On a recent episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki talks about how YouTube has grown since she assumed that role in 2014, and how it's making original content differently than other video platforms like Netflix. She also talks about the firing of “Google memo” author James Damore and why one big “House of Cards”-style show isn’t what YouTube is looking for right now.
You can read some of the highlights here, or listen to the entire interview in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, this is Kara Swisher, I wanted to add a quick note before we start this interview with YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki. We taped this episode on Thursday, September 28th. As you’re going to hear, I asked Susan about whether Russia had used YouTube to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. She says in the interview that YouTube had not seen anything to suggest that so far, but that the company was continuing to search for problems. A week and a half later, on October 9th, they found them and Recode’s Tony Romm reported that things had changed. Sources said that Google had found thousands of dollars in search and display ads that had suspicious Russian ties. The company hasn’t commented publicly on its findings, though, and a probe into what the Russians were using its platforms for is ongoing.
The Daily Beast also reported that Russian agents appeared to have set up a YouTube account on which fake video bloggers accuse Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of racism. As you can see, it’s a lot more complex than Wojcicki was able to talk about at the time. For the latest on all of these, visit Recode.net where we’re covering it very closely, day to day. We’ll also be talking about all of this in the future, both on Recode Decode, and on my other podcast, Too Embarrassed to Ask. We get the feeling this story is not going away anytime soon. But for now, please enjoy this interview with YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki. On with the show.
Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the one person in the YouTube comment section who tries to teach everyone writing vile ones how to spell correctly, but in my spare time, I talk tech and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Or just visit Recode.net/podcasts for more.
Today in the red chair is Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube. We are actually broadcasting this from YouTube’s beautiful headquarters in San Bruno, California. I have known Susan for a very long time, since when Google was started in her garage. She previously led Google’s advertising division from 1999 to 2014. Susan, welcome to Recode Decode.
Susan Wojcicki: Thank you for having me.
Thanks for coming on. You’ve been onstage with me many times and we’ve talked about lots of things, but things are always changing. Let’s give our listeners just a little background on you. You worked for Intel before Google, that was a million years ago, correct?
Yeah. For a short time.
For a short time.
Nine months, and then you did Google, and it was in your garage, and this is a well-known story, and then grew up from there. And you ran its advertising division for a very long time, which is at the heart of its business. Then you came to YouTube how long ago?
Almost four years ago.
Four years ago.
It’s about three and a half; in February it will be four.
Why don’t we have an update on what that’s like. What has it been like since you moved here? Because there’s a big difference and it was an obviously important part of Google, one of the fastest-growing parts of Google. Can you talk a little bit about how that’s been over the years? Because you’re not really a Hollywood person, or you don’t entertain many and stuff like that, and you really were in the trenches of Google for a long time.
It’s been great. I’d say, when I ran ads, that’s a part of YouTube, of Google’s business, right? But when you come to YouTube, YouTube is a whole company within a company. The ability to see every part of how this company works was a great opportunity.
And you’re the CEO, too.
And I’m the CEO of it, so I get to see all parts of it. I also, I have a real creative side. I love creating, I had been really into photography when I was in college. I had always thought I would do something creative, and so the opportunity to work with all of these creative people who are creating content, I can relate to them. I love seeing the work that they do.
When I got here, it was actually a lot smaller than what I had run at Google. It was smaller in people, it was smaller in revenue, but what attracted me to it was that I saw that this was a huge opportunity to grow.
When did Google buy it? It was back with Chad Hurley and ...
Google bought it when it was just about a year old. I think it was 2006.
You snatched it from Yahoo.
We snatched it from, probably, a number of players. And, actually, I was a big advocate of buying YouTube at the time, I had actually ...
Despite all the copyright issues, which went on for you guys for a while.
I think we knew that there was going to be some deal work we were going to have to do, but I saw this huge opportunity. I had been a big advocate of buying YouTube at the time.
And why? Why was that?
First of all, I saw that ... There were few insights. I think the first one was, is that people all over the world are going to create content. We had, actually, been running Google Video and we had started by just saying ...
Yes, I remember. Who was running that? That woman ...
You and who else? There was a woman who was working ... Anyway, that’s all right, go ahead.
We had started by first saying, we’d like people to upload their video. We’re not going to tell you what we’re going to do with the video, just upload the video. And people all over the world had uploaded video. This idea that people want to share their video was, really, the first insight. But then, the second one that was even more surprising is that other people want to watch it. And that people all over the world were watching this content that was uploaded by regular people.
To Google Video, which is not considered a success, Google ... because YouTube was at the same time, was the upstart company.
Well, Google started first, but I think, just a couple of months, maybe, ahead of YouTube, and I think there were some process and UI and reasons that YouTube was doing better, but the value was — that I could see — this is really going to be a valuable area, and that anyone can create content. That people all over the world want to create content and that other people want to watch it.
And I remember actually, that we had gone and we had said, “Oh, let’s go get this Hollywood content,” and we had spent all this time negotiating for it, and we had finally put it in the platform on Google Video, and then at the same time, we had these students, in their dorm room, in China, who had created a video of themselves singing a song in their dorm room and that had way more views than this content that was professionally ...
And so the insight was ...
There was an insight that well, regular people can create content and other people want to watch it, and that’s going to be really valuable and we’ve entered this new world where there’s going to be this new type of content. I saw that in 2006, and that was one of the reasons that I became a really big advocate of buying YouTube.
And it was a big push, because there were a lot of competitors ... Yahoo almost had the deal done, essentially, and there was a price issue or some issues about copyright, but what I remember at the time right after it was bought, Sergey Brin telling me, “Well, whatever the price was, we had to have it, it was critical.” Why did you think it was critical? What was your ... it didn’t matter because it was such an important part of things going forward.
Google’s an information company, right? Our mission is “organize the world’s information,” and video is a really important type of information. I think we saw the value of having people upload video all over the world, and also the opportunity to be able to serve video in search. If you type in certain queries like, “How to tie a tie,” the best thing is go to the YouTube video of how to tie a tie. I think we saw that as pretty critical from that perspective.
