YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki
Dylan Byers: (NBC TONE) Hey, it's Dylan Byers, senior media reporter for NBC News. You're listening to Byers Market. (MUSIC) So you know how Google was built in a garage? Well, that was Susan Wojcicki's garage. Just back from Harvard, she rented it to Larry Page and Sergey Brin to help pay the mortgage.
She would go on to become Google's first marketing manager before taking over the site's nascent video sharing platform. In 2006, Susan helped persuade Larry and Sergey to buy YouTube. Eight years later, she became the company's CEO. Now more than two billion people watch YouTube videos every month.
Thanks in large part to YouTube, everyone is a content creator now, and content is more readily available than ever. Whether you want sports highlights, Saturday Night Live, makeup tips, home improvement, how-tos, premium scripted content, it's all there. So is hate speech, misinformation, and all the harmful, toxic, divisive content you can think of.
So figuring out how to combat those videos while also upholding YouTube's commitment to free speech is one of the great tests of Susan's tenure. That, and making sure YouTube remains the all-powerful advertising juggernaut that brings in $15 billion a year.
Now, a quick disclosure. In this conversation, Susan and I discuss Quibi, the newly launched streaming service. NBC Universal is a minority investor in Quibi and NBC News is producing a daily news show for the platform.
One more disclosure: This conversation took place back in early March, before the coronavirus pandemic forced all of us inside and more or less upended the economy. So it's not exactly something Susan and I weigh in on here. Without further ado, here's my conversation with Susan Wojcicki. Here, I'll tell you the videos I watched on the way here in my--
Susan Wojcicki: Sure.
Byers: --Uber. Three Saturday Night Live clips, a video of a bear sitting next to a guy on a river. (LAUGH) That was highly recommended by the algorithm.
Wojcicki: Did you like it?
Byers: Yeah. I think they know I'm into (LAUGH) bear content. And now the thing is too is now I just get a ton of bear content now, thanks to watching that one video. Like, what is the main hook for people? Like, what do you see as, like, the most valuable content on the platform?
Wojcicki: Hmm. Well, people come to YouTube because of the large volume of videos that we have. And so it's hard to say that it's any one type of content; it's more the collection of this large, large--
Byers: You don't see, like, more--
Wojcicki: --library collection.
Byers: --more people are watching, say, content that's coming from traditional media companies like Saturday Night Live or NBA highlights versus the bear on the river?
Wojcicki: So I'd say about half of YouTube, if I were to estimate it, comes from YouTube creators. And YouTube creators, they're homegrown. They've grown up on YouTube. I talk about them as next generation media companies because they are people who are producing really high quality content and it's designed for YouTube.
And that content tends to be in areas that are new media types, meaning a lot of, say, how-to content, vlogs talking about every single day what they're doing. We also see a lot of gaming content, for example. We see beauty, fashion, yoga. So a lot of content that we wouldn't have seen traditionally on traditional media.
And then I'd say there's probably another quarter of YouTube that's about music and the different concerts, that lyric song, the covers, the original song. I mean, artists when they first started, when they were 14 and they uploaded their first song. We have everything from a music collection.
And then we have probably, like, again, and these are all estimates, maybe another quarter of YouTube that comes from traditional media, where we have content where the producers or the owners are looking to extend it, make it available in a time-shifted way, or make it available to a new audience, or they have highlights.
And so, you know, if you look again at YouTube, it's pretty much all of these different content types that make YouTube YouTube that it's this incredible collection. But a lot of content that's really original to our platform and that you can't find anywhere else.
Byers: And so the creators who you say make up about half the content, all these people here figuring out how to improve the platform, what can you do for, you see someone who's catching on with great bear content or great whatever. What are you doing to cater to the creator and make it a better experience for them?
Wojcicki: For creators, they're mostly looking for two key areas. So the first one is making sure that their videos can be found. And so we hear from lots of creators who will say, "I posted a video. It went viral. I had millions of people seeing it." And so if you're a creator, you wanna make sure that your content is viewed by the largest audience possible. And then the second thing that we do is we monetize the content. So we serve ads. We share the majority of the revenue with those creators. And--
Byers: Is there a some public split in terms of how that revenue gets divided up?
Wojcicki: So we just say we share the majority of it.
Wojcicki: But we basically have all of our creators. You can sign up online. So we have a public contract that's available there. And all of our creators, you know, a lot of them are generating revenue, and this is their primary job.
And what we see for our top creators is not only are they generating revenue but they actually have become their own media company where they are employing a lot of people. They're employing, say, writers and editors. They have, say, merchandise, or they're writing a book. And so we basically see creators who sometimes can have literally hundreds of employees who are working for them.
Byers: That's incredible. So you talk about people who are sort of turning themselves into media companies and are hiring people and building up their own teams to create content. That's a radically different place than we were, you know, back in the day where, to have any platform whatsoever, you needed to have a TV deal. Are these real? You call 'em media companies. Are they real media companies? I mean, what are the sort of economics of that business?
Wojcicki: Yeah. So we have creators all over the world and what we see is we see creators who are creating content in areas where maybe traditionally that didn't happen. So, like, I'll give an example. We recently have had this trend on YouTube called FarmTube, which is basically people who are farmers, documenting their lives, talking about running a farm.
And we have this one, I'll give an example of one. Zach Johnson. He's a fifth generation farmer from Minnesota. And, you know, his videos are fascinating. I've learned so much about farm life just by watching those videos, (LAUGH) and the challenges they have on different, like, tractors and dealing with large plots of land and trying to farm it. But he's now making five times what he made from farming just on his YouTube channel. That's one example.
