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Duration:54:38
Uploaded:2020-05-06
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I feel like this conversation should have been several hours longer because it is very hard to get deep into anything in such a short chat. YouTube, the company, has a massive amount of power, not just over viewers and creators, but over society. It's easy to say that there's plenty of competition in this world, but I do want to say that, first, that's not really true. And second, it does not mean that they don't have a massive amount of power...only that, I suppose, it may be eventually possible for them to lose it.

Regardless, I appreciate Susan taking the time to talk with me, I think we got to a lot of good stuff, and I think it's really important for all of us to be spending time thinking about big stuff in these times.

 (00:00) to (02:00)


Hello everyone.  It's a long one.  Susan Wojcicki is the CEO of YouTube, has been since 2014, and she's done a lot of stuff in her career and she's done a lot of stuff on the YouTube platform and I want to talk about many different things with her and when her people got in touch and said, "Would you like to interview Susan?" I thought for a moment and didn't respond immediately because I wasn't 100% sure I did want to.  I sometimes feel that the more I know about the internal workings at a company, the harder it is for me to get sort of like, properly incensed, you know, to the extent that I sometimes need to, to get things done and to shout the right words in the right direction, but I've already had several conversations with Susan, though certainly none that are as long or involved as the one I'm about to show you that we had over Google Hangouts, but I do want to put this in the proper context and that being that I'm a YouTuber.  I have a business that is based on YouTube and that is important here for two reasons.

One: because I do like this platform and because I have a lot of my self-worth in this platform and because of that, I know a lot about this platform and I know a lot about the good that it can do and I have a lot of pro-YouTube bias, basically, and that's just sort of an affinity for the platform, and on top of that, I also know that Susan is one of the most important people in my world, possibly one of the most important people in THE world, and I don't think that if like, I'm mean to her, she's going to turn the views off on all my YouTube channels or anything, but I do know that like, this isn't a bridge I want to burn.  This is a good person to be on the right side of, like, and subconsciously, not like, at every moment, this isn't a present thought in my head, but subconciously, I know that every time I ask her a question, so I'm not like, intimidated by her authority here, but I am informed by that reality and I wanted to be honest about that up front.  

Now, I don't think that it affected my judgment or what questions I asked or how I asked them and I don't think that it prevented me from getting heated in the moments that I got heated, but we're living in this world and so I think it's important in moments like this when we're talking to powerful people, that we recognize all of the different inputs that might be going into how we are communicating and what questions we're asking them and et cetera, and those are my caveats.  

 (02:00) to (04:00)


This is a long conversation, so I'm gonna put the questions I asked in the description with links to the timestamps in which they occur so you can check out the questions you are most interested in, or of course, you could just watch the whole thing, which I think is completely worth doing.  Everyone, here is my interview with Susan.

Hi everybody.  This is Susan Wojcicki, she is the CEO of YouTube.  She's been at Google for a long time, 15 years plus, now?  

Susan: 20 years plus.

H: Oh, okay, yeah, so sort of the whole--not the whole time, but close to the whole time.  So first, let's just get this out of the way.  How is quarantine?

S: It's tough. 

H: Yeah?

S: I think for all of us, we are doing what we can to get through it day by day, you know.  I mean, there's certainly nice things about being at home, but the environment around us, of course, and readding the news has been so sad and it's just, it's a disruption for everyone so for us at YouTube, really the focus was making sure we could continue to offer all the services and keep all of our employees safe.

H: What are the parts of the business that are hardest to do and have been hardest to train to function from an at-home environment?

S: Probably the biggest challenge in terms of work from home was, there were two areas.  Probably the people who work with hardware that need to test on different machines.

H: Sure.

S: And equipment.

H: Yeah.

S: And the second one was people who do some of the really sensitive reviews or content reviewers.  They don't necessarily want to be reviewing some of the more, what we call egregious content in their homes and so, we had to work on ways to be able to accommodate those reviewers.  

H: Do you do any, have you been doing any communications with the staff to make everybody feel like you're sort of on the same page and they sort of know where YouTube is headed right now?

S: Yes, definitely.  We've continued all of our regular meetings.

H: Yeah.

S: So we do a company-wide meeting with all of our different offices around the world and we usually do that weekly and we've continued that and we've actually seen a lot of people have been calling in and engaging that way, so they know what's happening and in some ways, there's a big benefit to that, which is that we can bring on all kinds of speakers from all over the world and different locations.

 (04:00) to (06:00)


H: YouTube, obviously is a big, influential, cultural institution at this point.  You know, a lot of people get news and information through YouTube.  A lot of people get, it's a place for distraction, it's a place for entertainment, it's a place for education.  On sort of a top level, what do you feel like is YouTube's role in the midst of this crisis?

S: We immediately felt that we played an important role in getting out valuable health information.

H: Yeah.

S: And, you know, one t--if YouTube does one thing really well, it's getting the word out to our global audience, over 2 billion users, and just the scale that we operate, we know that we can do that effectively, so we immediately began engaging with all the different local health organizations and reaching out and getting the messages in their language and what was appropriate for each of the different countries and putting that information in our home feed.  Also making sure that if you typed 'coronavirus', 'COVID-19', or there were videos associated with coronavirus on that topic, that we were showing links to different authoritative health organizations.

H: Right.

S: And we have served billions and billions of impressions.  Every day I look, it's like a billion more health related impressions.  The second thing that we did is we saw that we needed a lot of news information and so we have a breaking news shelf that triggers in about 30 different countries when something important happens in the world and we made that a pretty much a permanent part of our page so that users could always see what was happening with COVID-19 every single day, and then the third thing is we ran a big campaign to encourage and remind people that staying home saves lives and so we engage a lot of creators, so thank you to all the creators who created public service messages with that and we created some of our own campaign associated with that and I think last, just helping people connect.

 (06:00) to (08:00)


We see that there's so many people who are at home, they're unable to do their regular activities, whether it's go to their religious organizations or connect with their school or go to concerts and so, we're always working to figure out how to help people connect.