Also, the other insight, too, was the ability that advertisers would want to serve ads. That they would want to serve ads on traditional content that was produced the traditional way, but they’d also be willing to serve ads on content that was generated by everyday people. Now, we have professional creators, but we saw that early on, we could have an advertising model, this would be valuable in search, this was an important source of information, and also, anything that is growing is really interesting. If you see the way that people, early on ...
People use it, yeah.
Yeah, I saw those growth numbers. It was, actually, interesting because I did the model that predicted that we should buy it, and I, actually, had 10 minutes where I produced this model. In the model, I assumed this high growth rate and that was the first question people always had, is they didn’t think that that was actually going to be the growth rate.
But it’s difficult at the time to do it. There was a difficult time, the computers weren’t quite right, they weren’t phones.
It was before mobile phones, and today, the majority of our business is on mobile. But even so, YouTube was able to surpass all of those growth numbers. I created this model, I had really high growth numbers and people said, “Really? Is it really going to grow that fast? I don’t believe you,” and yet, YouTube was able to surpass all those numbers.
Absolutely. One of the things I remember early on was interesting. It’s the changing thought of what YouTube is, although it hasn’t changed that much from what it started as, but there was a ... very early on, there was an event down in San Francisco, by the water, of some creators, and Katy Perry sang, because she’d gotten popular on YouTube, do you remember that? I think we were sitting next to ...
I think I came to that, yeah.
And it was really interesting because it was the first time this idea of professional user-generated content was also introduced, that were not Hollywood people. It was an interesting time. You, one of the things that people talk about, you’re always on lists of CEO candidates, Susan. You had been at Google since the beginning, the actual beginning. What are you? Employee number what?
16. Why are you 16? You should be earlier than that, right? Did someone else grab it?
Well, if I had joined the day before, I would have been ... there were four people that joined the day before me, not that it really matters, but ... actually, I worked at Intel while they were in my house. I didn’t work at Google, I just was the landlord, and I drove to Intel every day, while they were working at my house.
And they just rented it from you, right?
Yeah, they rented.
Or you were helping them?
No, they rented it. But I would come down and talk to them at night. But I didn’t officially work there.
Was it an ad ... I’m sorry, I don’t even know that ... was it an ad they had or did you feel like renting, did you need the money?
Yeah, I needed the money. That’s why. I had just bought a house, and I needed a way to cover the mortgage, and so I decided I’d rent it out, and then I had a ... I had put an ad, actually, in the paper, but then I had a friend, and she knew Sergey and Larry and knew they had just gotten funding and so she was like, “Oh, they’re looking for a space,” and actually, it worked out really well because they were just three people and there was really hard to get space at the time.
Who was the third one? It was whatchamacallit? It was ...
Craig Silverstein was the first employee.
He was employee No. 1. The two of them worked in the house, Craig was there and I lived in the house. I made sure that they didn’t enter my space, since I live there.
They probably did, didn’t they?
Well, it was an ongoing discussion about how to manage the fact that they work there, I live there.
You’ve since ... Google bought that house, is that right? To keep that as a ...
Yeah, Google has bought it since.
Bought it and then, you’re going to make a museum or something? Or is your things still there?
I don’t know.
You don’t know.
I don’t know.
Right. You live elsewhere. You ever go back and look at this house?
Yeah. I do. I liked it. I lived there ...
It’s a nice house, I remember.
I lived there for years afterwards, very happily.
I remember going to your kitchen, and they were in the garage, I remember that. Vividly.
My point being is that you could have been ... you’re always on the list. First of all, there’s not enough women CEOs, clearly, in Silicon Valley, but you’ve been in lots of lists and stuff like that, why stay with Google this long? You now have your own company, I guess, in a lot of ways. How did you make that decision?
I’m always thinking about what’s most interesting for me to do and what’s highest impact, and I think being at YouTube is this incredible platform to be able to ... I can’t imagine a better platform, and I love the way that it’s about information. I think it’s this next-generation type of information because it’s video, it’s sight, sound and motion, it’s incredibly powerful, and it’s a global business, it’s growing fast. It has all kinds of impact across the board, in the way people can learn, and start businesses, and start media companies. I love what I do. Yes, I’ve been at google for 18 years.
18 years. This is the 19th anniversary, kind of.
I’m between 18 and 19 years, but it’s completely different. When I started out, it was a small company, I was employee 16, and now we have ... now, basically, I run my own company within Google, but I still advise on lots of issues associated with Google, and I feel like I have the best of both worlds. It’s an incredible platform, I have control over something that is really, really important in the world, it’s fast growing, and I can’t imagine going somewhere else and that that would be better.
That would be better, right. There’s a couple companies I can think of. I keep suggesting you for the Uber CEO, but you’re probably too nice for that.
You run this autonomously, although you’re under Google, and it’s never been thought about splitting it out or anything like that? You run it autonomously under the Google brand, which is under the Alphabet brand, correct?
We run an autonomous company and the way to think about it is we run on Google infrastructure ...
Right, and they do ads.
... and we outsource our ads to Google and they serve those ads on our platform. I think it’s, actually, an arrangement that works really well. It gives us some autonomy, it’s important to Google, it’s important ... we get great services, there’s a lot of things that we get for free, as being part of Google, that makes it much easier to be able to run YouTube.
Right. We’re going to talk about business in a minute, but how do you like being a CEO? What do you like about it?
I like having a vision. I think I’ve always been able to see what’s coming, and when I was joining Google, people always said, “Why are you joining this company?” It was so small at the time. I could see the importance of Google, I could see the way it was going to grow, it was going to become a big company. I could see the importance, even though no one else could see it at the time.
Well, that’s because there have been a lot of search companies that didn’t work.
At the time when I joined, people would always say, “Why does the world need another search engine?” That was the most common question, because there’s so many of them.
That must have been my lead when you got funded, I think, in the Wall Street Journal. It might have been.
It could have been, that’s what everybody said. The second thing they would say is there’s no money in search. That was the second, that turned out to, obviously, not to be true. I think this ability to be able to see where something is going is something I’ve really enjoyed. Again, I saw that with YouTube early on, I saw this with our ads businesses, the way it could grow, this opportunity to be able to have a vision about where a company is going and be able to work really hard to get there.