We also see other creators. Like, you know, we have this one other example, this family, that is called Cute Girls Hairstyle. Actually, that was the name of their channel, literally has millions of subscribers because doing your hair is really great on YouTube because it's visual. And so the mom actually started out, she would do all these incredible hairstyles for her kids at school. Other parents were asking her, "How did you do these hairstyles?"
Byers: So she turned into a YouTube channel--
Wojcicki: Well, so she actually just created videos for them, and she uploaded it on YouTube. She didn't even intend to have a business. Mindy McKnight is her name. They have six kids. And so she would actually just upload them for the other parents at the school and just say, "Hey, just go here and look at it."
And then she realized all these other people were watching these videos. And so she decided, "Well, okay, I'll just do this professionally." So she wound up creating this channel. She wound up having so much success and so many viewers that she does this full time. Her husband wound up quitting his job. They run that. Their children, Brooklyn and Bailey, have another channel that also has millions of subscribers.
Byers: And this leads to sponsorships share of ad revenue? What does this--
Wojcicki: Well, so has, you know, turned out to be an incredible business for them. They have their own staff that enables them to support them with their channels. They have a book. They have product associated with it. A lotta different creators will develop, you know, both the merchandise and the product that go with it. And literally, you know, they can generate millions of dollars by having a YouTube channel.
Wojcicki: It is really incredible. And so lots of creators say, like, "I stood in line. I stood in line. I went to the audition. Like, I kept getting turned away. And nobody wanted my content. So, like, I posted it on YouTube." And, you know, sometimes people post on YouTube; nothing happens.
But there are a lot of people who say, "I posted on YouTube and, like, a big thing happened. Like, literally millions of people (LAUGH) started watching my videos." And so those are the stories that are incredible and some of those people go on and turn it into a business. And we're really glad to support them. It's a new type of content. They're creating jobs. It's a new economy for them to be able to create this valuable content and have a business as a creator.
Byers: So these creators look at YouTube and they think, "Okay, here's a platform. It's free. I upload my content. Now I'm getting a share of the ad revenue." And YouTube is sort of the home for, like you said, more than two billion people watching this platform every month.
What happens when a service like TikTok comes along and all of a sudden everyone's like, "Oh, this is actually a really cool place to be. And this is giving us totally different tools that YouTube never gave us, in terms of how we incorporate music and memes," and things like that? Is there a little bit of a freak-out moment, or do you adapt? Or is TikTok just a different beast entirely?
Wojcicki: Well, it's definitely a very dynamic market. So we're always paying attention to what's happening in the marketplace and there's constant change. And what we do see is that, if you're a creator, first of all, you're generating a lot of your revenue on YouTube.
But you can use other social platforms as a way of extending your reach or having more people learn about you. And a lot of times, they'll use other platforms to actually point back to YouTube. So they'll do, like, a story, right? And you can swipe up and, you know, learn more about the videos on YouTube.
But, I mean, if you're a creator, you know, a lotta creators talk about YouTube being their home. That's the place where they got started, the platform where they're generating their revenue. And we also look at how to provide not just the ads, not just a promotion, but all the additional services that creators would want.
So if they wanna go live, for example, we're innovating with a lot of features there. For example, we have a lot more paid digital goods like Super Chat where they can generate revenue. We also have experimented with this concept of a premiere where you can have your video go live and everyone can watch it for the first time together. So we've seen that happen with music, for example. Ariana--
Byers: That seems like that's fun. That's a--
Wojcicki: --Grande used it, for example.
Byers: --that's, like, appointment viewing. That's a--
Wojcicki: Yeah, well, it's ki--
Wojcicki: --it's a premiere. It's a modern version of a premiere online for digital service. And so, like, we saw Taylor Swift use this, we saw Ariana Grande use this. And it was a great opportunity for them to engage with their fans.
We also have a place to sell merchandise, 'cause a lotta creators have merchandise. And they're selling, you know, there on YouTube, or they're linking off to different stores. So YouTube, we want it to be the home where these next generation media companies can both get the largest number of views, have all the services, and generate and run a business.
Byers: So you're good with TikTok as long as, like, everyone comes home by 11:00? (LAUGHTER) It's just li--
Wojcicki: Well, TikTok--
Byers: Remember? (LAUGH)
Wojcicki: --TikTok is very different in the sense that it really is much shorter form video. But probably the most important distinguisher is that they are not generating revenue for creators. So, like, if you're running a business, and one place--
Byers: But they could get there.
Wojcicki: --you generate revenue--
Byers: They could get there, conceivably--
Wojcicki: Sure. Sure. I mean--
Byers: Is there--
Wojcicki: --in theory, anyone could get there.
Wojcicki: But that's what we've been doing for 15 years, and we've invested a lot. We're able to utilize a lot of Google's ad services. And so, you know--
Byers: And you have a scale that is just sort of unrivaled--
Wojcicki: Well, the--
Byers: --in the video space.
Wojcicki: --I mean, the advantage is that, you know, we spent a long time building out our ad products. We have worked to optimize the monetization. And we will continue to do that. And so, you know, creators, they're media companies. And all media companies are always gonna look at multiple opportunities, but they're gonna choose the one where they get the most revenue and they have the broadest distribution.
Byers: Yeah. Is there anything that you can take from them in terms of what they've sort of introduced that would be, I don't know, has there been any source of inspiration from TikTok? Or, frankly, any other video service that you've seen, that you've tried to incorporate into YouTube?
Wojcicki: Yeah. I mean, you know, if you look at the world of video, I would say you have this long form content, you know, from more traditional TV, you know, like a two-hour movie, an hour episode. YouTube really was the pioneer in doing short form video.
You know, it can be any length. It could be, like, two minutes, it could be three minutes, it could be 15 minutes. And what we've seen with some of the innovation is the really, really short form video, like 15 seconds. And Vine was probably the first one to do that.
