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Music streaming versus video streaming

By Jean-Claude Elias - Apr 18,2019 - Last updated at Apr 18,2019

It is now understood, the only way these days to enjoy modern-age digital audio-visual entertainment is to use live streaming over the Internet, whether it is to listen to music or to watch movies. In less than five years, the top sites providing these services have made major progress and ensured the subscription of tens of millions the world over.

In the USA alone the number of audio streams increased from 79 billion in 2014 to 611 billion in 2018, whereas video streams went from 85 up to 290 billion during the same period, according to figures.

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video lead in the film sector, with 140 million and 100 million subscribers, respectively. In the world of music, Spotify has 96 million paid subscribers and Deezer and Tidal about 10 million each. The number of non-paid, free subscriptions to these audio services is obviously higher.

If the overall trend is clear, there are essentially two main, significant differences between the worlds of audio and music streaming and that of video.

The first is that audio services offer free subscriptions for those who can live happily with good-enough audio quality, which statistically-speaking represents about one-third of the total number of users. Good-enough sound is equivalent to typical FM radio broadcast and to most of the music videos found on YouTube. Technically speaking this is MP3 sound encoded at 128 or 256Kbps. For higher quality one would have to move up to either MP3 at 320Kbps or to lossless (i.e. uncompressed) sound, both available only with paid subscriptions.

Video streaming services offer no options that would be similar to the above audio choices.

The second difference is about the selection of material available. Here audio largely wins over video, and for more than one reason. Consider Netflix for instance. Despite the many good qualities of the service, the selection that is available to you varies depending on the country or region where you are. You can see it as “taste-driven guidance”, as straightforward, systematic regional censorship or simply as a matter of region-related copyrights. The fact remains that some movies are available to watch in a given region and not in another. There is no such restriction with the audio and music streaming services.

Moreover, movie selection seems somewhat limited. According to the number of TV shows (or series) on Netflix increased from 530 to 1570 between 2010 and 2018, while for the same period the number of feature movies went down from 6750 to 4010. This confirms the extent to which the company is focusing on TV shows rather than on feature films, and that you have less and less chances to find that specific movie you really want to watch and that you may be looking for. On the other hand there is no such arbitrary choice in the audio and music world, with Spotify providing over an astounding 40 million music pieces of all kinds, and offering exactly the same catalogue to wherever in the world you may be.

Consumers who do not mind average audio-visual quality, invasive advertising and eventual interruptions, and who are not particularly keen to have a subscription — paid or otherwise — tend to prefer YouTube. At least the choice here is truly overwhelming, exceeding that of any other service and consists of billions of both audio and video programmes. The site estimates that: “By 2025, half of the viewers under 32 will not subscribe to a pay TV service”. The majority of those who access YouTube come to it for the music, more than for films or for these popular tutorials of all kinds.

In summary, audio and music streaming is more popular, more widely used, provides more options and overall is more open than video streaming.

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