The other is that I’ve been on Google’s management team since the beginning. I’ve seen all of these decisions that have been made by all these great leaders who have been part of Google, and this has been an opportunity for me when I’m running YouTube, is to be able to take advantage of all of those memories. Those years and years of serving on the management committee and be able to think about, look, we have a challenge, how do we handle this here? Also, when I first got here, it really felt like going back in time. Google was quite big when I left and I came back here, it was a smaller company.
How many people were here when you came over?
I want to say, maybe 1,500 people total. We, at least in our headquarters, we fit into one building, and it really felt like ...
It was yours.
It really felt like a little company that, and I saw this high growth and I thought, “Well, I learned all these things being at Google, now I have the opportunity to apply what I learned there and to make it happen here, at YouTube.” And really benefit.
I will note, in a completely separate space from Google. It’s far away from Mountain View, it’s in a more suburban neighborhood. Google has a campus, it really is operating separately.
Yeah. And we have a campus too, actually, we have those buildings across the street.
Yeah, but it’s not quite the same.
No, it’s not quite the same.
It’s the neighborhood. It’s kind of a neighborhood thing, it’s more like early Facebook, if you remember where they were.
What were the challenges that you wanted to face when you came here? What was your assessment of what needed to be done? And then talk a little bit about the growth, because it has grown a lot under your leadership.
Growth is always essential. Running any tech company, you want to make sure you’re growing. Putting in place all of the right structure to be able to ensure growth. But then, on top of that, there are other things that we’ve done that are very different. We’ve launched a subscription service, which is Red, and we also have launched a few separate apps, we launched a music app, we launched a kids app, and we’ve launched a gaming app. Those were, actually, new directions as well.
I think the other thing that was done a lot more, that we’ve been really focused on, is this idea that YouTube is not just a one-way broadcast, but it’s a two-way conversation. How can we do even more in facilitating this two-way conversation? Really investing in the ability for creators to talk to fans, for example, we’ve done a huge amount of work on our comments to be able to improve the quality and also to add a lot of features there.
Mobile live. We’ve always had live, we’ve added mobile live and we also enabled this community tab for creators to be able to talk to their fans with text and photos and polls and all kinds of other ways. That has been a really big area of mine. I think, also, building within the company, YouTube is an ecosystem between advertisers and creators and users, and that means that there are, it’s delicate. The more that YouTube can actually understand all three of those constituents, that’s really important. I’ve really tried to understand that they do.
Yeah. We’ll talk about that in more detail in the next section, because there was a lot of people trying to steal your creators, and there’s still competition between them all.
There’s a very competitive market. It’s always changing. That’s one of the things that I enjoy about it. I enjoy that it’s constantly changing, I enjoy its competitive ...
What was your No. 1 worry when you came here? Beside you think big and growing, and it is astounding as this site grows despite other competitors.
I didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing it. When Larry asked me if I wanted to run YouTube, I didn’t say ... I couldn’t say to him, “Oh, let me go home and analyze this into pros and cons, and then come back and talk about all the things that we were worried about.” Because I was worried, if I said that, that maybe I wouldn’t get the job. Maybe I’d have to go somewhere else.
I suspect you would get any job you wanted to.
Well, I had to be able to make a really fast decision and in my head, did this make sense for me? Basically, when he asked me, I said yes.
This is Larry Page, the CEO of Alphabet now.
Yes, Larry Page. Yes, he’s CEO of Alphabet now, he was CEO of Google. Alphabet didn’t exist at the time, but at the time he was CEO of Google and he asked me, and I said yes, right there on the spot. Yes.
Wow. Because you just thought, “Yes, this is cool,” or what?
I had run ads for over a decade, we were at such a scale that it was, that we had all the great management team in place, I felt like I could pass it off to the next set of leaders, and it was really time for me to have a new challenge.
So what was your No. 1 worry?
When I started I really didn’t have any worry. I was just like, “Yay, I’m excited to be at YouTube.” When I got here, I was like, “Wow, there was a lot of things I should be worried about.” But when I first joined, I just was like, “Yay! I’m excited to be here.”
When you walked in, what was the biggest problem?
I think the biggest challenge for me, first of all, was hiring the management team that we had here. I realize because I had run Google for so long, all of those people had been people that I had hired, or brought in, or promoted over time. Coming into a new place and actually having to gain respect of those new people, and they, at first, were, “Why is she here? She has never been part of YouTube.” And even though I’ve been at Google for a long time, Google and YouTube are different companies.
You’re from Westeros, right?
They were like, “She’s from that other land over there.”
That pays for everything. Yeah.
I was the person generating the money that was paying for everything. That was definitely a challenge, is to come into a new spot, and to earn credibility from them.
Figure out who’s good and who’s not.
To figure out who’s ... What I identified was there’s a lot of roles that needed to be filled on the team. It made me think back to how I had operated when I was in 2002-land, where you’re doing the job and you are doing multiple jobs and you’re recruiting for those jobs, and it’s really, really hard.
It’s like a startup, like what you were talking about.
Yeah, it felt like a startup. I had to think back to those startup days. When I left ads, I had a great, big management team. I had many VPs. They all knew what they were doing. They had all been there for 10 years-plus, and they all had expertise.
They didn’t need you.
So yeah, we were able to have great leadership there, and then I got to YouTube, and there’s a lot of change, there’s a lot of questioning, it wasn’t clear where we were going, I didn’t have a full management team, and there was a lot of things that needed to be figured out. I also was bringing up different questions. For example, having a subscription service, that wasn’t something that was currently in the mindset of YouTubers.
Right. Because they hadn’t thought of a different way.
All right. When we get back, we’re talking to Susan Wojcicki, she’s the CEO of YouTube, and we are broadcasting from YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, which is right next to the airport, and we’re talking about where YouTube has been and where it’s going. In the next section we’re going to talk about some of the new things that have happened, we’ll talk about how Hollywood is changing, we’ll talk about a subscription service, we’ll talk about politics, and Susan’s own YouTube channel, apparently.
We’re here with Susan Wojcicki, she is the CEO of YouTube and we are live here at the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, where Susan presides over 1,500 people, right?
No, it’s bigger.
I don’t know if we say, but big thousand, yes.
Are most the people here or are they across the world? Because Google does your advertising, right? Where are most of the people who work for YouTube? Here in San Bruno?
