YouTube is coming for all of your devices

No longer willing to be relegated to mobile devices, YouTube now wants to be on your first, second and maybe all of your screens at once. — AP

YouTube chief executive officer Neal Mohan is a good sport.

He’s bet big on Shorts – videos that are less than a minute long – and that means subjecting himself to silly scenes with creators in a bid to demonstrate the power of the 60-second format.

You’ll see him biting into the same slice of pizza with YouTube prankster Eric Decker or posing as the naïve intern in a spoof with influencer Hayley Kalil. And in this week’s episode of the Bloomberg Originals series The Circuit with Emily Chang, he plays the timid executive at the top of a giant red slide inside YouTube headquarters.

But make no mistake: this is serious business. Mohan means Shorts to be a major driver of the platform’s future growth and a way to compete with the omnipresent TikTok. It’s all part of his bigger plan for YouTube – and it involves all of your devices.

Despite the antics, Mohan isn’t flashy in real life (he said his wife calls him “even-keel Neal”). He is however one of the pioneers of Internet advertising.

A former top executive at DoubleClick – the display-ad juggernaut that Google bought for US$3.1bil (RM14.6bil) in 2008 – Mohan went on to lead a chunk of the search giant’s massive ad business. In 2015, he became chief product officer at YouTube and took over as CEO in 2023. (YouTube is a unit of Google, and both fall under the Alphabet Inc umbrella).

YouTube has come a long way from its salad days, back when it was best known for cat videos and makeup tutorials. It’s now the most popular streaming service on television. According to the latest data from Nielsen, it accounts for 9.6% of viewing time on TV, followed by Netflix at 7.6%. Distant runners-up include Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

People are actually paying for the service through its suite of offerings such as YouTube Premium and YouTube TV (which has eight million subscribers), and it’s the key driver behind Alphabet’s US$15bil (RM70bil) in subscription revenue last year.

If YouTube were spun out of Google, Needham analyst Laura Martin said she believes it would be valued at US$423bil (RM1.9 trillion). So the question is, how does YouTube get even bigger?

For Mohan, the answer is in your living room, and in the creators whom YouTube paid US$70bil (RM329bil) over the last three years. No longer willing to be relegated to mobile devices, YouTube now wants to be on your first, second and maybe all of your screens at once.

“We’re not a social media platform,” Mohan said. “We’re not traditional media in the sense that we’re not linear television. We’re really sort of our own thing. So what that means for me is staying focused on what we do best, which is a place to create, share and watch video no matter where you are in the world, no matter what screen you’re on.”

An avid sports fan, Mohan has made it clear that live sports will continue to be an area of investment, especially after concluding season one of the NFL Sunday Ticket on YouTube. He sees a key benefit in bringing together creators and live sports content in one place, especially for young people.

But as YouTube’s ambitions have grown, a few of its more homespun players have complained the platform isn’t the same. Some high-profile creators have quit, citing burnout. Maintaining a YouTube channel is a full-time job, and top names like MrBeast, Rhett & Link and Michelle Khare have armies of people supporting them.

YouTube is so big – and competing with platforms like Instagram and TikTok – that it’s hard to imagine someone like toy unboxing king Ryan Kaji or leading consumer tech reviewer Marques Brownlee building their enormous followings from scratch today.

“I know lots of creators who’ve chosen to either take a break or perhaps move to different sorts of pursuits,” Mohan said. “Some of them have moved from in front of the camera to behind the camera. Some of them have moved to grow different types of businesses out of their YouTube experience. And I think all of that is actually a natural evolution, but actually also really great because it’s a decision that they were able to make based on their success on our platform.” – Bloomberg

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