YouTube’s Head of Gaming Outlines Exclusive Creator Deals, Strategy Under New CEO

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In his first open letter to the YouTube community this week, newly appointed CEO Neal Mohan dropped an eye-popping statistic about YouTube’s gaming efforts: Total views for gaming-related content crossed 2 trillion during the year. And as of Dec. 2022, a YouTube rep told The Hollywood Reporter that gaming-related content brought in more than 500 million logged-in daily active viewers and more than 120 billion hours of watch time.

Suffice to say that gaming content — which can span livestreams to traditional on-demand video — is massively popular on YouTube, which launched YouTube Gaming nearly eight years ago to compete with Amazon’s Twitch. Since then, the division has attracted top Twitch talent like Ludwig (Ludwig Ahgren), DrLupo (Benjamin Lupo), TimTheTatman (Tim Betar), Valkyrae (Rachell Hofstetter), Myth (Ali Kabbani), CouRage (Jack Dunlop) and LazarBeam (Lannan Eacott) for exclusive deals and brought gaming-friendly features like channel memberships and super chat to the main YouTube experience.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

YouTube Gaming has also undergone leadership changes following the exits last year of YouTube’s global head of gaming, Ryan Wyatt, and global head of gaming creators, Lester Chen. To succeed Wyatt, YouTube brought in former Google Play and Meta executive Leo Olebe to lead the division.

THR spoke with Olebe about the company’s exclusive deal model, the latest YouTube Gaming stats and YouTube’s new CEO, Neal Mohan.

How has the transition been [from Susan Wojcicki to new CEO Neal Mohan]? What are your thoughts on where Neal is hoping gaming will go for the platform?

Susan is amazing and her legacy is incomparable and you couldn’t ask for a better executive leader, mentor, example for just what it means to be great and to be kind and to care and to have amazing business acumen and build something incredible. Neal has been part of that entire journey and a very significant part of it, so I’m excited. I think Neal is great.

When I was interviewing for this role, I had lots of conversations with Neal about, you know, are you into gaming? Are you excited about gaming? The answer is yes. As the new guy, of course, it’s what I’m really excited to hear. But the reality is, is that Neal has been around for a long time. He understands the product, he understands the business. He has great experience and expertise to bring.

He’s also a big fan of gaming and gets it [that] most people in the world today are gamers; it shows up in every single Gen-Z household you can imagine. Neal understands those things and he’s also going to push us to be better and to think about what the next opportunity is, so I’m bullish. I’m really excited. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

I know you’re still relatively new to the role, but there’s been some massive growth in the past few years for YouTube Gaming. What do these numbers mean?

We announced that it’s more than 500 million people a day coming here to watch gaming video. It’s 2 trillion gaming views last year, over 120 billion hours of content. To me, this stuff all just speaks to how important gaming is to YouTube, how integral gaming is to culture. I find it both fascinating and exciting and just an honor to be a part of it.

When you say “gaming hours,” how exactly are you measuring that?

It’s when people come in and watch content on YouTube that’s gaming related content. It’s literally like a pure measurement of how much time are they spending? That could be anything from watching esports to watching people play games to watching VOD to watch Shorts content.

Part of the forward momentum of YouTube Gaming has been the major creator deals that you guys have done. How is YouTube thinking about that exclusivity model because, for the most part, the general sentiment is that it’s good [for creators] to be on all platforms and to diversify their followings.

From a creator’s perspective, the thing that I believe is pretty strong and and awesome about the YouTube opportunity is the ability to say, my main thing might be live streaming, or my main thing might be esports, but then I can also create video on demand, I can also create these short-form videos.

Content builds upon content. So if you go live for a couple of hours, you’re playing a great game, it turns into archived live footage. Then you have the opportunity to trim that down or expand on it, add whatever you want to it, and then turn it into a VOD or you can turn it into a Short. And once you create that VOD, your live is there in perpetuity just in like an archived format. It’s a real opportunity to build a great business over time, as well as to like build your community.

Is there one place in the sphere of social media that’s all things to all people? Probably not. But are we constantly trying to do the best job that we can to be an incredible place for creators to execute their craft? Absolutely.

Aside from the YouTube Partner Program, you guys have been experimenting more with memberships and other ways that viewers can directly support their favorite creators. Where do you see the split between the two moving as you continue to execute your plan for YouTube Gaming?

It’s a constant balance, so I can’t say it’s going to be this split or that percentage or this is how things are going to move and change over the time, because it’s something that is probably a constant revolving door of conversations on what makes the most sense for the business and various individuals.

What’s a piece of feedback that you’ve been hearing repeatedly from some of the creators who are doing these exclusive deals with YouTube?

The creators that we have deals with are really concerned about the overall creator economy and the creator ecosystem, and what I mean by concerned is, they want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to be successful.

Other things that we’re working on are things like, how do we make it easier to go from clips into Shorts? How do we make it easier to grow your community through memberships? We get a lot of feedback about things that are broken and need to be fixed in real time. I think one of the great benefits of having these creators who are very vocal and avid users of the platform is them having that opportunity to say hey, this isn’t what’s working and this is what’s working really, really well. And they go straight out — go watch the Ludwig video where he breaks down everything of, like, was this a good move for me to come over to the platform? It yielded a positive result, I’m happy to say, but the more direct feedback we can get, the better we can all be together.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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