Facebook is in talks with major music labels -- but nobody knows why

Mark ZuckerbergGetty Images / Hindustan TimesFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Apple Music has only just launched, but the music streaming business could be about to get even
more crowded: Facebook is apparently in talks with multiple major labels.

The Verge’s Micah Singleton reports that the social network is talks with Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group about “getting into music,” according to “multiple sources.” It plans to do something “unique,” that may tie into video — but it’s all still early days.

This is, obviously, a massive deal. Facebook is currently (already) showing an unprecedented interest in getting professionally created content onto its platform. The most obvious sign of this we’ve seen so far is the explosive growth of video on Facebook: The site now sees more than 4 billion video views a day, up from just 1 billion in September 2014. And now Facebook is about to begin offering content creators a share of the revenue from ads played alongside videos — a clear sign it wants to tempt them over from YouTube, which has long been king of professional short-form video content online.

The long and short of it is that Facebook wants to give its users less and less reason to ever want (or need) to visit the outside web. The ramping up of its video offerings means that users stay on the site to watch them, rather than having to link out. It’s also experimenting with hosting news articles from select partners directly on its platform — again, reducing the need for users to leave Facebook, boosting overall engagement.

Music, then, is the next logical step. According to one study, people listen to an average of four hours of music a day — and even if that seems a little high, there’s obviously still a massive opportunity for reaching users in an area where the social network has previously made no attempt to.

“Facebook Music” (if it ever even happens, which is by no means guaranteed) won’t be without its challenges. The on-demand music streaming space is the busiest its ever been, with newcomers like Apple Music and Jay Z’s Tidal challenging Spotify. But given Facebook’s unprecedented reach (1.44 billion monthly active users at last count), it’s not inconceivable that it could carve out a significant space for itself.

Of course, there’s another interpretation here. A previous report in The Information said that Facebook was in talks with “at least one” major label, although for a different reason — to allow its music to be used in videos on the site. Right now, videos uploaded to Facebook by ordinary people often contains snippets of copyrighted songs, which are automatically flagged up and deleted because the social network doesn’t have the rights to them.

In contrast, YouTube videos can contain snippets of copyrighted songs (within reasonable limits), because the Google-owned video giant has come to an agreement with the labels to share advertising revenue with videos that contain their music. It took YouTube a long time to get there: At one point it was even sued for $US1 billion by rights-holder Viacom over copyrighted content appearing on its platform, leading to a seven-year legal battle that was finally settled in 2014.

To avoid similar lawsuits, Facebook currently has to police for any such infringing content. But in doing so, it places restrictions on the kind of videos that are uploaded, which don’t exist on YouTube — automatically that makes the latter site appear to be a more attractive platform for content creators.

The talks with labels then could just be about making the social network more appealing, rather than any larger music play. (But that doesn’t mean that’s not on the cards too, later down the line.) We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment, and will update when it responds.

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