And I think, you know, that is a place that is certainly interesting to look at and for us to think about. And so, you know, we actually have introduced stories on YouTube, and we've actually seen our creators really engage with the stories. And so that would be an example of really short form content. So we will definitely continue to innovate in all the different format sizes, including really short form video, and see, you know, what's useful for our creators (MUSIC) and users. Like, are users watching it? That's the other really important part of the equation.
Byers: We'll be right back with Susan right after this.
Byers: (MUSIC) Speaking of short form video, what are your thoughts on Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg's forthcoming mobile streaming service?
Wojcicki: I've known Jeffrey for a really long time. Actually, the first day I joined YouTube, and it was announced that I was CEO, I got a call from Jeffrey.
Byers: --that sounds-- (LAUGH)
Wojcicki: --literally the first day.
Byers: Sounds very Jeffrey. (LAUGHTER)
Wojcicki: And I've been in close contact with Jeffrey since. And he has always had a passion and desire to test this out. And figuring out does it make sense for mobile phones, there's so much watching happening now on this next generation TV, our mobile phones. And how do we create really high-quality scripted content for a mobile phone? And I'm really glad that he's innovating in this place. And, you know, Google is an investor. He's getting ready to launch it, so we're very excited to see how it goes. And--
Byers: I guess the question is do you think it's gonna work?
Wojcicki: You know, I think it's a really interesting idea. And I think he has hired the best people in the industry, and he's a master at creating content. So if it works for anyone in this--
Byers: It'll work for him.
Wojcicki: --area, it would work for him.
Byers: 'Cause basically right now, I mean, the conceit there is (CLEARS THROAT) what all of these free services, what YouTube gives you or what Instagram stories, whatever, no one is giving (SLURS) you that, like, HBO-level premium content that is also on your phone and very short.
Byers: And I think, to me, I think the challenges I see are a couple things. One is the distinction between I think premium video and sort of, you know, at home user generated content. I think that is a harder distinction to draw.
I think when you go on YouTube, you actually do have access to a lot of premium content. You have creators who, like you said, have staffed up and are creating better and better content. And then on top of this, and this might be the greatest hurdle, is you, thanks to your behemoth of an advertising business, give people all this content for free. And he's gonna be charging people money for it. And I guess what I'm wondering is why am I going to Quibi to get, you know, five minutes of Chrissy Teigen if I can get five minutes of Chrissy Teigen on YouTube?
Wojcicki: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Well, maybe it's the latest or a new, really creative story that is happening. I mean, I think and I've, you know, told this to Jeffrey too. You know, selling subscriptions is hard. We sell two different subscription services. So we have YouTube Music, and our upgrade to Premium, and then we also have YouTube TV.
And we have developed a really healthy respect for, like, all the challenges that happen, right? People's credit cards that go bad, or the number of times you have to charge them, or how hard it is to get people to actually enter their credit card to pay you for anything.
Byers: That is the greatest hurdle for everyone in this--
Wojcicki: It is. It's--
Byers: --business, right?
Wojcicki: --hard. And I have tremendous respect for all the subscription services out there, and not just getting them to put their credit card in once, but actually getting them to keep it month after month after month.
Byers: Yeah, well, see, to me, that's the easy part. 'Cause once you have my number, it's just like a thumbprint, or-- (LAUGH)
Wojcicki: Well, maybe--
Byers: --maybe that's just an "okay." (LAUGH)
Wojcicki: So we look at all the different stats. Like, you know, like, what is churn from month one to month two? Month two to month three, right? Because some people, when they see that charge, and they haven't been using the service, then they're just gonna cancel it. So I agree that that's the challenge for him. I'm sure he'll have wonderful content. I'm sure it will be amazing. But making sure that you can get enough people who will pay for it is always gonna be the challenge.
Byers: Right. That's right. And we can circle back to all this. But you mentioned YouTube TV which, to me, you've got my credit card--
Wojcicki: Great. Great.
Byers: --on that, which is a hefty bill.
Byers: It's up to--
Wojcicki: But it's worth it.
Byers: --$54.99 a month--
Wojcicki: But it's worth it, right?
Byers: --or somethin' like that. Well, for me, it's totally worth it because I love sports. I work in the news industry. And sometimes I need to see what my colleagues are doing on TV. I got it on my phone, I've got it on my TVs. You can get it anywhere.
When I think about with, like, the business, first of all, I wonder if it's outside of your, like, core business of what you do. And then I also just think, in terms of my understanding, if you do the math, even at $54.99 a month, or whatever it is, is that even enough to cover the costs that you have to pay the media, the original media companies just to get their content, let alone employing all the staff and, like, everything you're doing? It seems to me like this is probably not the area where YouTube is making money, in terms of YouTube TV. (RUSTLING)
Wojcicki: Yeah. So the inspiration for doing YouTube TV was the realization that TV had all this great content, and that users wanna watch that content. And we saw that, because highlights do so well. We see full episode clips being posted by all the major networks.
We see HBO. You talked about Saturday Night Live and, you know, so many people go there and look at the clip. So we knew traditional content did really well on YouTube. But if you look at TV, like, we're using technology that is from--
Byers: Super archaic. (LAUGH)
Wojcicki: --very dated. I don't know if it's like the '70s or the '80s, but it's--
Wojcicki: --it's old. And--
Byers: And frustrating.
Wojcicki: Yeah, and it doesn't have any of the basic functionality that we would expect with today's internet services, right? Like, you can't search it. Like, you can't search your TV. There's no Cloud DVR. You can't see, it's not cross-device.