H: You know, there's a--there's a lot of value there for sure.  We also know that like, we live in an age of information and also of misinformation.  One, it's difficult to know when you're talking with a, like, there are credible sources and there are mainstream sources and those things aren't always like, perfectly overlapped.  Like, we've seen some mainstream news organizations that signifantly for seemingly, I would say, political reasons, have downplayed the crisis early, whereas you might have some people like Dr. Mike who are like, you know, just a guy but like, a credible one who's taking his role as a science communicator and health communicator seriously.  He's not a mainstream news source, but he is a credible one.  So balancing that, figuring out, like, you know, how we identify credible pieces of information and what we elevate and what we don't, like, it is not as simple a problem and it does not seem to be a problem that necessarily can be done anyway but carefully and thoughtfully and manually and slowly, and slow is really hard on the internet, especially when something very fast is happening in the world.

S: Yes, so definitely COVID-19 took us all by surprise, just the speed that it moved and we had to take incredibly fast actions as well, but when we look at misinformation, we were able to leverage the work that we've done over the last couple of years and so that has been a huge area of focus for us and we've built a large number of tools and systems and ranking to be able to handle concerns associated with misinformation.  One of them is having policies around misinformation and removing content if it violates the policies that we have, and we've had to make a number of policy updates associated with COVID-19. 

 (08:00) to (10:00)


The second one is raising authoritative information associated with it, and we have a variety of ways of ranking that information.  We work with Google on some of that ranking, and then the third is making sure that if there is content that we see as lower, sort of borderline to our policies, that that's something that is less likely to show up in any of the recommendations for our users.

H: So like, when I'm looking for information on YouTube, whenever I'm watching anything that has information to do with COVID-19, there'll be a little thing on the bottom that's like--and this is also true of like, moon videos--

S: Sure.

H: That's like, "More authoritative information under the video" and I think that like, that's gonna grab a certain percentage of the populace who, you know, might be like, like, aware of credibility and that there are credible pieces of information, but that there is the part where it's like, we need to interrupt these peoples' path down the rabbit hole and there is the part where it's like, we also need to understand what's leading them down the rabbit hole.  Do you feel like YouTube has any, you know, you sort of an outsized ability certainly, with the amount of information you have and like, how much you understand your recommendation algorithms are aware of how people interact with content.  Is there a way for you to understand better the cycles of disinformation and how to interrupt them both from, like, from a platform perspective but also from a societal perspective?

S: So the information panels that you talked about, which are, if you watch a video around coronavirus, we have a information panel below and it will link to different sources like Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Brittanica or CDC or World Health Organization or the local health equivalent, and so that's what you were referencing there, and I would say that that's just one of many solutions that we have in terms of handling misinformation.  So, I'll give some specific examples with regard to the topics that I just mentioned.  

 (10:00) to (12:00)


So, the first would be removing content that would be a violation of our policy.  That's one way to interrupt the cycle of misinformation, so recently for example, there were a number of conspiracies associated with 5G, that coronavirus was not a virus, that the symptoms were coming from 5G and we saw people actually attacking cell towers and destroying property because they really believed that coronavirus was caused by 5G.  That is something we made a violation of our policy, saying that the symptoms are not coming from a virus or coming from something other than a virus.

H: Right, 'cause that's detrimental to public health specifically, like, this is something that people, like this information could harm the health of people, could kill people.

S: Sure, definitely.  So that would be an example of a policy that we had to put in place really quickly recently, because that was an emerging conspiracy theory.  From the very, very beginning, I would say, you know, I don't remember if it was early, if it was January or February, but we put into place very early anything that was unsubstantiated medical recommendation to cure COVID-19 also became a violation of our policy, 'cause we didn't want people to say, hey, buy my miracle oils and you will cure yourself from COVID-19, and so that's another way that we use policy and remove to be able to interrupt that cycle.

H: I mean, that's int--like, at the same time, there are, there are all kinds of things that are like, you know, your cancer could be cured by this thing or your like, your heart disease or lung disease, you know.  It's not like, you know, homeopathy or weird medical treatments haven't been around forever and like, those things are on YouTube but specifically for COVID-19, it feels like this is a crisis now.

S: Yes.

H: But there's also, you know, like, I think to some extent, a misunderstanding of medicine and there's always a crisis around false medical information and that stuff has been, and like, there's always been egregious stuff that has been really clear, but there's also things that like, is this part of a religious practice or is this part of like, sort of a spiritual understanding and like, crystal healing and that kind of stuff.  

 (12:00) to (14:00)


Like, at what point is it, like, Gwyneth Paltrow and at what point is it like, 5G cell towers and like, where's the line between those things?

S: Yeah, so we did treat COVID-19, because it was a pandemic, we took it much more seriously--

H: Yeah.  Yeah.

S: --in the sense that we said right away, anything that was medically unsubstantiated or any kind of miracule cures would be a violation of our policy, and so we did that early on and you're right, like, that's a stricter line that we have generally for health, but we also use ranking, so if you type in 'COVID-19', we wanna make sure that the recommendations that you hear are, and the videos that you see, come from authoritative sources.  That's another way that we handle it is to make sure that that information comes, comes up correctly.

H: Right.  I think a lot of these, you know, 5G conspiracy videos got in the realm of hundreds of thousands or even millions of views.  Like, how do you--how do you identify these emerging things?  Is there a team on, at YouTube--

S: Yes.

H: --who's sort of like, focused on that kind of stuff?

S: Yes.  We have an intelligence team and they look and they study, they study all the different trends and what's happening on the internet.

H: Yeah.

S: And they happen really fast and we make sure that we are understanding those trends and we're finding them and if something we think could be harmful, we certainly check in with the experts in that area and find ways to take the appropriate next steps.

