Editorial

Apple should not be injecting ads in its Apple Music playlists

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There are now advertisements for first-party Apple radio shows within the paid Apple Music service — and there absolutely shouldn't be.

Retired Apple reporter Jim Dalrymple took to Twitter on Tuesday to voice his frustration with the fact that Apple is playing ads on a playlist despite claiming to be ad-free.

The ads themselves appear to be first-party spots advertising Apple One radio shows. However, they're not appearing in a Beats or Apple One radio program, and they're not in user-saved playlists.

Instead, the ads are playing between songs in auto-generated or curated playlists, such as ones for specific genres. And, it doesn't matter if they're selected with Siri or by the touch interface.

AppleInsider tested the behavior with users having paid Apple One subscriptions and the Apple Music family plan, and received multiple ad spots for radio shows in auto-generated and curated playlists. We tested in both the U.S. and the U.K., and had the interstitial inserts in both regions.

Examples of the ad spots we received on Apple Music.
Examples of the ad spots we received on Apple Music.

The inserts seemingly started appearing in Apple Music for a number of users at some point after the introduction of the cheaper $4.99 Voice Plan. However, the ad spots are still showing up for subscribers at a higher tier.

Humans running a channel need a break for whatever the reason. We know, because some of the AppleInsider staff have had live radio gigs before. We'll take and happily accept ads on that kind of programming.

While the ads in the algorithmically-generated stream are skippable, they're still annoying — and unexpected — for listeners who are paying a premium for music for an unmanned channel.

What's going on with ads in Apple Music playlists?

There are two possible explanations here. The feature might be a bug affecting playlists when they should only appear on radio stations. Even though the feature started appearing after Voice Plan debuted, Apple advertised that cheaper subscription as ad-free too, so there's no excuse for that plan to have first-party ads.

The second explanation is that Apple doesn't consider these advertisements at all. It might view them as part of its curation strategy, or as a "Discovery" feature. There's evidence for this, since ads for relevant radio shows will show up in genre playlists.

However, there's some evidence that these ads are indeed intentional. Each ad is actually a track within Apple Music stored within an "album" and embedded in playlists or streams. Those tracks are all advertisements for radio shows, and although the album isn't shareable, the individual tracks are. Each track is about 40 seconds long.

The ads themselves are "songs" stored within hidden albums in Apple Music.

This could also be the same way that Apple Music Voice works, and unintentional behavior.

Not a good look for Apple Music

Whether or not it's intentional, the behavior needs to stop. Apple shouldn't advertise Apple Music as ad-free if it keeps these ads in the service. They may be first-party "Discovery" ads, but they're still ads.

One of the primary draws of Apple Music is the fact that it's an ad-free streaming platform, unlike the free tiers of Spotify and Pandora. Apple Music is also not free — you're paying for the fact that you don't have to listen to ads.

Showing first-party ads to customers is also not a good look while Apple is in the midst of antitrust criticisms. Apple is growing its first-party ad business, but has repeatedly denied claims that it is seeking to boost that segment while hamstringing competitors with privacy features.

Apple isn't likely to be maliciously snuffing out its competition in the ad market, given the small size of its own ad business and its pro-privacy stance. However, placing your own ads in an exclusive ad spot in a paid service is bad optics.

The fact that these ads are appearing in playlists is unacceptable. A "discovery" ad spot for a radio show makes sense to listeners of radio shows, but not people who simply want to listen to music without an annoying ad interrupting them. Apple shouldn't even have these ads in its cheaper Apple Music Voice Plan unless it explicitly stops advertising that service as ad-free.

If Apple wants to place ads for its own radio shows in Apple Music, then it needs to implement a free tier with access to playlists, tracks, albums, and songs. That wouldn't be such a bad idea for Apple, though it seems unlikely given the company's desire to offer a premium service. Of course, ads don't belong on an "ad-free" service — even if they're first-party ads.

Apple should have a premium completely ad-free — including Apple's own — service that costs money each month like it has with Apple One, Apple Music family plans or Apple Music single-user. It should also have a less-expensive tier like Apple Music Voice with these interstitials, or it can have a free and heavily ad-supported tier, like Spotify's free plan.

AppleInsider is engaged in a conversation with Apple about the matter. We will update this piece accordingly as information comes in.

We're hoping it's unintended behavior.