And so we just saw this opportunity to take this content that's so incredible, and that some of it can't be accessed on an internet service like news or sports. And to make it available with all of the latest and greatest technology that we build. And we saw that being an overall just, in some ways, you know, you asked, like, how is it related to our business?
Well, we've already developed this technology. So it's a way of applying it to traditional media. And we do work with traditional media companies. So they all post clips, they post highlights on YouTube. So having a closer relationship with them is really valuable for us.
We also sell advertising. So as part of the YouTube deal, with our partners, we have a slice of the advertising that we sell. And so being able to sell TV advertising is also really valuable. And in many ways, I mean, TV is one of the largest, most respected businesses.
And right now, we can see the decline that's happening in the number of cord-cutters, of cord-nevers. And so an opportunity for us to be able to partner with these traditional content providers and enable young people or people who wanna watch it for sports and news and bring them back to it.
Byers: I mean, I think at a certain point, obviously, this archaic model of how people watch TV, linear television, even the on-demand experience through traditional television. It all has to go away at some point and be replaced by something that feels like YouTube TV because it's so easy.
I mean, YouTube TV knows the sports I like, it knows the news I watch. I get it right away. The same algorithm is at work. I guess what I just wonder is it feels like very early days where you're still figuring out the economics. And I wonder how many people do you need paying $54.99 a month, or how much do ya have jack up the price before it makes financial sense? I guess is what I wonder.
Wojcicki: Yeah. I mean, we're certainly working and evolving that. And there are moving pieces in it. So first of all, there are moving pieces like the amount that we pay to the different networks for their content. So that's a ever-changing set of negotiations. Like, as you have more scale, you may get more of a discount.
We also are working on building up our advertising capability of selling ads on TV content. And so, I mean, I think you're right that, you know, you're always gonna have this cost because you're a reseller of other people's content. But we do see it as a really nice way for us to be able to improve our brand and improve our experience. I work closely with the traditional media companies, network providers.
And, you know, we've also created a really great product. So the users that use it just love it. I mean, I always hear people talking about how they use it, how you sent them notifications. For example, we say, "Hey, like, we know you follow, like, the 49ers. The 49er game is gonna be on. Like, do you wanna record it? Like, click here." And so just the brand love that we garner, because it's such a great product--
Byers: I didn't even know. I've never used this. But someone was telling me about this yesterday. There's, like, you have, like, limitless storage. So I could, like, record all NBA playoff games and it would just record them all--
Wojcicki: Yeah. And it's just--
Byers: --and I would have them at my--
Wojcicki: --a click. It's just a click away. You can just be, like, yes. Like, plus. Subscribe. It's basically a subscribe. And then we just record it--
Byers: No one told me about that when I signed up.
Byers: You should send me a--
Wojcicki: It's wonderful.
Byers: --push (LAUGH) notification.
Wojcicki: It's wonderful. And it works easily. And, I mean, the other thing too is that we give, I think we give five or six different accounts with every subscription. So if you're a family, your kids can be on it, your spouse can be on it. And it's personalized. So it makes sense for everyone to have their own feed associated with it, or their own library of what they've stored.
Byers: So is part of the reason why you're doing this and why you're placing the bet and, you know, withstanding whatever losses you're withstanding on that side right now, is there a long-term bet here from Google and YouTube that you guys can one day just, like, replace? You can become the home for, like, the bundle for everybody?
And that TV will just find its way onto YouTube. And then we'll all be watching what we now consider traditional TV through YouTube. I mean, is that the sort of grand ambition, to replace television, in a way? Or at least become the new home for all of the media companies and television services?
Wojcicki: YouTube in some ways is already a new way of consuming media, right? So YouTube is not necessarily competing with any one station or any one channel or any type of content. In many ways, we're a whole new way to engage, for content creators to create content, and for users to watch content.
And so, you know, if you look at our content, you know, right now, we've been focused mostly in areas that are new to media, right? Like, we would never have before seen, like, a math channel on traditional TV, right? Or people just vlogging about what they were doing every single day. Or gaming. Or music. Like, those were really not any kinda genres that were popular on traditional--
Byers: How-to guides.
Wojcicki: --TV. There was nothing. Like, they didn't have that. I mean, maybe there was, like, Home & Garden. But that never had search. And so basically what we've done is, because we're a different technology and we have all this new capability and we can be on demand, we've been able to grow all these different genres that never existed on traditional TV. And so our vision is to continue to grow that. I mean, we're really clear. Creators are the heart and soul of YouTube, and that is where we really wanna make sure we're continuing to invest.
Byers: Like, I feel like there's such an obsession in my industry with, like, we love talking about the streaming wars. And we love talking about, you know, the decline. Like, you know, how is AT&T's HBO Max gonna do versus, you know, Disney+, whatever.
Like, you are sitting here with, like, more than two billion viewers and a $15 billion annual revenue. And you're like, (LAUGH) I don't know. Just, like, you're, like, sitting up high, like, looking down. It's funny. To me, I feel, in a way, that you guys, I'm sure your PR team would laugh at this.
But I feel like you guys almost don't get the same level of attention and and even sometimes scrutiny, given just how big you've become and how much you have become the home for so many people who do want to preview content. And on that note, by the way, how has YouTube's relationship with the Google mother ship changed as you guys have grown bigger and bigger?
Wojcicki: Yeah. Well, you know, I've been at Google for 20 years.
Byers: I know. This--
Wojcicki: And so I've been on both sides--
Byers: --whole thing started in your garage, right?
Wojcicki: Yes. Yes. The first office was my garage. So I've been at Google since the very beginning. And so I've been on both sides. I've been on the Google side, trying to work with YouTube. And now I'm on the YouTube side, trying to work with Google.
