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Susan Wojcicki Wants to Sell You YouTube Video Subscriptions (Video)

Wojcicki, who has been running YouTube for just over half a year, sees an ad-free option in YouTube's future -- but for a fee.

Asa Mathat

YouTube is in the early stages of exploring new subscription services, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told Re/code’s Peter Kafka and Liz Gannes at today’s Code/Mobile conference.

Wojcicki wouldn’t offer specifics, but suggested that one option could be an ad-free service.

“YouTube right now is ad-supported, which is great because it has enabled us to scale to a billion users; but there are going to be cases where people are going to say, `I don’t want to see the ads, or I want to have a different experience’,” Wojcicki said in an onstage interview. She compared the idea to apps where users can “either choose ads, or pay a fee, which is an interesting model. … We’re thinking about how to give users options.”

In 2013, YouTube let individual content owners sell subscriptions to their stuff, but it has done little to promote that option since then. Wojcicki said she was interested in pursuing other subscription models as well.

Wojcicki, who took over as YouTube CEO last February, discussed a variety of topics during the interview, including YouTube’s relationship with parent company Google, YouTube’s efforts to keep its content creators happy and how YouTube is adapting to its growing mobile-user base.

When asked how being a part of Google benefits YouTube, Wojcicki joked, “We get free food. They changed it all to healthy snacks.”

“Really, having the ad sales has been one benefit,” she said. “I think it’s important to point out that when YouTube was acquired by Google, it was still a pretty nascent business, and most of the people were hobbyists. … So I think what we’ve gotten is a long-term consistent investment. As well as free food.”

Asa Mathat

After taking the lead at YouTube, she told Kafka in an earlier interview, she focused on understanding the ecosystem of content creators on the site, and better promoting these creators so they can make money. One of these creators is, presumably, PewDiePie, who recently was rumored to be considering ditching YouTube as his distribution network. (If PewDiePie doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s okay; I had to look him up as well. But the Swedish video game vlogger has over 31 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, which makes him a priority in YouTube’s content-partner-relationship goals.)

Kafka asked Wojcicki how YouTube would handle it if a creator like PewDiePie were to leave YouTube at the end of the year. “Would you change the ad split, or write a check, [basically] ‘Don’t go, stay’?”

Wojcicki said it “depends on the creator,” but underscored the strategy of promoting and investing in content partners. “Every creator’s going to try to be a little bit different … and we certainly talk to all of our creators.”

“We’re always watching, always trying to innovate,” she continued. “It’s similar to the ad market in a lot of ways: There are always new ad platforms coming out, but at the end of the day people say, I’m going to go to the one that generates the most revenue for me.”

Still, the most compelling insight from Wojcicki was around the potential subscription service for YouTube content. Wojcicki is no stranger to the ad business: Prior to YouTube, she led Google’s advertising and analytics team, overseeing products like AdSense, AdWords and DoubleClick. (She was also a very early employee of Google, and famously let founders Larry and Sergey run a fledgling Google out of her garage back in the day).

“We’ve been thinking about other ways it might make sense for us [at YouTube]. We’re early in that process, but if you look at media over time, most of them have both ads and subscription services,” she said.

As Wojcicki said earlier in the interview, Google attracts more than a billion visitors per month, and an increasing number of them are coming from mobile. Google doesn’t break out YouTube’s financials, but eMarketer has said the site generated $5.6 billion in ad revenue last year.

One nugget that Wojcicki shared was that 50 percent of YouTube views are now coming from mobile devices. She also said that the site is growing 50 percent each year in terms of watch time (although she conceded that YouTube watch time still doesn’t come close to the average amount of time consumers watch TV each day).

When it came to questions around other subscription services — specifically, YouTube’s long-promised music subscription service — Wojcicki was once again noncommittal, and wouldn’t say whether it would launch this year.

“We’re working on it,” she said. “You’ll be one of the first to know!”

*This story has been updated with a more accurate version of Wojicki’s quote regarding her subscription plans.

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