H: I agree that these are the right steps, but it also just seems like this is so much power for one organization to have, figuring out where, like, where the line is, and that that is the job of a private company and that that is a job, like, ultimately of a very few people at sort of the top of the private company to sort of establish those procedures at least, not certainly make calls on each individual piece of content, but to make the call on what the procedures are gonna be.  It is just a very big and powerful institution and it is a lot of responsibility to have sort of collected in one place, and like, as much as like, I agree with the decisions you're making, like I can--I also worry that it sort of like, feeds into the the conspiracy mindset for one organization to have that level of influence.

 (14:00) to (16:00)


S: Well, we definitely see that it's a pretty competitive landscape.  That's what we see from our perspective and--

H: Okay, yeah.

S: You look at, I mean, just think of some examples, we've seen Facebook being very aggressive in video, not just on the Facebook properties but Instagram for example.  We also see emerging players like TikTok that's new that's just come out of really nowhere.  Well, it came out of musical.ly.

H: Mhmm, yep.

S: Certainly Amazon has Twitch, which we know they're certainly expanding into--trying to expand into other areas.  Apple is coming out with a new service.  We have Quibi from Jeffery Katzenberg, so this is a--

H: Yeah.

S: I mean, we see this very competitive space and there are many opportunities for people to have their content distributed.

H: Yeah.  It's interesting that like, a lot of those things you just named, not all of them, but a lot of them, really are focused on content that they control very carefully what's on the platform.  It's not like anybody's out there being like, well, why can't I upload my conspiracy theory video to Netflix?  It's like, well, that's not the model and it's like, well, why can't I--why won't New York Times carry my--yeah.

S: Well, Twitch, Instagram, TikTok, there are a lot of user--other user generated (?~15:20).

H: Yeah, but it is also interesting just generally in terms of the sort of business landscape that there is, you know, your business--it is an open platform and there is a lot of value to that.  It is also a can of worms and it's a harder, I feel like it is a harder business to run, but at the same time, like, the opportunities to feature new voices, to gather new audiences, to have people create small businesses, like, is way, way outpaced on YouTube compared to any of those other platforms, and you know, Facebook is similar in that it, like, allows for a lot of smaller businesses to grow, and that we don't necessarily put that into our calculus, but like, I do because I run one of those small businesses.

 (16:00) to (18:00)


The sort of definitely the new competitor on the landscape though is TikTok and I'm interested if you have any things that you sort of admire or like, lessons you are learning from TikTok.

S: I mean, I would say mobile creation is probably like, the key thing and if you, you know, you as a YouTuber, probably do a lot of creation that's not on mobile, probably with more upstream, higher quality--yes, exactly, that kind of big cameras, video cameras, and so definitely the mobile creation is an area that makes sense and brought down the ease of creation, and we of course have mobile tools, but certainly the way they've developed them, I think has been--definitely has been compelling for users.

H: I mean, obviously when a new player comes into the landscape, you start to see how that product is being used and is that influencing any product decisions or strategies at YouTube right now?

S: I mean, we're always looking at the competitive landscape and that's the good thing about competition.  It inspires all of us in different ways, so we're always looking at the landscape, always figuring out what makes sense for us to do based on what's happening in the space, and I think that happens both ways.  People look at what we're doing and get ideas and we look at what others are doing--

H: Sure.

S: And again--

H: Yeah.

S: That's why, that's a benefit of having so many different players.

H: Are there any other companies that you sort of have your eye on that are inspiring YouTube's strategy at the moment?

S: We definitely watch all the different players out there.

H: All the ones I'd expect?

S: Every subscription, for example, I admit, lots of--

H: Okay.

S: Every music subscription, every--

H: Yeah.

S: Video subscription, and then I also watch--

H: What's your monthly subscription budget in the Wojcicki household?

S: I don't know, it's probably too much.  

H: Yeah. 

S: But yeah, I mean, I feel like I need to do that for my job--

H: Yeah.  Yeah.

S: And I need to test it on iOS and Android, so--

H: Yep.

 (18:00) to (20:00)


H: Do you have a Quibi subscription?

S: Uh, yeah, I do.

H: Oh, okay.  

S: Yeah, I like--

H: Alright, boom.  Have you enjoyed it?

S: Yeah.  I mean, I think they've also had some really nice innovations with how they do creation and they've tried to innovate and again, in mobile short-form and different views, whether horizontal or vertical landscape.  Every new player brings something different and that's what makes this a really dynamic space.

H: Right.  If you ask me, the real competitive advantage of YouTube is its economic ecosystem that it evolved for creators and that was an early decision and it was this thing that happened way early on YouTube and the fact that, you know, the majority of advertising revenue that runs on my videos comes to me is not how other creation platforms on the internet works.  We don't really talk about that that much, but it is definitely a thing that is very different on  YouTube.  

S: I'm glad--

H: Do you know--what?

S: I'm glad you highlight--I'm glad to see you highlight that, 'cause we agree.

H: Yeah!  Do you know how many sort of like, the idea of how many people are making five to six figures on YouTube right now?

S: We don't release that, but we have released in the past a growth rate of that.   I wanna say it's had approximately a 40% growth rate so overall, we have definitely seen--

H: Like year--like, this year over last year?

S: Yeah.  When we looked at that, I mean, of course everything changes with COVID, so I can't say I've looked at it in the last couple months, yeah, I mean, we see good growth.  It's a real income.  People accept it as a career and people are employing a lot of jobs and that's something we really try to emphasize, especially with policymakers, is that YouTube is a platform for small businesses, and every creator, behind every creator are more jobs.  A lot of them have, like you, right, have merchandise or books.

H: Yeah, and I--and like, it is important to note a couple of things there.  I mean, I've sort of like, started to realize that in some ways, because my business is so reliant on and based on YouTube historically but also like, even how we imagine our future, you know, we in some ways operate inside of YouTube the same way that we operate inside of Missoula, Montana.  