And, you know, running a company of our size, being within another company, sometimes can get complicated. But for the most part, you know, there's a lot of synergies, and I focus on the synergies. And, you know, in general, I think it's been really helpful for us to be part of Google. We've been able to benefit from a lot of technology. We've also been able to, you know, in many ways, like, take a long-term perspective.
Wojcicki: And that has enabled us ultimately to be a stronger, better company, to do more for creators and for viewers.
Byers: Has your relationship with Larry and Sergey changed since 20 years ago in the garage?
Wojcicki: Oh. Well, I mean, I used to be their landlord, so, like, that was (LAUGH) a different kind of relationship. I would call them. I would, like, you know, come over and say, like, "Take out the recycling," and, (LAUGH) "Don't make lots of noise at night." And like, "Don't come in my side of the house. Like, you (LAUGH) go in your side of the house."
Wojcicki: Yeah. I mean, and then I worked closely with them for years and years and years and years. And so, you know, and now, you know, as you know, they most recently announced that they're gonna be on the board and step down from any of their regular operations--
Wojcicki: --at Alphabet.
Byers: Yeah. And this gets back to the sort of scrutiny thing, which is Google is so powerful and so revolutionary. And I would guess, despite all the great hay that's been made about all of the data that a company like Facebook has on us, that Google probably has even more.
And somehow I feel like Larry and Sergey's ability to sort of stay away from the spotlight and now sort of walk off into the sunset or under the board, like, you guys have to deal with the same problems that everyone does.
You have misinformation, harmful content, election interfere, all that stuff. I feel like you guys haven't been put through the ringer quite as much as Facebook, and I don't know if that's because maybe it woulda been different if Eric was still the CEO, or if you had a more public-facing figure or chairman. But would you agree with that?
Wojcicki: First of all, I feel like we have gotten a lot of questions--
Byers: This is why I said you're probably gonna laugh--
Wojcicki: --and we have gotten a lotta scrutiny.
Byers: --laugh, yeah.
Wojcicki: And I'd also say, in many ways, you know, that's good. Like, we understand we play an important role in society, and people are gonna ask questions. And we are doing our best to be as responsive as possible. And, you know, certainly looking on the YouTube side, I mean, I think it's important to remember, first of all, YouTube is only 15 years old, okay? But we're celebrating this year, our 15th--
Byers: Yeah. Yeah.
Wojcicki: --anniversary. So we're only 15 years old. I've been CEO of YouTube for six years. When I first came to YouTube, no one would have asked those questions. Like, nobody--
Byers: No one would have asked what questions?
Wojcicki: Nobody would have asked questions about misinformation or--
Byers: Right. Well, there was a sea change--
Wojcicki: --about thinking--
Byers: --moment like three or four years ago.
Wojcicki: Yeah. So I'm saying that we started out as this company that was small. People were really focused on, like, seeing, like, pets on skateboards, right, on YouTube. And there was no interest. Like, if I had gone to Capitol Hill to try to (LAUGH) talk to policymakers about what we were doing, there would have been zero interest in speaking to me.
And so there really was a sea change, like, as you've pointed out, like, three or four years ago. And that's actually when we started to get a lotta the questions of scrutiny about topics like, certainly, you know, after the election, any kinda questions about foreign government interference, misinformation. All, like, issues around responsibility. Those were all topics that really just surfaced in the last couple of years.
And, you know, we were a company that was really focused on how do we, like, do music videos? And what happened is we started to see that there was a lot more information that started to be posted to YouTube. We started to evolve into more of an information company and, as we got bigger, we also attracted more bad actors who started to want to think about how to use YouTube for their own benefit.
And there was definitely a turning point for us where we started to get a lot of scrutiny. And, you know, I was watching it and I was looking at that and trying to make sense of it and understand it. And, you know, like, in particular, there was an accusation that we had, there was the London Bridge. It was either a bombing or a stabbing that happened.
And, you know, there were many factors that contributed to that. But we were listed in those articles. And, you know, after that happened, I spent, you know, literally all night researching it. Like, I stayed up, I read all the accusations. I read all the stories of, you know, who these different actors were.
And, you know, I realized that we needed a completely different operating model. And at the same time, we had called this company off-site. And, you know, we had everybody there. And people had been up late because we had had this off-site. People were out.
And I called this off-site in the morning and I said like, "I need everyone there at 8:00 a.m." And I called what we call a Code Yellow, which is, like, our sign of, like, something is wrong. Because I didn't really know what was wrong, but I knew, like, we needed to change how we operated.
And I called a Code Yellow. And we've really dug into all these different issues. And we've made a tremendous number of changes across the board. And that was in response to the size, it was in response to how different people were using our platform. And it's been hard work. But I also think that we have made tremendous changes, and we have tried to be responsive. And we have more work to do, I don't deny that in any way. But we have made tremendous changes across the board.
Byers: Like, election interference is a separate issue from misinformation is a separate issue from harmful content. Let's focus on the harmful content thing--
Byers: --because, in my mind, this actually seems like, once you get outside of, you know, politics and everything, this seems like me like the biggest challenge for YouTube. Which is it feels to me like, at a certain point, for a while, not just you but a lot of social media companies and platforms wanted to not be the arbiters of what was okay and not okay to post online.
And it seems to me like, in the last few years, you guys made a decision that there are actually certain values and there are certain things that you won't stand for, which is neo-Nazi content, or, you know, pedophilia, whatever. But, you know, the internet is murky, and there are ways around that and there's what you guys called borderline content which is there is stuff that sort of rubs right up against the edge of what is harmful and toxic.
It seems to me by, like, deciding at one point that you were actually gonna take a stand on anything that you just opened up Pandora's box. And that the noble effort to try and sort of curtail harmful, toxic content became what will be a never-ending battle for you. Because you will constantly, constantly, constantly have to, you know, how many hours of content did you say gets uploaded to YouTube a day?
