly into your favourite audio app. When this feature goes live SoundCloud will be the complete audio distribution solution.



In my opinion SoundCloud is the missing piece in Google’s suite of cloud services. It already has a beautifully elegant design, complete with embeddable widgets and mature API, which could be made to fit in with Google’s new design language with little effort. Integration with YouTube, Google+, Analytics and Google’s AdSense advertising platform would complete the package.



SoundCloud is a great service on its own, but suffers from one major limitation. It uses a paid subscription model consisting of several tiers. Starting from from ‘free’ with 120 minutes of audio recording, all the way up to €500 per year, or €59 per month, for ‘the complete package’ with unlimited bandwidth. This is great for professionals who can afford to pay for the premium subscription, but with a measly two hours of free space, the free option is very limited and the next tier up starts at €29 per year.



Naturally SoundCloud needs to monetise its service as best it can, but the pricing structure creates a considerable barrier of entry for anyone who wishes to use the service for more than just a couple of hours of audio. If you were looking to host a podcast for example, it wouldn’t take long before you’d need the €500 subscription option. Without advertising revenue, this could become a very expensive endeavour for an amateur podcaster.



Imagine if YouTube had never been acquired by Google, would it be as successful as it is today? With such huge bandwidth and space requirements only a company as big as Google would have been able to sustain such growth. If Google were to acquire SoundCloud, they’d be able to monetise the service using ads, scrap the subscription model and provide unlimited bandwidth and premium features to all its users.



You only have to look at the success of YouTube integration with Google to see the potential for creativity that such an acquisition can generate. I truly hope SoundCloud can achieve a similar level of success, but it’s hard to imagine it happening based on their current business model. It’s only a matter of time before Google joins the party and I’d rather see SoundCloud join them and excel with their support, than be trampled under foot.



Would you like to see Google integrate an audio creation and distribution service? Do you think such an acquisition would be a huge benefit to both companies, or a disaster for SoundCloud? Leave your comments below

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