San Bruno’s our headquarters, most people are here in San Bruno, but we also have offices in Mountain View, along with ... we have our own campus within Mountain View, we have offices in LA, of course.
At the Google place. At The Borg is what I call it. But go ahead.
Yes, we’re in the Google West campus and we’re in LA, we actually have a big studio in LA, we have a nice office next to it, we have offices in Europe, we have offices in Asia. We have offices globally, but most of our engineering is happening in the West Coast.
In the West Coast here. Let’s talk about some of the initiatives you’ve been under. We’re going to talk a little bit over Hollywood in a second, but first, let’s talk about the subscription service. Obviously, there’s a lot of subscription services launched, by Amazon, by Spotify, lots of things. And then you all, Apple and others, talk a little bit about why you decided to do this, because YouTube was later to this game. What was the thinking behind it, and how is it doing?
Google and YouTube have a very strong advertising business. And that’s really been our core business, we’re focused on growing that, we think that’s great, so you can have free content, it can be for people all over the world, but a subscription service is also valuable because it enables you to have content that otherwise you can’t pay for just with ads.
If you look at TV today, it’s about half paid for by a subscription service, and half paid for by ads. If you look at most media, it’s half subscription, half ads. We thought that there’s some type of content that we want to be able to have on the platform, if we don’t have a subscription service, we won’t be able to offer that. Also, from a music perspective, it was really important.
Because you have to pay those guys.
Well, YouTube has a big music collection. We, actually, think we have the largest music collection of anyone out there. If you want any song, any version of the song ...
You said videos ...
And we have the videos to go with it, but you are interested in a specific type of Indian music, it’s very likely we have that content. We wanted to be able to offer listening service as well, and to do that, we had to offer subscription service. We’re offering, in our Red service, an ability to have a full music service. Some original content on top of that, as well as features like the ability to watch it without ads, as well as to be able to offline any content that you want.
Your competitor in this race would be Spotify, would be Amazon, others. How do you look at the competition? Spotify, really, is the YouTube of music, is the one that captures people’s imagination. I know my kids listen to Spotify more, although they’re big YouTube fans, but mostly in the videos, mostly in the video space, and then, just yesterday, for some unknown reason, my eldest son bought Apple Music, there was a song he couldn’t get anywhere else. It’s interesting, I watch how they use it, but they definitely have an affiliation with Spotify more than the big players, for example.
I think we’ve really had two services within one. One is the music service, and that, I would say, yes. The competitors would be Spotify and Apple Music.
And it’s tough. It’s tough to make money.
It’s a tough business, but on the other hand, we have a large collection, we have a unique set of videos, and we think we could do a good job. There are a lot of people who like to come to YouTube, they like to listen to music, they like the way that our music does the recommendations. That’s one part of the appeal of Red.
There’s a second one, which is the original content. What we focused on for our originals is we focused on YouTube creators and them being able to do something that’s original and unique, above and beyond what they do on a regular show, and then, have that on YouTube Red. Right now, it’s a combination service as well as the ability to have these other features, right? People say, “Oh, I like it without the ads,” or I just saw someone yesterday who does a lot of trips to Europe and he said, “I offline all this content before I get on a plane, and it’s so great, I can watch it on the plane.”
I think there are many features within it, I don’t want to say there’s just one competitor that we’re competing with there, it’s a combination of both music and some content.
And some content. How many subscribers do you have? Do you not release this?
We have not released it.
Nobody releases. If it was really huge, you would.
We have never released it.
Yes, why don’t you tell me then?
Well, I’ll promise I’ll tell you when we have a number that we’re ready to release. We’re getting soon.
If it was 20 billion, you’d be like, “We have 20 billion.”
Yes. And we have many big numbers, and we’d love to share those big numbers, and I will say that it is a growing service, we’ve been really pleased with the growth that we have there, we’ve actually combined with Play Music.
Right. Google Play.
So Play Music is now working with Red Team and with YouTube music, and those two services cross authenticate each other.
Those are competing services, right? Pretty much?
We’re working on how they can come together. Anyway, we are growing. Our numbers are good, and we’ll come back to you with a number.
All right, thank you. I’ll try to find out before you tell me.
When you’re using these services, how do you get the people to use all of them, or do you feel like it’s a zero-sum game with a Spotify or whoever, whatever space is in the video space. Do you look at it as a zero-sum game or do people use ... how do you, when you think the users ...
I think it’s a growing market right now. The opportunity for people ... we’re undergoing this huge seismic change. When you look at these markets of music and TV, these are ginormous markets. TV, estimated to be 500 billion, and the fact that people are changing their viewing behavior, and they’re moving to these direct to consumer and everything is streamed and they have the ability to have it on mobile and cross device, these are really, really big changes. I think if you look at music, they have also undergone really similar changes where ...
That’s really shifted rather quickly compared to video, but what’s interesting ...
It’s a smaller industry.
When you think about what you’re doing, you guys had resisted online content creation the way Netflix had. I remember being at a dinner that I forced you to go to with Richard Plepler from HBO, and he kept saying, “You should make shows. I make shows, why don’t you make shows?” And you were so polite to him, you’re like, “Well, we do ... we give funding to people and we promote and encourage content creators ’cause that’s not our area of expertise,” and stuff like that. Has your thinking on that ... and he kept saying, “That’s the way to go,” and you were, not resisting it, but you were like, “I work for an algorithm company, so we think a lot about how to get ... we’d have content-creative people do that.” Have you thought differently about that? Because you guys were funding different things, you were doing all kinds of studio stuff. Where is that right now?
Our thoughts have shifted a little bit on that, but I will say, the main way that we have content is by being a platform. First of all, we’re a platform, we have these unique tools that enable a new generation of content creators to create content. That is our core business. It’s really important, when you run a company that is doing a million things, and running a million miles, not to get confusing. What’s your core, and what’s the thing that ... what’s the growth area for you? Adjacent, but growth.
Platform for content creators and user-generated content.
Our core is always free, ad-supported content and for user-generated content. We really have changed in the sense that we used to just be about user-generated content where people are uploading and saying, “Oh, here’s your cat and it’s on a skateboard.” That was the quintessential YouTube video. We’ve moved to this area where we actually have thousands of people who are making a living just generating YouTube videos.