Wojcicki: 500 hours.
Byers: 500 hours. That's--
Wojcicki: Sorry, a minute.
Byers: A minute? Okay, that's a lot of--
Byers: --you can't monitor all that. So where are you at? Just walk me through right now, like, what is the current philosophy on how you guys deal with this? Without, by the way, running afoul of your commitment to not be biased, to uphold free speech, to not necessarily be the arbiters of truth and what people can and cannot say.
Wojcicki: Yeah. Well, first of all, we've always had community guidelines. That's what we've called them. We've had them since the very first days of YouTube. So probably the first and most important ones, we said you can't upload adult content. Like, from the very, very beginning.
And, you know, actually the categories we've had have stayed. You know, those were all established early on in YouTube's life. Like, you can't have dangerous, harmful, you know, adult content, anything that promotes violence or hate, for example. We have many categories.
And what really changed when we started to really dig into it was that basically we needed to be much tighter in our policies, which we've done. So we've made 50 policy changes in the last two years. And we needed to significantly increase our enforcement of those policies.
So the change that we made, and this all came out, you know, after I (NOISE) declared what I said was the Code Yellow, was using machines to be able to flag content and identify it. That was a huge change and turning point for us. And then the hiring. We hired almost 10,000 people who do content moderation (SLURS) at Google.
So, like, yes, you're right. This is always gonna be an ongoing sets of issues. On the other hand, I've seen real progress. We've made tremendous progress in this area. And we see, you know, we announce stats. First of all, we're clear on, like, these are the number of videos that we've removed. So every quarter, we come out with a report. We've removed I think almost six million just in this last quarter, which is a new stat. Last quarter, it was actually more.
We also are constantly updating what our policies are. We let people know every single time we make a policy change what that is. And we have significantly reduced the watch time that comes from borderline content, non-subscribe borderline content. So in the U.S., for example, we've seen a 70% reduction in content that is borderline, which means content that sort of brushes up against our policies we see as really low-quality content.
And, you know, at the end of the day, look, I've been at YouTube for six years. But I was at Google for 14 years. And Google's an information company. Like, if you look at the mission of Google, it's to organize the world's information, to make it universally accessible and useful. That's Google's mission.
And so a challenge like misinformation, like, we should be able to solve that. And, sure, yes, we wanna give a diversity of views. We do allow that. We wanna encourage free speech. But we also deal with those same types of issues on Google. When someone types in some type of query, you know, what are the things that you put in the top ten results?
Well, we've developed algorithms and approaches to making sure that we're giving the best set of results for any query. And we can learn from some of those approaches with how we handle information on (MUSIC) YouTube to be able to try to give the right set of high-quality content to our users, and what they're looking for.
Byers: More with Susan in a moment.
Byers: (MUSIC) Like, when you get home at the end of the day and pour yourself a drink, does this feel like progress? Or does it just feel like whack-a-mole?
Wojcicki: So the first vertical that we tackled was violent extremism. And in retrospect, that was actually, like, a more manageable vertical to look at because it's well defined. Like, usually we know their names that are people are on the FTO list. There are specific groups. They have symbols and flags. And in retrospect, it was more well defined. And when we first did it, that first vertical felt really hard. And then we had the realization that we probably had, like, another ten more verticals--
Byers: (LAUGH) Right.
Wojcicki: --that we needed to do. And at that moment, I really didn't know if we could get through those ten verticals. Because the first one had felt so hard and it had felt like this Herculean effort to be able to address it.
But, you know, we had no choice because, like, we're a information company. Like, I'm not gonna, like, run a company and say that we're promoting different types of misinformation that could be harmful. Like, that's not why I'm here. I'm here to do a good job of providing valuable services to people.
And so and if anyone can solve it, I thought it could be us. And we have worked incredibly hard. We started taking very scaled approaches, in terms of handling this. And so where I feel now is I feel that we have made tremendous progress. And, like, you know, anyway, there was a study that just came out in the last couple of days by the Berkeley researchers. And, you know, they looked at some of the progress that we've made with regard to borderline content.
And, like, you know, they said, like, we're doing a much better job with recommendations. They of course also have areas that they work we could do better. And we will continue to do better. And so when I look at it now, I see, yes, you're right, it is gonna be an ongoing area.
We're always gonna have people doing content moderation. We're always gonna have machines. We're always gonna have a big department that deals with trust and safety. Like, we're gonna have that for the rest of YouTube's life. (LAUGH) But are those people gonna do valuable work? Yes.
Are people gonna be less motivated to upd-- upload content that they know is a violation of our policy, because they know we have all of these systems? Yes. And so, you know, we already have seen that, that people have actually started modifying the content that they upload. Because they know that if they violate those policies, they know we're gonna take it down. And again, it doesn't mean that we don't have a broad range of views, and we don't enable all types of content. It's just that these are the guidelines, and everybody has to follow the guideline, no matter who they are.
Byers: Just one touch really quick. Like, one of the areas where this sorta hits home for me personally, or will, over the course of the next ten years of my life, 'cause now I've got-- a young kid. You're a mother, right? You've--
Wojcicki: Yeah. Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
Byers: --got kids? The kid thing, which is I know you guys have YouTube Kids. And you try and basically create a safe space where there's no bad content. Of course there are always bad actors who will find their way through, and then there's just the larger question of a lotta times kids are just gonna watch regular old YouTube.