 (20:00) to (22:00)


Like, these are just different business landscapes and like, they are almost like, our feeling about YouTube is almost physical like it is a reliance and it is almost like you are our government and when your policy changes, it affects our business and it's a little bit like we pay you a tax, but like, you know, you provide services in exchange for that tax, just like government.  Reframing it that way in my head has been, has been a bit of a trip, because of how, like, ultimately, I also don't get to vote for who--the decisions that are made and who is in charge, but like, there are ways to influence that and I think one thing to note is that like, creators and YouTube ultimately have a lot of the same goals, which is why if you think that, you know, YouTube hates creators, you know, you just have to ask like, okay, if like, the number of people making five to six figures has increased 40%, like, that's good for YouTube as well as for creators because that, you know, we have to pay our taxes.

S: Well, we always say creators are the heart of YouTube and--

H: Yeah.

S: We incredibly--

H: Yeah, well, yeah, there's no platform without us.

S: Yes.

H: Like, I--

S: (?~21:13) want to make YouTube unique and we recognize that and we do everything we can to--

H: Right.

S: --create the best environment we can for creators.  We recognize we don't always get it right, but we really are trying to do everything we can.

H: Without there being sort of a direct voting relationship, there are also ways that I think that creators know and should know that they can influence the platform and I'm curious from your perspective sort of what are the--what are the ways that has been most effective for creators to get your attention, to change policy, to, you know, make, like, help you know what you need to be focusing on from their perspective.

S: Well, we look at creator feedback in many different ways.  I'd say we definitely look at it quantitatively, you know, as a company run with a lot of people focused on data and measurement, we certainly measure what's happening on our platform, so how are creators growing, how many new creators do we have, where do we see the growth, what features are they using, so we spend a lot of time understanding what creators are doing and release a large number of experiments to understand how to do our basic job better, to offer a more compelling service for creators, but then we also listen qualitatively, so what are they saying to us on Twitter?

 (22:00) to (24:00)


What are we hearing in our creator meetings that we have?  So either, (?~22:36) or creator summits or what are the creators saying to their partner managers.  We try to always interpret it and understand what can we do best and how can we do better, but a lot of times it's just a--it's a complicated ecosystem, because we have our viewers, what do our viewers want?  We have our advertisers, our creators, and how do those three constituents interact isn't always sometimes--sometimes they're at odds with each other and we are doing our best to grow the overall platform and do what's best for all of the constituents in the long term, but there are definitely moments that it gets a little bumpy.

H: Can you talk a little bit about those stakeholders?  Like, who are, you know, any business that, the first thing you wanna do is stakeholder analysis.  What--who are the groups that are, you know, taking up the most real estate in your mind?

S: I'll start with creators, 'cause creators are--

H: Of course.

S: We say are the heart of YouTube, and they really are what make YouTube unique and we recognize that and want to make sure, we're always (?~23:40) about our creators.

H: Well and yeah, I mean, and that's such a subjective statement, but I also want to say that like, they are also what makes YouTube a lot of money and like, we should stay that because like, ultimate--like, I know that that's, like, I don't want to be heartless about this or anything, but like, if we ignore that, then it becomes, it's a little bit wishy-washy and it's a little bit like, well, do you really care?  But if we do actually make you lots of money, which we do, then you definitely care about us, because like, ultimately, we are all running companies here, so I think like, we're the heart of YouTube.  

 (24:00) to (26:00)


I agree.  You care about us a lot.  I agree.  But also, like, this is a financial thing as well and like, creators aren't just what make YouTube special, they are also part of YouTube's bottom line.

S: Yes, so, but, but, yes, so creators are important, yes, from a business--

H: Yeah, for all the reasons.

S: YouTube is a business.  

H: Yeah, yeah.

S: It's a business at the end of the day and we need to pay our expenses also.  (?~24:40)

H: Yeah, yeah, absol--I'm not saying it shouldn't be a business.  It absolutely should be and like, I think that we should have like, a good trusting understanding relationship and understand where all like, where we sit on, you know, and that we both provide value to each other.

S: Yes, we both--definitely, we both provide value, so, um, so creators are a key part, so I will say in terms of the overall viewership of our users, there's creators, there's music companies, and then there's traditional media.  I'd say those are the three constituents that make up--

H: Tell me the pie chart.  Give me the pie chart.

S: Okay, that's the pie chart, and I would say creators are about half of it.

H: But what's, what's the perc--okay.  Okay!  Well, that's huge!  

S: Creators are about half of it.  Yeah.

H: Yeah.  Yeah.  So that's, I mean, obviously, like, there's a lot of us, but yeah, that's--I mean, both that is wonderful--

S: Yeah, and it varies per country and market and user and everything.

H: Yeah, of course.

S: But in general, that's sort of a good benchmark to use, at least half of it.

H: Yeah.

S: And so, so that's our core business.

H: And I mean, that's, that's a big deal.  It's also like, kind of scary, because like, you know, if you have--if you're running a business and you're like, working with the record labels and there's basically three people you have to talk to versus creators which isn't like, one monolithic group.  You've got, you know, you got kids' creators and beauty and gaming and you've got people who are making edgy stuff and people who are making educational stuff and trying to make every single one of those groups happy while also balancing these other stakeholders, it's like, the most fractured stakeholder has to be a creator community.  

 (26:00) to (28:00)


Like, you have no control over it, over how it grows, over what it is, and that's--that's a balancing act and I'm sure that it, and I know, I'm not sure, I know that it has created lots of tension over the years.

S: Yeah.  Sure, sure.  Yes, I mean, creators are the--probably the most influential voices on the internet.

H: Yeah.

S: And so, we know that if we do something they don't like, we're definitely going to hear about it.

H: Yes.  Yeah, I think that like, we--

S: We're prepared for it.  

H: Yeah, yeah.  

S: But yeah, I mean, we have a deep appreciation for creators.

H: Yeah.