And, also, Hollywood companies are putting up shows. A lot of the late-night shows or “Saturday Night Live,” or things like that.
We now have deals with pretty much every single Hollywood company. They’re putting their shows on YouTube. We work with many different organizations, we get all the sports clips and we get the highlights. Across the board, we have really moved from this user-generated only, to much more professional content. In addition to the user-generated ...
You have not dipped into the Netflix world. Apple’s the same way, they’ve made some shows, but it’s clearly not what they’re focused on, it’s a side thing.
We are making shows now, for Red.
What was the thinking behind that? How did you think ... because you had talked about this is not in your area of expertise.
I think, what we saw, first of all, is that our YouTube creators are these amazing stars. They were creating content, and there was this opportunity for them to be able to ... they wanted to create star shows and we saw that they had the ability, so we thought, if they want to create a show, we don’t want them, necessarily, going somewhere else, their fans are on YouTube. But then, we’ve actually started to go into new areas, we have Step Up coming up, for example, the end of this year, where we’re still finalizing the time, but that’s an example of a much ...
What is that? Explain that.
It’s a series that we’re doing, it’s about dance and we have great staffing for it. We’re super excited about these shows.
Is that you making those decisions? Do you go, “I want a dance show.” Susan Wojcicki sitting up here in San Bruno, California.
We’ve hired Susan Daniels, who is a ...
Yes, I know who she is.
Yes, you know Susan Daniels, and she is running our programming department. We have a well-funded budget for getting started, we’re starting to figure out what types of shows that make sense for us to get done on our platform.
Right. What is the difference between you and a Netflix? Do you ever imagine you creating a “House of Cards” or something, a really long dramas, or ... I looked at Netflix the other day, they have had 90 shows, it was, whoa, it’s so many. There are tremendous actors on the platform. Obviously, Amazon is funding a lot, it shows up at the Emmys, wins Emmys for their shows “Transparent” or the “Man in the Tower,” whatever it’s called, anyway, the Nazi show, essentially. They’re doing it in a different way. Do you think of it that way or is that the ... because you started off just having this studio.
We have studios and the studios are for YouTube creators.
You were giving money out to people. You were handing money to publishers and others, right?
That was years ago. That was before I got here.
But I want to know why you evolved it.
What we see is, we see this amazing core business that we’re investing in, this opportunity to grow on top of this core business, a subscription service. But Netflix has ...
Netflix and Amazon are both spending billions and billions and billions of dollars. When you think about building a subscription service, you can’t just start from scratch. You can’t just say, “Oh, let’s have billions and billions of dollars with no subscribers,” because that would probably not go over very well.
Although, probably, they got a lot of subscribers because ... like Hulu with “Handmaid’s Tale,” they’ve finally done something that makes people want to subscribe to Hulu.
I think about this, we’ve been building up our subscription, subscriber base. That’s what we’ve had with Red, we’ve been building it up, and we are starting to dip our toe into doing a lot more higher-end content production. And we think that will be important to grow the subscription service. But I’ll say, even having a great show, whether it’s “Handmaid’s Tale” or “House of Cards,” those are fantastic shows, if you look at the core YouTube business, to be able to continue to grow that, we have 1.5 billion signed-in users coming to our site every single month, we’ve been growing it almost 50 percent year on year, just in times of our watch time. We have over 1 billion hours. That business is one where you’re playing more-
You’ve got to think hard about the programming.
That’s a business where not one show is going to drive those numbers. What, actually, drives those numbers is the sum of many, many, many, many creators and the fact that we have this giant, long tail that’s’ very diverse. Yes, I think it’s important, for us as an adjacent business to figure out how do we grow a subscription service on top of that, and how do we have high quality or higher production cost content and dramas, but that’s a new area for us. It’s a competitive area, we want to think about what can we do that’s unique and different?
The formula has been, for Netflix, and then Amazon copied it is, let’s have a hit show. Let’s have something that everyone’s talking about, let’s have Jeff Bezos show up in a tuxedo at the Emmys or Hulu, for example, this year, I think Hulu did really well, it’s a fantastic show, and it couldn’t find a home elsewhere. And then you have HBO ...
Well, it’s hard. It’s hard to have a hit show. People are always like, “Yeah, we’d love a hit show, too. If we knew what the hit show was, we’d go get it." But, I think, we have to be ... we’re starting with subscriptions service, we really just started it when I was here, we’ve been building it up, we’re building up our numbers, and we’re figuring out what kind of content makes sense for us to have on our platform. You’ll see us continue to invest more and more in the content production area, on the service on top of what we’re doing on YouTube.
Do you expect to spend billions and billions on content? ’Cause everyone’s, that’s the big, when Netflix, Amazon, again, I don’t think Apple is as serious as others in that space, they sell phones, pretty much or devices and things like that. Do you imagine spending, getting into that range? Or just a different take on it spending the same amount of money?
We could in the future. Right now, we spend billions and billions on this longtail of these amazing creators that we have, which we see as, again, our core business.
A multitude, a more of a multitude approach.
We could. We definitely could do that in the future. I think the reality is you have to be responsible in how you run this. You want to have enough of a budget, that you can, actually, experiment but not so much budget that you can hang yourself with it and get stuck.
It always drives me crazy how responsible you are, Susan.
You’ve always made money.
Well, yeah, you have to make money because if we went out there, and we’re like, “Let’s have billions and billions of dollars,” and then it didn’t go very well, it probably wouldn’t happen again. You need ...
Oh yes, it would. Come on, Susan.
No, it will not happen again.
You and I have been here too long to see it happen over and over and over again.
No, no. You need to be responsible with it, and also, this is the most competitive time for content.
Yeah, it really is.
Apple, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, they’re all bidding for that content, and I think ...
And Facebook seems to be making noises in that direction, though really hasn’t ...
Facebook is going for content that is ad-supported, that is not subscription. We also have started to a lot more content that is ad-supported. We announced that we were producing six shows that were going to be originals, that were going to be ad-supported. What we’ve seen is that the number of ad-supported shows has really declined. It was 85 percent, it’s now down to 66 percent. The opportunity for us to create ad-supported originals is, actually, much higher than it was before. We are creating a show with Kevin Hart, we actually have Demi Lovato’s movie coming out, “Simply Complicated.”