And the amount of stories I hear from parents of, you know, a eight year old or a 12 year old or whatever, they would, you know, walk in the room and the kid's watching something terrible on YouTube. Is that personal for you? Like, do you think about that at a personal level? Just 'cause you're a mom and--
Wojcicki: Yeah. Well, I mean, I am a mom and I have kids of all different ages. And I definitely pay attention to how they're using YouTube just, like, from a mother's perspective, and also for my job. And, you know, so as soon as I got here, like, we did create YouTube Kids. Like, I recognized we need a separate app. That app is highly curated in terms of the channels and the content that we have in it, to make sure that it is kid safe.
And, you know, so I feel very good about YouTube Kids. You know, YouTube main, we've always said, was a 13+ product. Recently we made changes because, like, along with the FTC, we had guidance from the FTC about ways that they wanted us to have kids content that was attractive to kids, make sure that that followed a COPPA compliant model.
And so, you know, we've done all of that. And we also take a lotta precautions. For example, like any content that we think, you know, falls in certain guidelines, we make sure that that content is H-gated. It can only be seen by people who are 18+. And, you know, I think that YouTube in many ways is like, you know, parents need to figure out the right way for--
Wojcicki: --for kids overall to use the service. And, again, we give a whole variety of options. We give many options within YouTube kids. So parents, for example, can even select down to the actual videos that they want their kids to watch on YouTube Kids. And parents can be prescriptive like that, or they can say, "You can use YouTube Kids," but turn off search.
And then also on YouTube, our main app product, again, we're gonna do everything we can to make sure that kids are safe. But I also agree, like, parents at some point need to step in. 'Cause you start dealing with kids who are, you know, teenagers and 12 or 13, and they're gonna, not just on YouTube. They're gonna, like, look on the internet at all kinds of things. And I think it's really important for parents to have a conversation with their kids about using the internet responsibly.
Byers: I just wonder personally, like, all of these social media platforms, there's good stuff and there's bad stuff--
Byers: --right? And we did one of these podcasts with Sheryl Sandberg and you ask her about all the, you know, bad content on Facebook. And she's like, "Yeah. But, you know, these people were able to connect, and these people were able to build communities." There's good and there's bad.
I just guess, as the head of this company, when you think about what YouTube has unleashed upon the world, do you genuinely believe that the vast majority of it is good? And that just there's this problem that you have to monitor and clean up?
Or do you ever worry about, like, what has sort of been unleashed on the world by sort of the ease with which, and I know you're combating it, and I know that you've brought it down. But the fact that this will be a forever problem for YouTube.
Wojcicki: Well, for me, I mean, it's very clear. Like, it's very clear, the benefit that we've brought, the social benefit. And, I mean, I think, look, we took away, you know, YouTube went down. I wasn't proud of this, but just, you know, we did have a global outage.
Wojcicki: Like, a year and a half ago. And--
Byers: What did everyone do then?
Byers: It's too bad they didn't have--
Wojcicki: --I mean--
Wojcicki: (LAUGH) I mean, so I'm just saying you're asking, like, what was the benefit, okay? Well, within a few minutes we, like, you know, started to see all kinds of people complaining. We actually saw people calling 911. And we saw police departments saying, "Please stop calling 911, we can't fix YouTube."
And so, look, YouTube in many ways is a very essential library for people to find information, whether that's how to do something, how to learn something. What's happening in the world, as a news source, as a highlight component.
And if you look at YouTube and you look at the content that we provide, and where people are spending their watch time, like, I would say 99.9% of it is all content that everyone would think is really valuable for our society. And we do agree, like, there is this very, very small percentage that is what we, you know, think of as more controversial content.
And we're working really hard to find it and remove it. And also, again, like, tighten up those policies. Do I worry about it and think about how we can do better? Yes. I'm always gonna be worrying about that. But do I think the 99.9% of usage is valuable? Yes.
Byers: Yeah. See, the 99.9, that high figure, to me, there's the thread here which is that, whether you're the head of YouTube or you're the head of Facebook or you're the head of any social media company that has to deal with bad content, the pendulum swing from, "These companies are changing the world," to, "These companies are destroying the world," as it was characterized in sort of, you know, the larger national narrative, it seems to me like I talk to a lot of executives where there's this frustration.
Because you're like, "We are doing so much good, and we are changing the world in such an amazing way." And this problem, which, you know, you describe as 0.01% or 0.1%, has metastasized into the story that we've had to tell or the story that we've had to fight against for the last three years. Given that you know that you're gonna have to deal with these problems forever, do you think there's an exit strategy out of here? Is there a time when we get back to, like, the rosier days when everyone's just talking about how great YouTube is?
Wojcicki: I mean, look. When technology first came out, everything was new and exciting. And I'm not sure we're ever gonna go back to those days. But I do think we'll get to a point where telling this story of, like, "Oh, this one video was found," is not gonna be necessarily interesting anymore.
Because, again, the impact is very small in terms of, like, the usage and the way that we, and, like, the responsiveness to which we're handling it. Our goal is to be really responsive, and so it's at some point, sure, there might be some story and mention of it. But at some point, I think we'll get back to just talking about, you know, how we use technology.
Like, what's good about it? What are the reviews of the show? Who are the best creators? How can you learn from it? Like, how can you create a business from it? How are you creating jobs? I mean, there's also all these other interesting areas like how do we learn? What's the best learning that can happen on YouTube? Like, how are academics studying that? What are the best techniques? Should it be sequential? How has it changed learning?
So, look, we take responsibility. We use, like, responsibility as the word to talk about all the initiatives that we have to make sure we're doing the right ranking and removing content and making sure we're not monetizing content that's not appropriate.
I take that incredibly seriously. If anything, that's some of the most important work that I will have done at YouTube. And I wanna do it well. And I'm not saying it's easy, and I'm not saying it's ever gonna be finished. But it will be something that really I think will become less interesting for people to ask us about because we will get very efficient at solving it, removing that content as soon as we become aware of it.