S: And the challenges that they go through, and then I'd say that the other constituents are advertisers, and advertisers, of course, are the ones that pay the bills in a lot of ways.  They're the ones who are generating the revenue for us at YouTube and we wanna make sure that advertisers are successful on the platform, too, of course, and we see many different kinds of advertisers, whether they're brand advertisers like trying to just raise awareness of their product or actual what we call direct response, meaning they're trying to actually sell a specific good or get a specific action and um, and we realize that sometimes there's tension between the creators and the advertisers and of course, demonetization, brand safety, brand suitability, all these different tough topics have had to do with trying to manage challenges between these two different communities.  I think, one thing that creators don't understand well enough is just that advertisers can leave easily.  Advertisers also have lots of options and they can go to all different types of media companies--

H: And they can--they're way more organized than we are.  Like, you know, creators can do some organization but advertisers, you know, it's not that big of a world.  

S: Advertisers are--if they don't like where their content runs, they'll jsut take it.

H: In terms of--in terms of--yeah, yeah.

S: They'll just leave.

H: Yeah.  Yeah.

S: And they'll say, well, we were spending this money but we're done.  We're not--we're taking our money somewhere else and advertisers, of course, are always afraid that the CEO or that the board will say 'Why did you run this campaign in this place?'

 (28:00) to (30:00)


Why were you associated with these other--

H: Yeah.

S: --topics or that were inappropriate for our brand.

H: And they might not be the savviest people--yeah.  

S: I think the creator community sometimes doesn't understand some of the fragility with the advertisers and we've been working really, really hard to bring back all of our advertisers after brand safety and make sure that they feel  confident and keep spending.  In general, I think we've been really successful in bringing them back and bringing tools and--

H: Yep.

S: And I recognize that some--that from the advertiser side, it still doesn't feel--it's still--there's still a lot of frustration around that.  I recognize that and we recognize we need to continue to do more and we will.

H: Yeah.  I mean, to what extent are advertising just running out of other options, because, you know, a lot of people are watching content more now in places where there aren't ads at all so like, younger people, for example, are you know, they're either on Netflix or they're playing video games or they're on social media, so like, you might be getting them with Instagram ads, so that's good, but you're--but like, in terms of like, like a pre-roll, mid-roll kind of ad format, there just isn't--there isn't a lot of space for it if you want to reach somebody under the age of 35 anymore, so do they even have options?  Like, like, how much can you hold that over them?

S: They do have options.  I mean, I wish it was as you describe it and there are many options.  First of all, they could run on Instagram or Facebook or Amazon's Twitch.  They certainly can run--I mean, again, TikTok's now also ad-supported.  They always can--Peacock, Hulu.  Those are all ad-supported platforms and then of course, there's the overall network--

H: But they don't have the kind of impressions that you do.  

S: They--I mean--

H: YouTube's serving up more impressions than any of those places.

S: YouTube is an important part.  

H: Yeah.

S: We are an important part of the ecosystem, but the--they also can dial up and dial down spend.  That's the other thing.

 (30:00) to (32:00)


H: Yeah, just not spend, yeah.

S: They--we never get, we never get 100% of their spend.  We always are getting a fraction of their spend.

H: Sure.

S: And part of what we saw with brand safety is that sometimes advertisers came back, but they were spending less than they had been spending beforehand or they were spending in a more restricted way, and so, I mean, look, I agree that we're an important part of advertisers and reaching, certainly, core demos like, I dunno, 13-39, but on the other hand, like, it is very competitive.

H: Yeah.

S: And like, we'll see advertisers continue to take their spend in other places and I mean, influencer marketing is another area where we see advertisers engaging in more.  I think that's, you know, so these are all areas that we're watching.

H: More specifically to this moment, I did a little Twitter survey and found that CPMs were down about 20% on average, this is very unscientific, just from people who are following me on Twitter from our channels, some of them are down 10%, some of them are down 50% since the start of sort of the pandemic.  The--can you help me first understand a little bit of like, the mechanics.  Like, how does that happen, why does that happen?  

S: Well, first of all, I just want to say up front that I have to be very careful about what I say because, as you know, we're a public company and anything about financials is very sensitive.  For--let me just make a few points about it and say, of course, I can't share as much as I would like to, but um, I'll start maybe just with basic mechanics of how this works given, I'm not sure everyone in the industry or viewers know what CPMs are.

H: Sure.

S: But basically, basically the way it works, of course, is you have your total revenue divided by the number of views and then we multiply by 1,000 actually, because it, otherwise it's like a fraction of a cent.

H: Just to make it a more (?~31:59) number, yeah.

S: And so I saw your survey actually on Twitter and so people reported what the different CPMs that they were seeing were, right?  

 (32:00) to (34:00)


Whether it was $2 per thousand views or $4 per thousand views, I mean, there was a broad range, and there can be a broad range, depending upon the content that people have--

H: Yeah.

S: And--

H: And also where they make content is very important is always very important to always remember that people who make content in different languages get very different CPMs.

S: Definitely.

H: And that changes the landscape a lot from those places.

S: Definitely, and where their viewers are, right?  

H: Yeah.

S: Even if they all do it in English but the English is being seen in India, for example--

H: Yeah, South America, yeah.

S: That's kind of a different CPM than US viewers, so--

H: Yeah.

S: So that's generally how it works and so, you know, two different things could influence it.  A), if you know, depending upon if you have more advertising and the same number of views then you're gonna have your CPMs go up, right?

H: It's gonna go up, yeah.

S: 'Cause your numerator goes up.  You also could have your denominator go up, so you could have a lot more views with the same amount of advertising and then that would also cause your CPMs to go down, even though the advertising was the same, or you could have your total advertising go down and your views go up, so there are many different scenarios, right, in terms of how the mechanics of this work.

H: Yeah.  Yeah.

S: I will just emphasize though, and you mentioned this beforehand, but YouTube and creators are partners.  We have every incentive to do what's right for the platform.  There are no changes that are made--

H: Yeah, I don't think anybody's mad at YouTube right now that CPMs are down.  Like, I think it's clear that both of those numbers have changed.  There are more views and there--the guess is that there are also fewer advertisers just because, like, movies aren't a thing, sports isn't a thing, and so like, even if those two things move out of the ecosystem then there's less advertising and one thing that we've seen is that Patreon and other audience support has been a lot less fickle than advertising, at our company, anyway.  We haven't seen--we've seen some drop, of course, and like totally understand that some people need to make financial decisions at a moment in their life when it's hard times.

