BRIDGE THE WORLDS OF TECHNOLOGY, ART AND COMMERCE
VICE PRESIDENT TV AND FILM ENTERTAINMENT AT GOOGLE
BY SHERRY DEAN CURRERI
Google is working to bridge the worlds of technology, art and commerce to turn its YouTube into a media platform rivaling television in terms of content, viewership and revenue. YouTube can easily boast the title of “world’s most popular video website,” but it is now investing to become more than a place to go for short, quirky videos viewed on a computer. Netflix veteran Robert Kyncl has been hired as Google’s VP of TV and Film Entertainment to rapidly increase the content flow. “We want to make YouTube’s content offering so attractive that viewers spend a lot more time with us than they do today,” says Kyncl. “YouTube is an enormous online video platform, at the same time, it represents only 1% of TV consumption today, as measured by time spent watching. Our goal is to grow that share by adding content and growing the devices on which you can watch YouTube. Imagine the growth we have ahead of us.”
“We have two distinct buckets of content on YouTube. The first is content created for primary distribution on YouTube (or the Internet more broadly), whether created by users or professionals. Here, YouTube expands traditional definitions of content. The second is content created for other plat- forms, such as TV, theaters, etc. Here, YouTube is one of several platforms where content is available, but we expand the global audience for such content. Both of these activities are market expansive, which is great for the content industry.”
Indeed, user-generated videos are an unparalleled phenomenon comprising a large portion of the approximately 48 hours of content uploaded to the site every minute. “We have a lot of incredibly smart people figuring out better ways to allow people to discover that content and find increasingly better ways to monetize it.”
Having just moved to new offices in Beverly Hills, Kyncl has easy access to all types of creators, from those primarily focused on the web, to household names we know from TV and theaters. “Engaging this commu- nity at what it does best -- the artistic side of the business -- frees Google to concentrate on what it does best - technology,” Kyncl says.
“The way to think about Google in general and specifically about YouTube in this case, is that we’re a technology company. We strive to quantify everything we do. A lot of content creation is a gut feeling type of a process -- having a golden ear
or golden eye and an understanding of talent. These things are intangible -- they’re things you can’t quantify. Despite the democratizing influence of YouTube in recent years when it comes to content distribution, big media cities such as Los Angeles, New York, London, and Tokyo attract talent that has a great track record when it comes to content creation and there is a significant infrastructure built around it. These individuals and companies are well-suited to continue to focus on that aspect of the business. I don’t think you’ll find YouTube in the content creation business, because it would mean that we’d need to move from technology to art and that’s just not in our DNA. Our DNA is technology. We infuse some art in it, but technology prevails. Content creators place more emphasis on art, so when we work together there’s a great symbiosis of complementary skill sets. Our goal is to create great, efficient platforms over which the wonderful stories -- whether entertaining or utility- focused -- created by all kinds of creators, are brought to large audiences.
“My job is straddling both worlds- -Silicon Valley and Hollywood. My value is in the translation of art to technology, and vice versa, to make sure there is a marriage between the two so that commerce and value exchange can happen between us and our content partners and the users of our platforms, whether YouTube, Android or Google TV are happy.”
The 40 year-old Kyncl was raised with a strong emphasis on the arts and sports, having grown up in the Czech Republic, attending public schools. “There is a saying that every Czech is a musician,” he laughs. Kyncl studied classical guitar in school and cello privately. He also learned to paint in public school. “There was a lot of emphasis on art in our schools, and our work was even featured in local museums. Despite the iron curtain, it was a great way to grow up.”
A brave soul, Kyncl left the Czech Republic some 20 years ago by himself, becoming a camp counselor in Charlottesville, Virginia. He trekked to upstate New York for col- lege, and when he was still unclear about what he wanted to do with his life, headed to California for business school.
Kyncl switched to night classes when he landed a job in the mail-room of a mid-size talent agency, eventually becoming an assistant agent, and starting to work his way up.
It was when he joined the Mutual Film Company, working for co- owner Gary Levinsohn that “things started getting interesting.” While there, he got exposed to the back- end of the entertainment business: big budget co-financing and international sales. “I think that leap from the front to the back of the business just felt very natural to me.”
Subsequent positions at HBO International in New York and at a web-based children’s programming company broadened his experience with licensing, striking partnerships, building businesses, fundraising, and provided him with large exposure to venture capitalists.
In 2003, he met Ted Sarandos and Reed Hastings of Netflix, who, as Kyncl puts it, “graciously decided to take me on.” He explains, “I had no experience in DVD distribution. It wound up being an incredible ride - seven years of building a rapidly growing business. In early 2005, naively, I raised my hand and said ‘I’ll take on electronic distribution,’ (as we then called what later became streaming), which was most uncertain at that time. I went from making desperate calls in an effort to get rights to content, to building the largest online streaming service in the US in less than 5 years. It became an incredible rocket ship and I was truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a part of it.”
The decision to leave Netflix for Google was a tough one. “Having spent a lot of time with Salar Kamangar (CEO of YouTube) last summer, I realized working on content acquisition at YouTube was going to be another complex, multi-year building activity. The bigger the potential, the harder it is. Because of its massive, global distribution and hundreds of mil- lions of users worldwide, YouTube is a company of extraordinary impact that’s just scratching the surface of what it can become. “There is a lot of work to be done and luckily, the tailwind is behind us. It was essential for me to start now for two reasons: 1, the future of video is being decided in the next few years and 2, if I waited a few more years, I would not have the energy and patience to go through this again.”
Kyncl likes to think of YouTube as a platform, rather than a service itself.
“For us, it starts with user-generated content and a lot of folks building content for YouTube, as well as attracting a lot of other storytellers who have been creating for other platforms. A lot of people do a lot of creative work for us, one way or another. What we have to make sure of is that all people involved get compen- sated fairly and well. We are on a great trajectory of cracking it - and as we do, it becomes truly powerful. When YouTube becomes a place where a lot of people make a lot of money doing things they’re truly passionate about that delight viewers, that gets me excited.”
“YouTube has certain distinct advantages over television,” mentions Kyncl, “We don’t have shelf space limitations so we can offer a platform addressing a greater variety of interests, globally.”
“Besides working on growing YouTube, and securing content for Android and Google TV, Kyncl is very involved with raising
his two daughters, ages 8 and 11, making sure they are well- rounded kids.”. He plays tennis with them, takes them skiing, helps with home work over video conference/phone when away and has both girls stop by the YouTube offices once in a while on Friday afternoons to see what it’s like to work. Unfortunately for him, they may get a slightly different view of “work” than most Americans do: free food, lots of cutting-edge technology and very Googley, quirky offices. Who wouldn’t like to work there?! His wife, who is from the Dominican Republic, is the architect of their family, juggling the intense travel of her husband while making sure the children not only do well in school and sports, but also in music, playing piano, and languages, learning her native tongue, Spanish. As a couple, Kyncl and his wife prioritize fun and keep- ing their family down-to-earth. “I grew up behind the iron curtain; my wife grew up in a third world country and we are raising our daughters in Beverly Hills. We are certainly on our toes at all times, as our youth experiences simply don’t apply here. We try to stay grounded and travel abroad as often as possible to give the girls exposure to other parts of the world so they appreciate what they have. It’s working.”
As for his career, Kyncl is very appreciative of the opportunities he’s received. “If you get to work for both Netflix and Google in your lifetime, you are truly blessed. There is excellence and beauty in what I am part of and that’s a wonderful feeling.”