You have a Demi Lovato ... I didn’t realize this.
Yes. It’s coming out. We can get you tickets to the premiere if you want to cover it.
No, thank you. Maybe I’ll send someone. I’ll send Peter Kafka, he’s an enormous Demi Lovato fan.
It’s in LA.
Oh, he’ll go. I’ll get him right there.
Okay, “Simply Complicated,” we are doing stuff with Ellen, she’s doing an original set of shows and clips for us, and we did stuff with Katy Perry, you mentioned Katy Perry early on. We are thinking about how we can create this global platform, original content, but it’s ad-supported, and that’s great for our advertisers.
How do you ... I want to finish with this section, how do you go down to Hollywood and ... how do you like that? Again, you’re a pretty ... not a buttoned-up person, but you’re a pretty straightforward person, you’re not Hollywood-ish.
I have ...
I know you have a gown, Susan, I get it.
Yes. I can go to Hollywood too. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
I know, but you’re so logical. Just watching you and Richard Plepler was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my ...
Well, we’re friends.
I get that,
We’re good friends now, we talk all the time.
No, I know, I introduced you.
We were just on a panel together.
Yes, I get that, but I’m just saying, you’re not the fast-talking, deal-making, that kind of thing. How do you imagine Hollywood’s changing? Or is it changing more towards ...
Look, everyone in Hollywood is interested in YouTube. Whenever I meet them, they’re always interested, "how can we do something together?"
They definitely weren’t seven years ago, for sure.
Yeah, well, they are now. When I talk to them, they’re always “What can we do together?” First of all, we already have a deal with them. We’re talking about the existing deal, how to make the existing deal better, then we’re talking about new ideas, when you have a billion-and-a-half users on your platform, it’s global ...
People pay attention.
We have ... Our advertising time is 60 minutes. When you have the numbers that you have, everyone wants to talk to you. At the end of the day people are all people. I actually think I have a really good relationship with all of the people from Hollywood. I’ve gotten to know them all as people, I’ve seen them all at these different events. I think, I’m just me and who I am and they recognize I come from a different world, but on the other hand, I’m making an effort to get to know them.
You are one of the few people in tech that can actually hold a conversation rather charmingly, compared to a lot of people.
I try, but look, showing up is half the battle. If I just go down there and I meet with them, and I explain what we’re doing, and I’m honest and open, and I do things. I speak at their events, I speak at their board meetings. I go to the same events that they go to.
And Google hasn’t been the front gate, we’re scared of Google.
I’ve gotten to know them all.
Yeah, they were scared of Google for a long time. You acknowledge that. Finishing up this section, just answer this question: Has Hollywood changed or has Google changed? I’m using Google as a whole, as whatever you want to call it, Alphabet, Google, YouTube. Which side has changed more? There was so much resistance, even just a few short years ago, so much questioning.
One time with a studio head, they were talking about the danger of Google and YouTube and I said, “How does Google make money?” And they could not even ... they didn’t even know. They were clicking on links. I’m like, “No, they don’t. They don’t make money like that.” It was really interesting that they didn’t even have a conception of how you all operated. Do you feel like the gulf is smaller, or not? Or what is in the way?
I think the gulf is smaller for a few reasons that I think people ... different industries understand that there’s a big opportunity with digital, that it’s changing their business, and there’s an opportunity there. To the extent that they can understand your business and figure out how to work together, and how to leverage whatever success you’re having, and that they know that people ... Again, I really find getting to know them as people goes a long way. When something comes up, they can call you.
Google was at fault that way too, very insular against ... people did not understand what was happening.
The challenge with Google is that, because it was a small company, it took time for us to build up people to be able to go and speak to and build out those relationships. What I see now is that Hollywood is very interested. People understand, we just had the Emmys and they saw so many of the streaming services that won. They understand that this is the future, they’re all interested, they’re all building their own direct to consumer apps.
They’re all trying to go direct, they all realize that in the U.S., at least, there are real declining numbers in terms of the cord cutters. I think if you look at the 18-24, it’s down 40 percent over the last five years. They see, look, the world is changing, and if I show up and say, “Look, we have all those users coming to our site. They’re spending 60 minutes a day on our site, we’d love to work with you, how can we work with you?” We have also grown, our budgets are a little bigger too, so we can actually do more with them than we could have.
But they do like money.
Well, of course, everybody does. We’re all in business. In the end of the day, it has to work for them, it has to work for us. I’m hopeful that they’ll be more and more understanding over time.
We’re here with Susan Wojcicki, she is the CEO of YouTube, and we’re broadcasting from YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California. When we get back, we’re going to talk about some issues, such as an essay Susan just wrote about a person at Google who wrote a very controversial memo, politics and where everything is going.
Right. We’re here with Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, and we are at YouTube’s headquarters where Susan presides over her many people who work for her. We’ve been talking about Hollywood and how it’s changed and what she’s doing at YouTube.
Let’s change the subject just a tiny bit. You wrote an essay recently about the incident at Google. I know you were involved at the decision-making around the firing of James Damore, who had written an essay that alleged a bunch of things. He was saying ... he was not saying that women were more neurotic, I feel like he kind of did, didn’t kind of, he did. There was a lot of controversy around it, but Google acted pretty quickly.
This diversity issue has been a big one for Silicon Valley, and you have been one of the people, the forefront of trying to change that, and one of the few women leaders in really powerful positions. Can you talk a little bit about that essay and what point you were trying to make and what happened there?
Sure. First of all, the issue of diversity in women in Silicon Valley has been the one that’s been really, really near and dear to my heart for a long time. Just because I feel like I’m in meetings all the time, I see the fact that there are a lot more men than women, and I see that women are missing out. I also see the way technology is changing our world. I’m concerned because I see that only 20 percent of the Computer Science degrees are being earned by women. If we’re going to have this force of change, I want to make sure that women are equally represented in that change.
This is something I’ve been working on for a long time, I’ve been working on it professionally, I’ve been working on it at Google, I’ve been a big spokesperson for it, and as a mother, I’ve also worked on it with my children.
Yeah, you have 83 children.