 (34:00) to (36:00)


Overall, that's dropped way less fast than advertising and who knows, like, the exact mechanics of that, but this is obviously--YouTube has been making moves in that direction to try and figure out how to have ways of monetizing content that aren't, are not advertising or direct advertising and we've also seen that our, the percentage of our income coming from YouTube Premium has gone up in the last month as well.  Is YouTube gonna continue moving into that direction for, to have other funding models that are external to just the straight, sort of, auction-based CPM advertise-y pre-roll things?

S: Yes.  Yes, yes, we are.

H: Okay, good, that's great news.  

S: Yes we are.

H: Let me encourage you to do that as much as you can.

S: Yes we are, and yes we've started it already.  

H: Yeah.

S: I'm sure as you know, you engage with a lot of those products, so we definitely understand that there are different dynamics between advertising and these other products like memberships, superchat, super stickers, merchandise, ticketing, these are all different ways that we have worked to diversify revenue for our creators and we believe they're really important, and of course, the subscription revenue, too, right, that comes from YouTube Music and YouTube Premium.  So, so we are definitely investing a lot there and we will continue to invest and but I will just say, it takes time and energy and--

H: Yeah.

S:--advertising is an incredibly--people forget how big advertising is.  I mean, TV advertising is hundreds of billions of dollar and it's switching right now and so, if you look at traditional media, about half of that, half of that income came from advertising.  The other half came from subscription.  I think it was, you know, just under $300 billion, so you look at that and that's all moving to different online services, whereas it was never necessarily a market for subs--for, uh, like superchat before, and that's a new market that we're creating.

H: Yeah.

S: As well as the membership market and so we'll continue to invest across the board, and we believe the diversification is really important for our creators and the stability is important.  We're seeing that certainly, you know, you mentioned that right now, so we'll continue to invest there.

 (36:00) to (38:00)


H: Oh, I also meant to say back in a stakeholder chat that you di--I don't wanna criticize, but you always gotta say--

S: It's okay.

H: (?~36:30) You always gotta count your employees as one of your stakeholders, so I also want to shout out to all the people who work at YouTube who make the product.

S: Thank you.

H: And there's a lot of people there who are doing that thing, and then I also was curious--

S: Definitely.

H: --if you sorta consider society to be a stakeholder overall, just because of the size of the influence of the platform?

S: Well, we've started to believe a lot more, or put a lot more attention into policymakers, and making sure that policymakers understand, because they have started to take a lot of interest and create a lot of policies associated with the internet and certainly with YouTube as well, and so what really woke us up was the Article 13.  I mean, of course we always had a policy team, we had already been spending a huge amount of time on it, but the fact that there was policy created that literally could have shut down a large number of creators in Europe and affected creators globally in terms of their views in Europe, like, that was a huge wake-up call for us in terms of just the hu--amount of time that we needed to spend going forward with policymakers, investing in our policy team, making sure that they understand the benefits that YouTube is creating jobs, creating content, that content is being exported, like, all the things that cr--all the things that policymakers want, YouTube is doing.  Creating cultural moments, new businesses, small businesses, educational content, huge benefits, and we've found that a lot of policymakers didn't fully understand the benefits and so that's, for the last year and a half have been really really focused on reaching out to policymakers so they understand.

 (38:00) to (40:00)


H: Yeah, I mean, that, that is definitely a piece of it and understanding how policy affects y'all.  The--I am also curious like, how much time, I know I, like, how much time you are able to invest in thinking about YouTube's overall sort of impact on society and like, obviously there are really, really big positives to that and there are also negatives to it.

S: Yeah, well, my job is to increase the positives and reduce the negatives.

H: Well, I mean, yeah, that's part of your job, like--

S: Yeah.

H: I mean, obviously, like, your job isn't to make--isn't just to make society better.  You know, your job is also to make the YouTube platform better and more successful and competitive and all that stuff.  

S: Yeah, but I--I think they go together.  I don't see a lot of tension between the two.  I don't--we never--they don't seem to be in conflict with each other and, you know, I see, I mean, I see so many benefits that YouTube has created, and certainly now during this COVID-19 crisis, I see just so many--even, you know, so many ways that it has changed--

H: Right.

S: --and improved peoples' lives.  

H: I mean, I, yeah.  You mentioned that education earlier and like, I'm curious, because I think that we're going to have to rethink some of, maybe not how K-12 works in the US, but I think that higher education is gonna have a bit of a moment where it has to figure itself out again, and I wonder how much, like, obviously there's, you know, YouTube has learning products.  Google has learning products.  It's what I do for a living, so it's something that I'm very curious about and you know, very much want to get through and figure out where we're gonna land, but um, the--like, how much are y'all thinking about that right now and what role YouTube can play in maybe not just like, direct, immediate response, but also in the  next couple years when we might be seeing higher education work differently, sort of rethink its value proposition?

S: Well, we do see people engaging in educational content across the board with YouTube, and--

 (40:00) to (42:00)


H: Yeah.

S: --we see that our users are very focused on what I would call on-demand learning, where users say, I wanna learn something right now, something in my house is broken, I want to learn an instrument.  I want to learn a language.  I want to, like, research this one historical event, and they go to YouTube and it's there instantly available.  It's like we're a library on-demand, video library on-demand, and when you think about it, most people are in school for, you know, through high school, and some people not even in the developing world, some people not even through high school, and some people are, you know, if they're going to college, you know, even that is another four years, and so most of our lives are actually not spent in an educational institution and so I see the value that YouTube is creating is the ability for people to be life-long learners and to be learning throughout their life, whatever they want and we have all this incredible content that's basically free.  They can do it in their free time and especially now, there's so much re-skilling that needs to happen, ways people are learning new abilities, and so, we have, you know, people always come up and tell me what they learned on YouTube.  That's, wherever I go, I always hear some story, whether they learned a language, they fixed something, everybody has a story of what they learned on YouTube, and that's an area for us to continue to grow, and I think, you know, the difference between us and higher institutions is we don't provide tests, right?  We don't, like, validate that learning--

H: Yes.

