What will longtime YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki’s departure mean for creators?

February 17, 2023, 7:20 PM UTC
Susan Wojciki
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for YouTube

Happy Friday. It’s Fortune tech reporter Alexandra Sternlicht here to round out your week. 

It may be layoff season, but yesterday was high-profile CEO departure day. Longtime YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki stepped down from her role, announcing that she would take an advisory role at parent Alphabet after helming YouTube for the past nine years.

The move marks the end of an era at YouTube, the video platform owned by Google, where Wojcicki has occupied the top job since 2014.

With Wojcicki at the helm, YouTube grew to attract more than 2.6 billion active users (a jaw-dropping 52% of internet users globally access the video platform on a monthly basis). Thanks to an expanding array of business and advertising efforts during Wojcicki’s tenure, YouTube’s $29 billion revenue has come to account for about 11% of Google’s earnings. If YouTube was a standalone company, it would rank 121 on the Fortune 500.

“For the CEO of a really prominent part of Google, she was actually very present,” says Spencer Jaffe who worked at YouTube as a marketing manager from 2019 to 2021. “She was very receptive, down-to-earth, and was such a strong presence—not just in the headlines—but also around us.” 

Wojcicki’s tenure was not without bumps. Critics have long claimed that the YouTube algorithm encourages hateful rhetoric, violence, extremism as well as political and COVID-19 misinformation. And there have been famous instances of foul play: from Logan Paul’s 2017 documentation of a Japanese “suicide forest” to the company paying $170 million to settle a case alleging that the platform violated children’s privacy laws.

The changing of the guard at YouTube—longtime exec Neal Mohan will replace Wojcicki as CEO—comes as the video platform is fighting to retain its central spot in the booming creator economy.

Mohan will inherit a strong, if at times strained, relationship with creators—a vital constituency that YouTube needs to keep on its platform amid competition from TikTok and Instagram.

Creators with whom I’ve spoken have shared that YouTube staff befriends them in various stages of their vlogging careers, encourages them to take mental health days and work hard to optimize their content. “YouTube has the biggest heart towards creators. They really care about them. They want them to do well,” says Brooke Monk who has nearly 2 million YouTube subscribers and skipped college to become a professional creator. “If I go, ‘Hey, YouTube, I think such and such would be cool to have’ or ‘I have this problem.’ They’re like, ‘Okay, got it.’”

With short-form video now the latest battleground in the platform wars, the goodwill with creators certainly gives YouTube a leg up. Even so, TikTok remains the most popular app with young audiences and Reels on Facebook and Instagram still attract more daily views than Shorts.

As I reported Thursday in a story looking at the first two weeks of YouTube Shorts’ ad revenue-sharing program, YouTube is off to a good start—but this is still very much an open race.

As Marques Brownlee, a video tech reviewer whose YouTube channel has 16.7 million subscribers, said on Thursday, the new YouTube CEO will face criticism and blowback from creators when problems inevitably arise.

The fact that so many creators continue to view YouTube as reliable, even as new rivals have entered the scene, may be one of Wojcicki’s most important legacies.

“The truth is YouTube will continue to grow and change and have problems and fix problems,” Brownlee tweeted, “and will probably continue to be the most stable, reasonable place to exist as a creator, as long as they keep listening to creators like they have.”

Want to send thoughts or suggestions to Data Sheet? Drop David Meyer a line here.

Alexandra Sternlicht

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 


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From the article:  

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Big Tech's Presidents' Day connection. Data Sheet’s team is taking time off on Monday for Presidents' Day, but we’ll be right back in your inbox Tuesday. Until then, some history on how the man behind the POTUS holiday inadvertently shaped today's tech industry during his tenure.

Presidents' Day has been celebrated every year on Monday since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Uniform Holiday Bill in 1968. You might remember Johnson for the Great Society program, which brought new civil rights legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, and other legislation aimed at tackling poverty and inequity. There were hundreds of federal databases as a result and Johnson’s administration proposed making one centralized National Data Bank. The plan brought harsh critics who then pushed for data transparency rather than limiting data collection. It’s a move that historian Margaret O’Mara says has enabled tech giants to reach the power they have today. 

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