Media Mavens

Media Mavens: Robert Kyncl, Google

Tasked With Leading Search Giant's Charge Into Content-Based Platform Wars, Veteran Exec Is Ready for Battle

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When Google appointed a head of TV and film last year, it was a sign that changes were afoot. If Google is to compete in the platform wars, be it YouTube on TV screens or Android on tablets and phones, it will need content, and that 's where former Netflix exec Robert Kyncl comes in.

Robert Kyncl, Google
Robert Kyncl, Google

Mr. Kyncl's first big project is one he's not talking about; indeed it's one that Google itself has yet to acknowledge. That's the $100 million effort to seed curated "channels" on YouTube that will have TV-like appeal to viewers and to advertisers. While this is still a big secret in Mountain View, it's an open secret in Hollywood, where it's hard to find anyone who hasn't had at least exploratory talks with Mr. Kyncl and his team.

The big difference between this effort to bring profess-ional-grade entertainment to YouTube and prior efforts is that production companies, studios and startups are actually clamoring to be among the anointed few to go into business with YouTube, not just for the startup funds (YouTube is expecting a return on those) but for the chance to help YouTube invent the linear TV network of the future.

Part of the difference is in Mr. Kyncl's approach. He's not here to supplant TV or break the cable model—that will happen soon enough on its own. Rather, he's about building something different, uniquely tailored to a new medium and its native economics. "We are massive but we are tiny in the TV space," Mr. Kyncl said in an interview. "That means two things: One, that we are the small guy and we have to behave like the small guy, and two, we have massive upside because the industry is changing and it is moving from a closed to an open system."

Smartphones and tablets have already changed entertainment, and a revolution is coming to the TV screen as well, except no one knows for sure what that will look like. Already consumers have many options beyond cable TV, and YouTube has a unique role to fill in that emerging ecosystem. "I look at content coming from great storytellers; to me it's not about which platform or the size of the company providing it to you. What we are trying to do is make [YouTube] more attractive to creators of all types," he said.

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