Meet YouTube’s the new boss, same as the old boss

YouTube Chief Executive Officer Susan Wojcicki announced her surprise departure from Google’s media arm. Her successor surprised no one: Neal Mohan, YouTube’s clear No. 2.
Like Wojcicki, Mohan is virtually unknown outside of Silicon Valley. He also came up through Google’s powerful advertising division. And he’s a blue-blooded Googler — a staid, technical operator unlikely to take YouTube in dramatically different directions. “It’s hard to find anyone much better qualified,’’ says Rob Norman, a veteran ad agency executive.
Wojcicki brought Mohan to YouTube in 2015 to run its product. The pair had spent years overseeing Google’s sprawling display ad operation, the machinery that powers most of YouTube’s business. Mohan joined Google in 2008 with the acquisition of the ad-tech juggernaut DoubleClick. He knows advertisers very well. “He’s been around forever,’’ says Jonathan Nelson, CEO of ad agency Omnicom Digital. “He understands the platform because he built it.”
Starting around 2017, YouTube’s star creators began to know Mohan, too. YouTube was then dealing with brutal ad boycotts over vile videos, a crisis that gutted the income for many of its creators. Mohan started to join Wojcicki on stage at events and in private meetings to address creator concerns.
“This is a logical, stable succession plan and definitely points to no big immediate changes,’’ Hank Green, a prominent YouTuber, tweeted on Thursday.
That’s because YouTube already made its big changes in recent years. The platform ditched plans to rival Netflix with original shows, shuttling resources instead to take on TikTok with short-form video. Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s longtime Hollywood chief and another Wojcicki lieutenant, left last year. He was replaced by a Google ads manager.
Wojcicki, Google employee No. 16, created the playbook for the under-the-radar executive. Unlike Sheryl Sandberg, Wojcicki barely built a public persona. She didn’t shine on stages. When I researched my book on YouTube’s history, I struggled to find people who worked at YouTube who felt like they knew her well at all. Norman couldn’t think of a personal anecdote about interacting with YouTube’s boss. “That’s pretty telling,” he says. “Maybe she didn’t need to do the talking.’’
Mohan has a similar vibe. In interviews, he’s very good at giving long-winded answers with little substance. At YouTube events full of young, boisterous online personalities, Mohan often slinks in the back, wearing a suit jacket. A decade ago, reports surfaced that Google gave him a $100 million contract not to deflect for Twitter, which caused Google colleagues to tease him as the “$100 million man.” (Mohan, I was told, didn’t love that.)
Wojcicki’s low profile probably helped YouTube evade the same blistering criticism Facebook has received. She never testified on Capitol Hill alongside other social media honchos. Amid the uproar of Facebook and Twitter returning frozen accounts to Donald Trump, few have complained that Trump remains locked out of YouTube.
“Somehow, Wojcicki managed to stay out of the spotlight on a lot of controversial issues,” says Evelyn Douek, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School and frequent YouTube critic. “It will be interesting to see if Mohan has the same magic touch.”
Mohan will be aware of YouTube’s political problems. Five years ago, during one of YouTube’s ad crisis, he expanded his responsibilities, adding oversight of YouTube’s policy teams. That includes any messes YouTube will face with the 2024 election and a critical Supreme Court case. And any ways YouTube might be drawn into the US government lawsuit to break Google’s ads business apart.

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