Byers: Yeah. How do you use YouTube? Like, what do you watch?
Wojcicki: So one of the things that I've discovered that has been great is I love all the exercise videos that are on YouTube. And, you know, a lotta times I'm traveling or I'm really busy or I'm somewhere in a hotel room and it's snowing outside, I can't go on a run or I can't do anything.
And, like, you can type in like "15-minute yoga," any type of yoga. You know, hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, right? And we have it. So I use it for exercise and I appreciate that. I also use it for learning. You know, my kids will ask me stuff and I won't know how to do it.
Byers: (LAUGH) Yeah.
Wojcicki: Or I'll need to fix something. I mean, literally anything that you wanna fix, you can fix on YouTube. Like, whether it's like how to install the ice tray in that type of refrigerator. How to fix your 3D printer. How to, like, anything. Anything you can fix--
Byers: Yeah. I haven't found a satisfactory "how to tie a bow tie" yet.
Byers: I feel like you--
Wojcicki: I'm sure you have. (LAUGH) I'm sure you have. We have so--
Byers: I think there's like the-- (LAUGH)
Wojcicki: --many versions of it, how to make anything. I think cooking is actually really interesting. I've had a lot of--
Byers: Cooking's really good.
Byers: Cooking's a big one.
Wojcicki: Yeah, the cooking is a really big one. I use it for how-to, I don't know. Like, I mean, all these strange things that you have no idea where else to go and look. So, like, we had baby chicks. How do you tell it's a boy or a girl chick? Is it gonna be a rooster or a hen? Like, (LAUGH) YouTube can tell you that. So I use it that way.
Also, like, there are some creators that I love that I just follow for humor and for relaxation. And I also like use it for news. I like to catch up on the news and see what's happening. I also watch, like, the late night clips, which has been good. And--
Byers: What does YouTube not do? What can YouTube not do now that you want it to be able to do?
Wojcicki: What can it not do? That I want it to do?
Byers: Yeah. Well, I mean, one of the things about Google being an information company is we often use it when we don't even know we're using it, you know.
Byers: "How do I get from point A to point B?" "How do I tie a bow tie?" Whatever. Is there something right now that, in terms of the video space for Google, in terms of YouTube, that you would like to, like, what's the next offering? What's the next value proposition?
Wojcicki: Well, I think, you know, there certainly are many that we're working on kinda across the board. And, I mean, you know, there are always, like, these new areas like, "VR is gonna be new." And, "AR is gonna be new."
And, like, we invest. We invest in every single of these new technologies. And, you know, (SIGH) sometimes it surprises me. Like, "living room" has become, like, our fastest-growing screen, which I think it was also really interesting to see just the way that we were able to adapt to a new screen.
But I think in terms of, you know, how we're gonna continue to evolve, like, I think, you know, I see overall just, like, I think one of the parts I really wanna push on is learning. And the reason is is because wherever I go in the world, like, people tell me how they use it and it's changed their life.
Like, you know, I talk about this concept of "always on" learning. Like, most people in their life are only in school for, you know, 18 years. Most people, like, just, you know, have like a high school education or, in some countries, have less than a high school education.
So how do you learn for the rest of your life? Like, well, you could go to the library and read books, but turns out that video is actually in some ways a better mechanism for learning even than, like, going to a class. Or even better than getting a book. Because you can play it as many times as you want. You don't feel bad if you need to replay that section five times.
We have this incredible library that's available whenever you want it. It's, like, got sight, sound, and motion, so it's actually very easy for people to absorb. And so I would really like us to do more with that--
Byers: Some people are trying to monetize that. Like MasterClass, for instance. Basically taking, you know, powerful, influential entrepreneurs and CEOs and then charging people 100 bucks a year to be able to access that content--
Wojcicki: Yeah. I mean, that's one model. But, I mean, I think the advantage YouTube has is you can reach two billion people. And so, look, if you are the world's expert in something, probably you're not as interested in just making money in doing one class. You're probably interested in, "How do I actually share this knowledge with the world?"
And so look, I think that's a really interesting area for us. And it's actually happening with or without YouTube. Like, it's just happening organically where people are uploading this video. But I want us to better understand, and we are doing more with, like, learning playlists, for example, to learn in the right order.
How do we, you know, let people know, "Look, if you," you know, right now we're talking a lot about job creation, or re-skilling. Re-skilling has become a big topic in the U.S. Like, how do you re-skill just online? Like, we see people who, like, get digital skills, whether it's, like, how to use, I don't know, Excel or, like, you know, Google G Suite, right? All these different services. How do you learn that?
How do you learn digital? How do you learn programming? I mean, so we hear all these stories of people who learn. Like, we even hear stories of people who learned how to swim on YouTube. Like, I didn't believe that because people told me, "I'm learning to swim--"
Byers: Have you watched--
Wojcicki: --"on YouTube." And I went and looking on YouTube and--
Byers: --you got like a underwater--
Wojcicki: --we have a lot of swimming (LAUGH) videos. And I think that'd be, like, the one thing you couldn't learn because involves water.
Wojcicki: And we don't have water on YouTube. (LAUGHTER) But a lot of people are learning different (MUSIC) capabilities like that.
Byers: Yeah. Yeah. Great. Well--
Byers: --Susan, thank you so much for takin' the time to do this.
Wojcicki: Sure. Of course--
Byers: Really appreciate it.
Wojcicki: No, thank you. Thank you.
Byers: My guest today was CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki. Byers Market is a production of NBC News and is produced by Jonaki Mehta of Neon Hum Media. We had production help from Tanner Robbins of Neon Hum and Allison Bailey of NBC News. The show was engineered by Scott Somerville. Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of podcasts of NBC News. And I'm Dylan Byers.