Besides the cursory test shortly after iTunes Radio launched, yesterday marked the first time I had used the service for any extended period of time. In my past experiences, the recommendations had proved mediocre at best, and the process not compelling enough to prompt me to switch away from the songs I already knew and loved. Yesterday, though, I gave it another shot; and I loved it.
In the past, I have used Pandora, Last.fm, Spotify, Rdio, and Beats Music. At various, rarely-overlapping points in time, I had all their apps on my phone. For one reason or another, though, I left each; often, it was because the ratio of songs I liked to those I never wanted to hear again never managed to climb high enough to make the service feel worthwhile. Pandora got the closest, but again, I found myself spending more time than I wanted to fine-tuning the recommendation engine across some twelve different stations. Then, on a whim, I created a new station yesterday, and found that — to my delight — that I did not need to tweak anything for iTunes Radio to play some really great songs for me. It was upon this high, of sorts, that I turned on iTunes Radio earlier this morning and sat down to write for a while before my next class. Less than ten minutes later though, I heard my first ad — an ad for McDonalds, of all places, featuring a local basketball star.
At first, I thought little of this intrusion: I had set my mind to other, more important tasks. A song or two later, though, it came on again: the same ad, for the same company, featuring the same celebrity endorsement. This time my attention piqued: iTunes Match subscribers, of which I was one, were not supposed to have ads of any sort — or so I seemed to remember, anyway. A trip over to the iTunes Radio page confirmed this belief, and created a great deal of confusion given that I had not only heard ads in my supposedly ad-free stream, but that I had heard them in such close proximity to one another as well. Thinking that perhaps my subscription had lapsed, I checked iTunes: iTunes Match was on and enabled. Maybe I did not have iTunes Match activated on my phone; turns out I did. Without any explanation for this happenstance, then, I sent a quick email to Apple support questioning why, even though I paid my dues as part of their iTunes Match user base, I had heard these ads. The response I got floored me. After instructing me to check as to whether I had iTunes Match activated or not, the customer service rep assigned to my case had this to say:
“Secondly, only iTunes Match subscribers can listen to iTunes Radio ad-free, but even you may hear occasional artist or channel promotions.”
Take a look at the exact wording on Apple’s iTunes Radio page. Beneath the “iTunes Radio is ad-free with iTunes Match” heading:
“Instead of hearing the occasional ad, you can listen to iTunes Radio completely ad-free when you subscribe to iTunes Match on your Mac, PC, or iOS device.”
Huh. So although one of the advertised benefits of subscribing to iTunes Match, in addition to having the ability to store one’s entire music library in the cloud, is an ad-free steaming experience, in actuality that’s a rather disingenuous claim if my service rep was to be believed. And based on my experience, I would side with her over Apple’s marketing material. It’s unfortunate, this dichotomy between what we supposedly get in exchange for our money, and what we actually get. And from Apple, of all companies. How disappointing.