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.”
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Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman.
ChatGPT’s dark side. Microsoft is considering putting new safeguards on its OpenAI-powered Bing chatbot after a series of worrisome interactions with users recently. During a freewheeling two-hour conversation, New York Times columnist Kevin Roose was able to push the chatbot into dark territory, in which it said it could imagine engineering a deadly virus or stealing nuclear access codes. A Microsoft exec told the Times that the chatbot had been used in ways the company hadn't envisioned. Among the fixes Microsoft is considering, is a time limit on chats with the bot.
Overpaid CEOs. A ranking of CEOs who received the most "excess pay"—based on a calculation that considers shareholder returns, median worker pay, and shareholder "say on pay" votes—put a non-techie at the top of the heap. Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav claimed the top position for his $246.7 million total compensation, of which $232.6 million was deemed to be excess pay. Tech CEOs were well represented on the list too, with the chiefs of tech giants Amazon and Apple earning the ninth and tenth spots.
Round two of layoffs at DocuSign. The e-signature company is cutting approximately 10% of its workforce or about 700 employees. The move comes after it laid off 9% of its staff in September. This month alone, layoffs in tech have also impacted workers at Twilio, Dell, GitHub, and more.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Gen Z doesn’t always feel tech-savvy. The generation that grew up on smartphones and social media is worried they don’t have the hard skills to come out on top in job applications. For low-income students who had fewer tech education resources during the pandemic, the pressure feels even higher. Add in a grim economy and the result is shaky confidence for some soon-to-be college grads.
From the article:
Students feel especially behind in tech; in an international survey of 15,000 Gen Zers by Dell Technologies last year, more than a third (37%) said their education didn’t prepare them with the digital skills they need to propel their career. Plus, the majority (56%) said they had very basic to no digital skills education at all.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The CEO of IBM says A.I. is going to replace ‘clerical white-collar work,’ but it could be ‘a good thing‘ for the looming population crisis, by Tristan Bove
An engineering professor warned that people trust self-driving technology so much it’s ‘injuring them or killing them’ a day before Tesla’s massive recall, by Tristan Bove
Prosecutors move to limit Sam Bankman-Fried’s device and internet use, but stop short of demanding jail time, by Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez
Former Googler pulls back the curtain on a bureaucratic ‘maze’—and lambastes bosses and employees for losing sight of what’s important, by Steve Mollman
The inventor of the internet says we’ll all have a personal ChatGPT-style assistant in the future, by Chloe Taylor
BEFORE YOU GO
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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