Yes, I have many children, and I’ve been working on it with, and I’ve talked about some of the challenges that I’ve seen, actually, as a parent. I can say whatever I want professionally, but then I come home, I also need to make sure that in my home, that I’m doing the same sets of messages, and having success. That’s actually been a really interesting thing for me is to see my kids reactions to computer science and what they like about it or don’t like about it. But when James Damore wrote his memo ...
Was then an engineer at Google.
He was an engineer at Google who wrote this memo that was very controversial, that made different assertions ...
Google allows people to put things on these different ... they have many, many platforms for communication, way too many, actually.
Google allows everyone to communicate about everything. We have many email aliases, we have many ways for people to share and discuss and debate. That’s the really core part of the values enabling people to discuss, so he wrote a memo, which I think has been well-understood by your users, where he made different assertions in terms of women’s capabilities in tech, and why they were less likely to be successful in tech and to be leaders in tech.
I was actually on vacation when that memo came out. I was trying to get away. I had read it and we were at dinner, and I was talking about it with my kids, the first question they had about it, “Is that true?” That really, really surprised me, because here I am, I spend so much time, so much of my career to try to overcome stereotypes, I’ve done everything, and here was this letter that was somehow convincing my kids and many other women in the industry and men in the industry that that was not true. Or convincing that they were less capable in some way as a result. That really upset me, and I felt it was important for me as a woman leader to actually say something. There were many points of view about this, but I didn’t want it to just be different men talking about women and their capabilities.
I felt as a woman, a needed to speak up and to say, “Look, this is hard. It’s hard to be a woman in tech. It’s hard to deal with all these implicit challenges,” and then to have these explicit challenges as well, to have people discussing and debating your capabilities because if your gender is really, really, really difficult. That’s why I wrote the op-ed that I did, and Google fired him.
Which, you were defending the firing, you were part of the decision-making on that.
Yes. I was part of it. It was a group that made that decision. I was supportive of it, and I felt that it was ... we thought that he violated the Code of Conduct that promoting harmful stereotypes in the workplace was problematic. Google’s working incredibly hard to bring more women into the workforce and to have a promotion of harmful stereotypes is really, really difficult.
Were you surprised by the backlash that everyone should say what they want? I was like, not at work, you can’t, for certain. You can do it in your free time, kind of stuff, but were you surprised by the backlash?
I think people are confused about the platforms versus the companies. Google and YouTube, both companies are really, really important in the free speech discussion. In fact, it was interesting to me ...
And people that work here are very that way too.
We all care about free speech, but I’m saying, they’re our platforms. In fact, James Damore did his first interview with a YouTube creator. That discussion on the platform, that’s fine to have on the platform. We have lots of rules around the platform, but we tolerate ...
About hate speech and stuff.
If you’re getting into hate speech, that’s a little bit different, or violence, promoting violence, but we just enable a broad, broad range of topics to be discussed on the platform from all different points of view. But it’s different if you’re within a company, and you’re ... Within the company, we’re trying to promote more women, and people feel uncomfortable about that. Think about how you would feel if you were a woman, and James Damore was on your promotion committee. Or to see that the company was enabling this type of harmful stereotype to persist and perpetuate within the company. I think, within a company, it’s very ... there’s a different set of rules within a company than there is on a platform, that is about free speech.
Are you hopeful about the diversity issue? Because it’s really just one sexual harassment lawsuit, Uber, SoFi and everywhere else. How do you look at this? Because you’ve been here for a long time.
I’m hopeful about it. I think that we’re so early. The fact that we are undergoing this change, is like undergoing the printing press revolution, and it would be like undergoing the printing press and only 20 percent of people that could read or write could be women. Literature would be different, society would be different, and, eventually, like today, everyone reads and writes, regardless of their gender, or their race, and I do think over time, this will get resolved. I think, the way to resolve it, ultimately, I think computer science should be a mandatory class that’s given to everybody. If everybody has to take Biology and Chemistry, they can take Computer Science. Computer Science is a more useful skill, right now.
Than a lot of others, and that’s where the jobs are.
... than a lot of other things that people are learning at school right now. I don’t want to say one is better than the other, but they’re all important. But there is no Computer Science being taught for many, many students. I think that’s really a problem. When we do make it more generally available, then, I think, that will solve some of the issues. Because by definition, everyone will be educated in this area, people will understand, like, “Yes, women are great at this. Men are great at this, everyone can do this.”
Instead of the self-selecting thing that happens now.
Right now it’s so self-selecting, and I think there’s something in Computer Science where they’ve actually seen these studies where they said in the 80s, when people started to have personal home computers, that’s actually when the numbers changed. For some reason, boys were more, gravitated to that more, the theory is, when you get into this entry-level class, it’s not really an entry-level class anymore because there’s a set of people who have already learned a lot and there’s an expectation that you’re hired. I’ve seen that with my own kids. What I found is that when you supplement, and I was able to support them early enough, then, when they were in those entry-level classes, they thought they were good at it.
They didn’t feel defeated.
They didn’t feel defeated.
One of the adjacent things is sort of the coarsening of the culture, which, some people blame YouTube and Twitter and, now, Facebook for — Facebook’s getting attacked — how do you look at the political culture? Now, YouTube hasn’t been sucked into it quite as much as Facebook clearly has right now, and Twitter has been used by the president for all kinds of messages. How do you look at that? How do you consider that?
Well, we’re a platform about free speech, and we think it’s really, really important that we enable all of the discussion and we see all types of discussions happening on YouTube. One of the things we’ve actually done is we have this program called Creators for Change, where we’ve actually found individuals who are promoting messages of tolerance, they’re fighting some of the really hard issues like Islamophobia, or misogyny, and we’ve actually awarded them as Creators for Change. We’ve given them funding that gives them more promotion, better equipment. We are promoting them ourselves with the idea of how can we get some of these voices of tolerance and really powerful messages out there?
As a platform, overall, our goal is to enable all voices to come out, for them to be able to communicate.
Have you looked into whether the Russians have used YouTube? Because today, it moved to Twitter and obviously, Google’s been pulled into it too, but have you been looking at that? Whether they’ve used YouTube for nefarious purposes?
