YouTube exec Robert Kyncl: ‘To be media star, be creative and good at math’
Even though he holds the keys to heaven – sorry, the future of entertainment – Robert Kyncl is remarkably easygoing man. Or perhaps that’s the reason why. As Global Head of Content at YouTube, Kyncl has successfully steered the company from being an online depository for cat videos to a position as an entertainment powerhouse.
Renowned TV producers now defect to YouTube, where they have their own channels. At the same time, bedroom YouTubers are going professional. What will the future of entertainment look like? Metro met Kyncl, a fit former Czech top athlete with a ready laugh, for an exclusive interview at YouTube’s Los Angeles office. (It’s a sign of the times that it has moved there from Silicon Valley.)
Metro: Is TV, as a box in one’s living room, dead?
Kyncl: The TV set isn’t dead, but there are many other devices, what I call ‘work machines’ – computers, phones, tablets, which are wifi-enabled and transmit video. And because of this, suddenly we’ve uncovered a lot of other consumption patterns and demand from consumers for other forms of content that doesn’t necessarily fit the same format as the TV set. People are spending more and more time consuming such videos.
Those changing viewing habits, with viewers spending more time on “homemade” content, are also blurring the lines between entertainment consumer and producer. What does that mean for the future of entertainment?
It just means that there are many more creators than in the past. In the past, the entire television industry was based on a closed system: a cable, satellite or telecommunications company delivering the content to you into a device that was sitting in your living room or hanging on your wall. Today it’s an open system, where anyone can deliver content to a device, and you consume it through a number of apps on those devices, and of course you can still view it on your TV set as well.
But professional content is very different from videos of one’s cat. How can you increase the professionalism of these new home-producers? And how do you make people watch it?
The good news is that production costs are dramatically decreasing. Today you can shoot a video with the camera on your smartphone. So it’s much more possible to create content and make it look really great. And people who’re learning to build their audiences on YouTube, and how to retail, are the ones who’ll have the most powerful, because they’re the retailers of their content. That’s different from the past, when you had to sell your content to a TV network, which then had to find an audience for it. And when you’ve built your own audience, you own it. That’s incredibly liberating, and it levels the playing field.
So, there’s a new trinity in media: a platform like YouTube, the consumer and the producer, but the middleman is gone?
Yes, several middlemen. Traditionally a producer would create a TV show and license it to a TV network. The network’s marketing people would then market the show. Those two segments are collapsing together. Those who create content also market it and handle audience development.
How will all of this change society and the way we go about our daily lives?
Look at mobile media consumption. For us at YouTube, in the past two years it has gone from 6% of all of our consumption to 30%. In some countries, like South Korea and Saudi Arabia, it’s more than 50%. Mobile devices are becoming the first screen instead of the second screen, and we’re all connected.
Is that good or bad?
I think it’s a good thing. People used to sit around the TV and more or less be quiet. Today people are sharing, and sharing means commenting and having conversations. People start these conversations in text form, but they’ll very quickly move over to a live form. And watching content on mobile devices allows us to have that experience anywhere, not just the living room. Of course, everything has to be in moderation. If everything you do all day is watch YouTube on your smartphone it’s not very good.
How much YouTube do you watch everyday?
About half an hour. A couple of years ago it was less than five minutes a day.
What’s the key ingredient to success in today’s entertainment world?
In the past, if you were a great content creator, you created your thing and then handed it over to someone else. On the internet, you can go directly to the consumer, but you have to do the other parts yourself. The other parts are analysis: analyzing trends and your consumers and quantify them. And pay attention: this means that you have to good in math. Math will be increasingly important in our increasingly measurable world. Your ability to, for example, expand your YouTube channel will rely on your ability to spot and measure trends with data. Creativity and analytical skills are a phenomenal mix, a true recipe for success in entertainment. When you do it, you’ve got a long-lasting value that you’ve created. Lastly, you have to be incredibly savvy in dealing with consumers.
So teenagers should be paying more attention in math class?
That’s what I tell my daughters every day. And science. And learn how to code!
So I have the first step, good analytical skills, and the second step, creativity. But I’m one out of a million producers. How do I find my audience?
You have to be passionate about what you do. If you’re passionate about what you do, it will show. You’ll find great, creative ways of standing out from the crowd. You’ll find a way to measure it, get smarter and increase your audience. Then you repeat it. CCC – create, curate and comment – that’s the recipe for success in new media.
What do you think the living room of the future will look like?
It will have a big fireplace where the TV set used to stand [laughs]. I’ll tell you what my house looks like: we have a living room and a family, which look pretty much the same. In one of them we have a TV, and in the other one we have a fireplace, a piano, couches, etc. Guess where I like to spend most of my time! I love watching TV, but I love the other room better because I can watch great TV shows on my iPad, my computer or my phone. I’m not tethered to the living room. Whenever people talk about the “war in the living room”, I say, go ahead, there are plenty of other places. Entertainment is portable. It’s not centered in the living room. And entertainment on your iPad and similar devices is a lot more fun because it’s personalized. I only watch things on TV when it’s something I watch with someone else so we don’t have to huddle over a small screen. The future is a fireplace and a piano!
It seems very 19th century…
It’s combining the simple things in life with high-end technology. Because you have video around you all day long, you don’t necessarily feel that you have to sit in your living room and watch TV in the evenings.
Speaking of TV evenings…what will be YouTube’s hit shows of the future? Homeland or Mad Men, so to speak?
It’s difficult to predict. Nobody knew that Homeland would become such a hit on TV. It’s my favorite TV show as well, along with Netflix’s House of Cards. There are shows on YouTube today that are getting audiences larger than shows on TV. But the mainstream audience doesn’t know about it, which is why most people don’t know about it. We just haven’t told the world about it. But we’re working on it.
But are particular genres particularly suited to becoming online hit shows?
The early success you’ll see is in shows like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. For example, in Egypt we have the Jon Stewart of the Middle East, Bassam Yousef. He started his show on YouTube and became incredibly popular. The show is done exactly the same way, interview-style with a live audience. Large TV channels then came to him and licensed the show for TV, so now the show lives both on TV and the internet. How-to, like cooking, is also a good genre for the YouTube format, as is game-play. The key to success is a unique set of content that audiences are passionate about. They’ll congregate to such channels, and the channels will then break out into the mainstream audience.
How to become a YouTube star
- Have a vision and be passionate about it.
- Be flexible and willing to fail. Fail often. On YouTube it doesn’t even cost you anything to fail.
- Expand your YouTube audience by connecting with your audience on other social media.
- Ask your audience for feedback. Be dependable but not predictable.
- Remember that it’s not just about money.