S: We don't issue degrees, so we're more like a resource in the sense that we're a library where we supplement a lot of those classes and I've seen--we've seen like, a lot of institutions put some of their best content online.  I mean, we just like, Harvard, for example, has a whole bunch of classes that they have online.  They have their, you can take the same CS class that Harvard students take.  You can take it online.  I mean, that's pretty amazing.  Anyone can have access to it.  They don't get the degree.  They don't take the test, but they still have access to that content.  

 (42:00) to (44:00)


H: Yeah, I mean, that's the, that's the question, like, will we be seeing more, more companies and platforms getting into like, thinking about how you build a platform that might be specifically integrating with education.  I know that you've got the learning playlists product, which does that a little bit.  I mean, I think that it is not a terrible idea and I'm not saying that it's like, I think it's the best thing, the best outcome, but I think that like, if there is an opportunity here for some large tech company to partner with some large high, like, good brand university to find a way to help people learn for like, less expensively.  

S: Yeah.

H: It is just, it is too expensive.  It got too expensive and it, I don't see a reason why it needs to be as expensive as it is.  I don't see a reason why the average person who's coming out of college with $25,000 in loans and that number only goes up and up and up. 

S: Yeah.  

H: And, and if we're like, gonna head into a world where people are gonna want to go back to school 'cause they don't want to be in the job market but they're not gonna want to spend $20,000 a year doing it, somebody--it feels like somebody will be making moves in this space.  

S: Yeah.

H: And--

S: Yeah.

H: I think Google is, you know, it has the--it has a good brand for it, at least.

S: Yeah.  Yeah.  I mean, I think it's definitely, especially after COVID-19, we've seen that people can do a lot more remote learning than we previously thought.

H: Yeah.

S: I just saw there are over 1.5 billion kids out of school right now and not all of them, but certainly people are trying as much as possible to do digital learning.  The feature that--I mean, I've definitely thought about it more.  The features that we don't have is we don't offer, again, the--people really learn when they're doing the exercises, so we don't grade homework--

H: Sure.

S: We don't give tests.  I mean, we don't do degrees, and I'm not really sure YouTube should be doing any of those features.

H: Yeah, I'm not saying they should be like, YouTube should be a University, but like--

S: But, yeah, we could partner with someone.

H: Like, figuring out how to interface with learning institutions, with educational institutions.


 (44:00) to (46:00)


S: Yeah.

H: And providing more tools for them, and I don't know what it looks like either.  So once upon a time, YouTube gave a ton of money to creators, mostly it gave that money to Hollywood production companies but some creators got some of that money.  It was called the YouTube Original Programming Grant.  It's how I started my company, Phil deFranco started his company, Rhett and Link got that money, The Fine Brothers got that money, so a lot of people who are established with like, you know, good sized small businesses arose through that program.  I think right now, like, some people are asking like, okay, well if YouTube is kind of my government and I'm kinda getting a stimulus from the federal government, is there are a place for some kind of YouTube creator stimulus?  I think that that would be great.  I don't know how much money you guys are sitting on, but um, but I think that it's a time to say like, look, maybe some people are suddenly out of work and they're gonna create things that are really interesting and you know, build that ecosystem that YouTube has always been famous for.  Is there, like, why was that only done once, is my first question, and the second question is, is there space to do that now?  Is this a good moment to try it again?

S: Well, the reason it was only done once is because while there were a lot of successes, there were also a lot of failures, and--

H: I will tell you, Susan Wojcicki, that the successes were the creators and the failures were the Hollywood production companies and there is learning that you can take from that, but it's not "don't do it again".  

S: Well, uh, I think across the board, you know, we found that, yes, we're definitely investing in our creators and we do find that there are many people who are producing now on YouTube, and so when we do do grants, we don't necessarily give them to someone who has not been on YouTube, right?  So, you think about our YouTube Original program, that's based--that, what you're talking about in many ways, has morphed into our YouTube Original program, where we are looking at creators who already have a platform and an audience on YouTube and saying What's the best way to work with them and help them take their content in a new direction or, you know, maybe do a movie or do work with creators they've never worked with before.  

 (46:00) to (48:00)


The focus that we have is investing in creators who are already on our platform that are successful there.

H: Yeah.

S: Like, I don't think you would like if I said, Oh, we have this big fund and we're gonna go out and we're gonna give it to people who aren't even a creator--

H: No.

S: When there's so many successful creators already on YouTube.

H: No, no.

S: So that's--

H: Right.  

S: That's basically why.

H: But I think that there is space for the people who are, you know, there's a potential for a large middle class of YouTubers to up their game and you know, YouTube Original programming is going largely to people who are, you know, 5 million + subscribers who are, like, you know, it's trying to invest in the places that are, you know, showing a lot of success already.  The question is whether there is, there is room for smaller grants and for people to like, not make a particular show but like, you, like, a thing that you own and you control and that like, is your style and is not about like, trying to make something that maybe looks like TV.  I've always been of the opinion that YouTube should lean into what YouTube is.

S: And we agree with that.

H: Oh, we might not agree on exactly what YouTube is, shocker, not that anyone does, and so like, to try and find people who may be really interested in growing a business instead of growing like, one show that's going to last for a season and then go away.  That's like, that's much more interesting to me is if you can find a way to plug into some creators who are ambitious and let them employ, you know, 20 people for the next 20 years, making something rather than, you know, employing 200 people for the next six months.  

S: Um, yeah, so I mean, our focus basically are on creators who are on the platform that are doing well, successful, and in a sense, we already have a program where, we have a lot more, we've certainly grown a lot since that program, which I think we did, I don't know, 2012?

H: I think it was before you.

S: Yeah, it definitely was.

H: Yeah.