We’re always monitoring YouTube for abuse and trying to understand how it’s being used on our platform. Who’s monitoring it. We think it’s an incredibly serious issue, we’ve been looking to make sure that we fully understand the way it’s been used by different parties, we don’t see that right now, but I want to say, we are taking incredibly seriously and, to date, we don’t see anything, but we’re always monitoring our service to fully understand it.
Let’s see, two more questions. Are you worried about Silicon Valley getting attacked more with regulatory issues? Obviously, Google has faced a lot of headwinds in Europe, but there’s a growing feeling Silicon Valley is about to get smacked around a little bit, and from a government point of view.
I do worry about it. I think it’s hard because we’re moving so fast. I think it’s really hard for regulators to understand how fast we, actually, are moving, and how quickly all these markets are evolving. By the time you actually get the regulators involved and you get them up to speed, and they understand it, and they all agree and they make a rule that’s somewhat outdated. The other changes, they could make the wrong rule, they could make a rule that is completely impossible for us to comply with, it causes us a lot of time and heartache to figure out how do we handle this? I think self-regulation is really the best opportunity ...
But that’s what Sally Heisman had ...
I still think that that is the best-
Do you see the winds of ... the clouds gathering? Or it’s definitely no Trump. Yesterday, Facebook is anti-Trump, or you know, it’s starting to really focus in on it. Focusing on tech.
Because tech is an important change. It’s an important factor of change. I feel like I saw this. I’ve seen this throughout my career, I’ve been able to see what the impact of this. Yes, tech is going to continue to be an important area, what we need to do is, we need to continue to communicate more with policy makers. I think that’s a place that’s really important, that they better understand what are we doing. Why are we doing git? Hearing their feedback, figuring out how we can be responsive to that. I think, it’s maybe like the Hollywood and the Silicon Valley discussion that we had before.
That both sides need to better understand each other, and then figure out what’s the right compromise, what we need to have.
All right, last question. You have a YouTube channel?
Yes. I just started my YouTube channel.
You just, four years later? What did you just figure out the platform or something?
It’s great, in your question, you’re almost implying, “Of course, she should have a YouTube channel.”
You are the CEO.
Yes, yes, yes.
I write for Recode sometimes.
I’m glad, yes, and you do podcasts as we’re doing right now. Yeah, of course I’ve uploaded content to YouTube, right? I had always uploaded to YouTube.
Mostly your knitting lessons, what? I don’t know.
Just stuff I saw they were more like the user-generated, like when I was at Fortune Brainstorm, i saw a bear. It was funny, all these tech people, and then a bear, pouncing through the crowd, right? Just interesting things I saw, I had posted that on my channel, but then, I thought, I want to become a really serious creator because I manage a platform that’s used by all these creators and the only way I can really understand this is to be a creator myself. I decided I’m going to launch my own channel. I just launched it yesterday.
What is it called? The Susan Wojcicki channel?
Yeah, it’s just Susan Wojcicki channel. Like all creators. Most channels are usually their name.
What is your specialty, Susan Wojcicki?
I’m going to cover a number of things. First of all, I’m going to interview creators when they come to our, to YouTube. I’m actually going to be like you, so maybe you can give me some good tips, but I’m making mind really, really short.
Nag people, like I’m doing to you right now.
No, that doesn’t work so well.
It works really well, but go ahead.
Maybe for you, I don’t know that will work for me running the platform with all the creators. The goal is to make this more positive ...
I’m just telling you, these are golden tips, but go ahead.
So creators, what else?
I’m going to have creators come when they come to headquarters, I’m going to call it “Two by Two,” they ask me two questions, I ask them two. Stay tuned, I’m going to post one really, really soon on that. I’m also going to post on ... on the Damore example that we just talked about, maybe next time I’ll do a video about that. Things that I feel strongly about, an opportunity for me to express that point of view, and then the third thing is, I get questions from creators about running the platform. Whenever I go to a city, I go to Poland or ...
Questions for Susan, I like that.
Questions about, well, YouTube. We have millions of creators and they have questions like, “Why aren’t my notifications showing the way I expected them to show?” Or, “When are you having this feature?” Or, “Why did you get rid of that feature?” “Tell me about monetization.” There are lots and lots of questions, I want to be able to hear their questions and then go out and put that on my channel.
What a realize, is that it’s a more scalable way. When I go to a city, I meet with tech creators, that’s great, but how do I make it scalable and post it and make it available for the millions of creators on our platform.
Will there be any singing?
I’m a terrible singer. I am not going to sing.
No cover? No Demi Lovato cover?
No, that is not in my wheelhouse.
But you’re going to get Demi on this thing, let’s put Demi, she gets lots of people, she seems to be popular.
I could interview her, for example, and have her on my channel. My first video that I just uploaded is, actually, advice, of all these creators to me on how to run my own channel. They were really funny. These are creators ...
Walk into a wall, that’s one of them. Play video games and have people watch it.
That is not what they said.
What was their No. 1 advice, and then we’ll let you go and run your company.
They said be authentic.
Oh yes, that’s true.
Be yourself and I think that’s great advice, yeah, be yourself. I’m going to be me, talk about what I do.
And we’ll see how it goes.
You can watch it. I encourage all your listeners to check on my channel, they can also subscribe.
All right, what’s it? Susan Wojcicki, YouTube, just search on it?
Yes. It’s not hard, it’s YouTube.
Maybe I’m going to start a YouTube channel and let’s see if I can compete.
You should. That’s actually one of our goals. Our goal is everyone who has a public presence, should have a YouTube channel. It’s an opportunity to upload their videos, we have all these features to be able to communicate, notifications ...
Yes, I just got to decide between Snapchat and Instagram, and all these other things all day long. No, I don’t have any time.
But one thing that’s unique about YouTube, and one of the reasons that it’s really different is you can actually earn revenue, right?
Right, well, then now what? I’m just going to sit around and say rude things, and then publish them. Like some rant.
Well, if you’re funny, humor works really well.
The daily rant, oh, it’ll be funny.
If you’re funny, which I know you are, then, who knows?
All right, you sold me, Susan Wojcicki, all right.
I’m going to be looking for the Kara Swisher YouTube channel, I’m going to be waiting for that one.
It’s called Shut The Fuck Up channel. Anyway, it was great talking to you, though, and thanks for coming on this show.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.