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New YouTube Boss Susan Wojcicki Talks Talent, Music and M&A (Q&A)

A six-month report, and a preview of what's to come.

Asa Mathat
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki has been running the world’s largest video site since February. From the outside, it doesn’t look much different from before.

But people in and outside the company say Wojcicki, Google’s former SVP of advertising, seems to be taking a different approach from that of predecessor Salar Kamangar: For starters, she’s much more visible. And while she has yet to make any major acquisitions, she appears amenable to the idea.

Wojcicki talked to Re/code about her first half-year at the new job. This is an edited transcript:

Peter Kafka: You’ve been running YouTube for six months. What have you been working on?

Susan Wojcicki: When I first got here, I really wanted to spend time to learn and to listen. I wanted to understand the ecosystem. One of the things that I really wanted to do is look at our creators, and think about how we can help them to grow and accelerate their businesses and this amazing content they’re building.

Are there specific things you’re thinking about? Prior to your arrival there had been a lot of complaints, from both individual creators and big video networks, that they couldn’t build sustainable businesses on top of YouTube.

If you’re a content creator, you’re going to look for two things: You’re going to look for promotion and distribution, and you’re also going to look for revenue. We have both of those. We have more 18-to-35-year-olds than any cable network. We have a billion users. If you look at partner revenue, it’s up 60 percent year on year.

From a [big video network’s] perspective, we’re working with those that have proven themselves in a lot of different ways. Our “Google Preferred” is a mechanism where we can get our top one percent or five percent to get more ad dollars, and really feature them. We’re doing advertisements promoting them as brands, like Vice and [Maker Studios’] Epic Rap Battles. Because we realize that promotion is a very significant part of the equation.

Are you at a point where you can show that those ads have had an effect on viewership or business?

Yeah, we have stats on all of that. We have seen that it has had a significant lift in brand awareness, and a significant lift in traffic.

Many of your big stars and partners say they want to build businesses outside of YouTube. When you hear them saying that — even if they’re not actually doing it yet — does that set off alarm bells for you?

When I hear partners say that, it reminds me of the AdSense days — if you’re a publisher, you’re going to test other ad networks, and you’re going to see which one performs. And I think if you’re a content owner, you’re going to test and see the best way to get distribution for your product, and the best way to monetize it. Our goal is to be the leaders in both areas. If there is any other type of solution that we’re missing — we’re paying attention and trying to think how we can build that into our platform.

We also [sell] globally. I think that’s really important to point out — we have a global sales team. Sometimes when people compare numbers, they compare U.S. [ad rates] to global [where ad rates are lower]. It’s important to remember that we monetize across the world. And we also do it for any amount of inventory, which is important to point out — small or large.

In the past few months you’ve been onstage at big public events, and you’ve been making the rounds with video makers and networks. That’s a different approach for a YouTube CEO.

If you look at my career at Google, I’ve always been in partner-facing businesses. I worked on AdSense, and before we had AdSense, I worked on our Web search business, where we syndicated Web search. For 15 years, I’ve been working with partners at Google. The reason I’ve done it for 15 years is that I really enjoy it. I enjoy meeting the partners, I enjoy understanding their business and trying to think how we can work together.

And some of these partners are the same. Sometimes I know them from the AdSense days, and now I’m talking to them about video.

I read that you bought Twitch. Is that true?

We don’t comment on rumors.

I had to ask. Let me ask about M&A in general: When you ran display ads, you bought a lot of stuff. Will you do that at YouTube?

At ads, I was an advocate of buying DoubleClick, and we bought a number of ad products over a five, six year period. And all of that was to support the strategy that we had, to accelerate the business, either with technology or teams. And I think YouTube is very similar.

You always need to balance the build versus buy, and I’m supportive of acquisitions when they make sense for us to accelerate our strategy.

You don’t need to buy any more eyeballs. You have a billion people.

No. But I think in technology a lot of times there are teams that have learned how to build a business, who have expertise in certain places and in certain parts of the market. And yes, we could build it, but that would take a long time.

You are building your own music subscription service. Why?

Music is a really important part of the YouTube experience. Subscription allows us to make that experience richer in a bunch of different ways. Right now, YouTube is ad-supported, and if you look at most media, you’ll see that it’s ad-supported and subscription-based: Newspapers, magazines, cable TV. So there are places where subscription makes sense, because you’re able to offer things to some users that you otherwise just couldn’t offer.

What’s an example of something you can do with subscriptions that you’re not already doing?

I don’t really want to talk about features that we’ll be releasing. But if you look at other music subscription services, you can see that a lot of times there will be a paid one and a free one. And you can see that there are a lot of features that people offer in the paid experience. Because the economics are different, and because music labels are willing to give rights on things for a subscriber that they’re not willing to do for an advertising-supported customer.

You have four kids. What do they think of you running YouTube?

They’re very excited, and they have a lot of suggestions. They’re actually very useful. They spend a lot of time on YouTube, and they’re very knowledgeable. So if I ever ask them about a creator, they know quite a bit about them. And I’m expecting baby five in December.


Thank you. We’re excited and looking forward.

Do you think you’ll take some time off?

I’ve already had four maternity leaves, and I’ve taken different amounts of time off with my four kids, depending upon both my personal and work [life]. I think it’s important to have a balance. It’s important for the family and the baby to have time. And on the other hand, I have a lot of things happening at YouTube, and I love working here.

So I’m going to do my best to try and balance it, and come up with something that I think works for both my family and office.

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