S: I mean, it was two years--I joined at the beginning of 2014, so I'm kind of putting it around 2012.

H: Yeah, yeah.  

S: So I--I mean, definitely we've grown a lot, so creators who are getting started, the ability to generate revenue quickly if they have a lot of views and we see some creators who get started on the platform and in a short time, are able to be very successful.

 (48:00) to (50:00)


So we're still seeing lots of--

H: Yeah.

S: --um, creators who can break into YouTube relatively quickly, have success, they're able to generate more revenue that way than they could have certainly in 2012 and so tha's basically why we're not doing a program like that, but we are trying to invest in our creators and that's our original program and we're trying to do that with our top creators as a way of enhancing what we do on the platform and also rewarding creators for being on our platform.

H: YouTube is part of Alphabet.  Are there bad parts, do you think, to that?

S: Running YouTube, we don't really interact with other Alphabet companies.  There's not a lot in common for example with like, the driverless cars or (?~48:56), so we work very closely with all the other constituents at Google and so, a couple key ways we work with Google is certainly all of our advertising, the way it's sold and created, is run by teams that do that across all of Google.

H: Okay.

S: And then infrastructure that we run on is Google infrastructure and so there are a lot of benefits there.  You know, we talked about news and ranking, for example, so we were with Google Search team on different ways that they do ranking and we benefit from some of the work that they do, so there definitely are a lot of benefits of being part of Google, but yeah, it's a bigger company and there are times that people run into each other and, I mean, that happens at any big company but you know, in many ways from me having been there for a long time, I feel like I know everybody and, you know, usually just call people up and find a way to make it work in the end, so yeah, there are pros and cons.

H: Yeah.

S: But lots of pros, I can't emphasize enough.

H: Yeah.

S: Some of the benefits we get.

H: Do you think there is a space for some kind of subscription product that is similar to what we have now but is maybe more focused on creators rather than a broader ecosystem, because when you think about these, you know, this pie chart and like, you know, music obviously is a big piece of that pie chart but it is also a very fraught, complicated world that has its own, you know, music subscription systems.

S: Yeah.

H: And it doesn't necessarily feel like my video viewing stuff needs to have that plugged into it.

S: Yeah.

 (50:00) to (52:00)


H: And I know that there are costs associated with having music be part of that.  I've always hoped and wanted for there to be some kind of, some kind of subscription product that is more directly focused on video content and on creators.  

S: Well, what would you put in it?

H: I would put in it all of the content that isn't music, Susan.  

S: But which features?  You're saying--are you saying background and offline?

H: So, yeah.

S: For non-music content, is that what you're saying?

H: Yeah, it's basically the idea is like YouTube premium but, and like it could take many different forms.

S: YouTube Premium features.  

H: What?

S: You're saying YouTube Premium features but on non-music?

H: Yeah, but yeah, but on everything that isn't music.

S: Yeah.

H: And the reason for that being the cost associated with putting music inside of that platform.

S: Yes.

H: I think one reason why YouTube Premium hasn't grown as fast as it could is because of the cost.  

S: Yeah.

H: I think that it, and then, the other piece of it is that for the cost, creators don't see a huge bump in revenue.

S: Yeah.

H: And if I think that if creators saw that this was like, you know, 25, 30% of their revenue, people would get much--and like, it was clearly and like, transparently increasing their bottom line--

S: Yeah.

H: Creators would do a lot of work to market your product for you and we are, you know, one of the best marketing forces in the world, but because it doesn't affect the bottom line that much, that has not encouraged creators to push it.

S: Yeah.  We've definitely looked at that and I think you're right.  There are some benefits.

H: I know it's a complicated product.  Yeah.  

 (52:00) to (54:00)


S: Yeah, I mean, there are--we've been--we've definitely looked at it.  I think one of the challenges is separating music and non-music, we've tried doing that before and it's not that obvious what that means.

H: No, I know, yeah.  I hear you.

S: And in fact, we created this product a while ago called Music Key, that was like our first version of the music subscription service, and it was not a success.  That's why no one has heard of Music Key, and that was basically music and non-music mixed up together.

H: Yeah.

S: And so it is hard, like, people use music in their background, in content, you have things like clips from Frozen--is that music?  Is that non-music?  So, I just want to say, we have looked at that.  There are some complexities and I definitely, I mean, I agree with you that there are some benefits and we have looked at it and maybe that's the most I can say, but I agree that there are some reasons to look--continue to keep looking into it.

H: You know, it's complicated if you say like, hey, you're not gonna get advertising on this content and then you get an ad and you're like, why did that happen?  And it's like, well, because for these four seconds in this video, there's a Willie Nelson song and they claimed it, so.  

S: It was very hard to explain to users what music and non-music means and I mean, basically we don't think users can fully understand that, that you get no ads on non-music that you get on music.

H: Right, like, that every user on the platform, yeah.  Yeah, I think--

S: Yeah, so--

H: --that cre--like, you could explain it to creators but I think that like, there's just a lot of users on this platform.  It is a point of frustration for me, though.  Susan, thank you so much for having this conversation with me.  We covered a ton of ground.  There's a lot to go over.  It's a big responsibility.  It's a big company and you know, I really appreciate you taking the time and I know that you probably have plenty of other stuff to be doing right now.  Thank you, Susan.

S: We enjoy seeing all your great work.  Thank you for having me on your channel.  

H: Yeah.  

And that's it!  Thanks to Susan for taking the time to chat with me about uh, all these things.  I'm gonna go ahead and just watch this video over again now because I need to spend time trying to figure out where I stand on all of it, how I imagine it, and I think that it is a good thing, for those of us who can, to spend a lot of time thinking about how these platforms affect society, affect us, and affect other people.  

 (54:00) to (54:38)


Everything from misinformation to small business development.  I think there's a lot here, and I am thankful that there are folks out there who will watch this video, even if you don't make YouTube videos, just because like, we have to be citizens of the world, citizens of our country, and also citizens of this internet because we live here now.  It happened.  It's too late to change it.