Thursday (last week) February 16th, 2023, the tech world was abuzz with news of big changes at YouTube, as longtime CEO Susan Wojcicki steps down from her role and leaves Google. In an announcement on the YouTube blog, Wojcicki revealed that she will be stepping down to “start a new chapter focused on my family, health, and personal projects I’m passionate about.” The new leader of YouTube will be Neal Mohan, one of Wojcicki’s longtime lieutenants who has worked at Google for 15 years.
Wojcicki is a key figure in the history of Google, having been employee No. 16. A year before she was hired, Wojcicki famously rented her parents’ garage to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, where they set up their first office. Wojcicki has been with the company for 25 years, basically its entire history. Her first role was Google’s first marketing manager in 1999, and in 2003 she became Google AdSense’s first product manager. Wojcicki is credited with the idea to buy YouTube in 2006 and managed that $1.65 billion acquisition as well as the $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick the next year. By 2014 she was CEO of the world’s biggest video site.
Under Wojcicki’s leadership, YouTube underwent a dramatic expansion via its pivot to multiple vertical content apps starting in 2015. This included the launch of the ad-free YouTube Premium, in-house “YouTube Originals” content, YouTube Music, YouTube Gaming, and YouTube Kids. The cable TV replacement service YouTube TV launched in 2017, the Snapchat clone YouTube Stories launched in 2018, and the TikTok clone YouTube Shorts launched in 2021. Late last year, YouTube set itself up to be a pillar of the sports world with a huge $2 billion-a-year deal for NFL Sunday Ticket.
Despite all these product launches, not all of them have been successful. YouTube Originals, YouTube Gaming, and YouTube Stores are all dead. In addition, YouTube’s decision to remove the dislike counter in 2021 has been a particular sore spot with the user base. The site’s content moderation policies are also frequently incorrectly enforced and confusing, with creators having little recourse to deal with problems.
Wojcicki is leaving YouTube at a time when its dominance of video is being threatened by the popular China-based app TikTok. The app is ultra-popular with young people, and ages 4 through 18 reportedly spend more time on TikTok than YouTube. TikTok started as an even more bite-sized version of YouTube, with short videos and an addictive swipe interface on phones. Since it has gained traction, the service quickly expanded to 10-minute video limits, and today the desktop website looks like an almost exact copy of YouTube. Video run times could be uncapped at any moment, and once that happens, there won’t be much of a difference between the two core video offerings—assuming TikTok doesn’t get banned by the US government first.
Wojcicki will be sticking around for “the short term” to help with the transition, and while she eventually won’t have a day-to-day role at Google, Wojcicki says she’s “agreed with Sundar to take on an advisory role across Google and Alphabet.”
In conclusion, Wojcicki’s departure from YouTube marks the end of an era for the world’s largest video site. Under her leadership, YouTube became a household name and an indispensable part of internet culture. While she faced many controversies and challenges, she managed to steer YouTube through these tumultuous times and create a platform that is still going strong today. As she steps down, we can only wait and see what happens next with YouTube and the future of the company.