YouTube really is good for the music industry, promises Google

If you haven't noticed, there's a big ongoing debate between Google and the music industry over just how beneficial YouTube is: it's either an essential source of revenue, or a gaping loophole letting people get music for free, depending which side of the fence you're on. Now Google wants to settle the matter once and for all.

It's commissioned a series of studies from RBB Economics to see just how much (or little) value YouTube gives artists, and the first results are in. Happily for Google, they show that if YouTube went away tomorrow, users would tend to seek out alternatives (like pirated music) that would give musicians even less money.

Based on surveys of 1,500 respondents across Germany, France, Italy and the UK, time spent listening to pirated content would increase by 29 percent with no YouTube, and 'heavy' YouTube users would do most of that pirating. In total, 85 percent of time spent on YouTube would shift to "lower value channels" (in other words, platforms that give artists less money than YouTube does, like radio).

Don't stop the music

"The cumulative effect of these findings is that YouTube has a market expansion effect, not a cannibalising one," announces Google. Keeping your tunes free-to-air is better for you in the long run, Google is telling artists.

This first study also found that pulling certain tracks from YouTube did not then lead to an increase in how often they were played on other services, like Spotify. Most of the time, blocks on YouTube don't make any difference to the number of streams a song gets elsewhere, the research reports.

There are more results and more papers to come, but Google will be happy so far. As it's keen to point out, YouTube stumped up more than $1 billion in royalty fees to the music industry in 2016 from ad revenue alone - and the message from Google is that artists and labels would be better off not rocking the boat.