Across the YouNiverse

Alumnus Robert Kyncl (MBA ’97) is devoted to digital evolution at one of the world’s most dynamic, creative, and disruptive entertainment destinations

November 2, 2017  | 4 min read

In the time that it takes you to read this paragraph, approximately 400 hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube by makeup artists, amateur comedians, philosophy professors, and cat enthusiasts, as well as major movie studios, TV networks, and the biggest sports leagues in the world.


In the 12 years since its inception, the video sharing website has elevated a new generation of entertainers to celebrity and legitimized their influence on audiences totaling 1.5 billion per month around the world. It has also provided advertisers limitless opportunities to share their products with audiences who consume over one billion hours of content every single day. At the helm of some of these developments is Robert Kyncl, YouTube chief business officer, who is redefining how we consume news, entertainment, live events, and scripted programming and contributing to the ways in which media shapes our culture.


Your book, Streampunks: YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media [co-written by Google speechwriter Maany Peyvan], was released this September. Why was the timing right?

The book is meant to give people a greater understanding of the new type of YouTube creators that are rising and the new types of storytelling that they’re introducing to the world. So much of the conversation surrounding online video has focused on existing formats—movies and TV shows— transmitted through the internet and experienced online instead of on a television. While all that is happening, there is this massive ecosystem that has developed around new types of storytellers and new stories. The book will provide greater understanding of that through the voices of those creators. It makes it really personal, interesting, and diverse.


The phrase “new media rebellion” is used in the publisher’s description of the book. Who are the rebels that they’re referring to?

The content creators are the rule breakers. They are veering from the norm and doing something different. They are building their own audiences themselves without the backing of a TV network. They are creating content that hasn’t been created before. They are innovators just like any entrepreneur. Whether you’re creating a mobile app or starting a big YouTube channel and building an empire around that, your mindset is the same: you’re trying to do something different.


One of the chapters in the book focuses on Jenny Doan, founder of the Missouri Star Quilt Company YouTube channel, which has approximately 1.5 million subscribers. The “quilting grandma” doesn’t quite fit the model of a modern YouTube content creator. What sets her apart?

That’s the point of the book! There is no model. People are imposing the model, but Jenny is a great example that you can throw the model out the window. She utilized YouTube to create demand for her product and has completely revitalized Hamilton, Missouri. It’s the most heartwarming story and just the greatest use of the platform to create demand for business and turn around a whole town. YouTube is not just for 20-year-old whiz kids. In today’s world, if you know how to build an audience, you have a lot of power.


In your keynote at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, you said, “It is much more attainable to be the next PewDiePie than it is to be the next Tom Cruise.” Can you speak to this new wave of “celebrities?”

You can’t really see how Tom Cruise or other movie stars became successful. With platforms like YouTube, it’s easy to see how people did it, and you know that you have all the same tools available to you. It’s there for the picking. That doesn’t necessarily make it easy. Everyone can try it, and competition is high, but ultimately you have the resources. You just have to figure out how you are going to use them to create and be better at something than everyone else, and then build your audience. These content creators know how to connect with their audience and they know how to keep their attention. It’s a really hard thing to do.


YouTube is known for user-generated content as well as user-driven feedback. What is the role of traditional quality gatekeepers in the future media landscape?

We’re building a lot of different features to help content creators further engage with their audiences, so the feedback will inevitably get stronger. The more that happens, the more responsive the content will be. That’s really what we’re focusing on—the interactions between fans and creators and the reporting tools we’re building for them. We’re giving them visibility into data and further developing connections with their followers.


What is one of the most surprising things you’ve discovered at YouTube in the last year?

How popular YouTube is in Vietnam. I was aware of our popularity in the Middle East, Mexico, and Brazil, but Vietnam was surprising. I haven’t fully cracked it yet, but it has something to do with the government making greater investments in their infrastructure and us strengthening our relationships with media partners in the region.


Robert Kyncl on…

The Freedom of Information 
I was born in a country that didn’t believe in the freedom of information, and I can appreciate that our company can provide that. That’s amazing.

The Freedom of Opportunity 
The work we do at YouTube gives people the ability to make a great living, and most of their income is from outside their home market. There are so many amazing stories of people who have transformed their lives through their YouTube channels and have turned their passions into a full-time living.

The Freedom to Belong
Many groups that form on YouTube enable people to feel comfortable sharing information with each other. Whether you identify with LGBTQ, cooking, or fitness communities ... whatever it is, there are groups that help people feel like they belong and build strong friendships and communities.

The Freedom of Expression 
People can express themselves and share their story with the world on YouTube. The idea that everyone has something important to say and has the freedom to engage in open dialogue and empathy can counter hate. This value also celebrates creative freedom, which YouTube star Casey Neistat embodies in his video, “Do What You Can’t,” which captures the exact sentiment of being a creator and expressing yourself.