Following YouTube’s announcement today of it’s all-in-one music and video streaming subscription service YouTube Red, Billboard caught up with the company’s chief business officer Robert Kyncl to find out more — including his favorite Bee Gees remix.
Billboard: Have you road tested the music app and what did you look up on the app?
Robert Kyncl: We test everything. I’ve been using the app for like two months. It’s really interesting, the thing it makes me do most is just constantly look at my station. There’s all these bells and whistles throughout the app, and the thing that I use the most is the very first thing that you see on the home screen — Your Station. As I listen to things, I keep on liking them, which it shows up in the Like tab, which is great because then it becomes a playlist of all the stuff that you love. But also it learns from it and it’s like a stream of things that just gets better and better for you. I get in my car and press the button and it plays.
Just for example, what might be something that plays of your station?
I’ll just show you this [pulls out phone] — it’s a Bee Gees remix. This is the thing it’s hard to find in other places. Look, here, recently played —
Wait, that’s the EDM version of “Staying Alive”
This is like, so amazing, this is so good. The amazing thing is that it’s now playing other songs based on that. The main difference with this the way i like to say it is the music never stops. Things are offline if you pay for the YouTube Red membership things are automatically offline for you. So you just come and you click and you play and you don’t have to think, “Oh, do I need to download this playlist? Or “Now I have to un-download it because somebody else signed into my account like my daughter.” So that’s my favorite song these days. So it never stops whether you’re online whether or offline it’s just morphs with you so that’s my new great listening experience.
Are you playing with the free version right now?
I’m playing the free version now. I’m switching back and forth. So what Manuel [Bronstein, director of product management for YouTube Music] was showing you [during the presentation], he had a button here at the top had the offline so you can flip that button and everything happens behind the scenes so you don’t have to do anything — but I don’t have it here.
You brought up your daughter, do you think at some point you will have family subscriptions?
You’ll see that coming from us eventually as well. It’s all just a matter of getting all the features done for version one which isn’t easy. But yeah, it’s on the road map.
What about the opportunity to pay for a download on top of your subscription?
You can today, and you will be able to do that through Google Play, so we’re bringing all of that together.
Do you have any idea about the numbers Red will launch with, bringing Google Play subscribers along?
Publicist: We don’t know what those numberers are we’ll have to check.
Robert: A very large number, but I’m trying to stay away from making those kinds of projections — this is a really hard business to make work, and quite unpredictable. The thing that we know is that we have well over a billion people coming to us every single month. So you can keep on fine-tuning the experience and learn from them and improve it. So today what we’re doing is were putting a lot of different features into the subscription. We’re playing with the music app a lot, which will launch later this year, so we’re still perfecting it. We want people to enjoy music this way and do a lot more listening and then make sure we’re compensating the people who make it really well so that they keep on doing a lot more of it.
How did it go with the licensing for this new service, were there any issues with the indies?
So, we worked on music licenses a while back for YouTube, we have our cycle every few years where we renew our agreements both with the majors and the indies and individuals. We’ve had those rights secured, so what we focused on this year was expansion into the non-music content rights. That was most of our effort this year. Now that we have it all, we could finally launch the service in a way that makes most sense for the user, which is the most important thing and hopefully we build it to a larger scale.
How will this new service impact YouTube’s ability to upstream its artists into the greater music industry, which you’ve been doing for some time now? Will that change with the new service?
We don’t think so. What we know is that each of the numbers are getting bigger. The number of people who are breaking out is getting bigger and the size of their break out is getting bigger — and so everything is getting bigger. And when that is happening, when you see that kind of velocity, what you want to do is invest into it and make sure you’re driving awareness and you’re driving revenue. For us we can do it in two ways: through ads — we’ve been doing it that and will continue to do that. And now we’re adding the paid membership, so suddenly introducing a dual-revenue stream option which I think is really exciting for anybody who is publishing to YouTube. From now on when you publish onto YouTube you have two revenue streams.
So nothing is going to change with your relationship with the music industry.
No, we’re leaning into the industry more than ever.
I always wonder if or when YouTube might start its own music label or sign artists?
I think there is a lot of value that music managers, agents and labels bring. We can’t do everything and we have to focus on the thing that we bring to bear, which is the scale of distribution and scale of monetization. If we do those two things well, then people will continue to make music and upload it to YouTube and delight the world with it. And there are other people who perform other functions that enhance their businesses, whether it’s through touring, sponsorships or A&R. I think everyone has to play to their own strengths and hopefully we’re doing that.