YouTube Chief Business Officer Says Careers ‘Aren’t Always Linear’

YouTube’s chief business officer Mary Ellen Coe often gets asked about how to break into the media industry. One observation she’s made in talking with members of younger generations is that they have “a sense that careers are linear.”

“People will say, ‘Well, I’d like to be a CEO one day’ and I always share that careers are long and they are not always linear,” she told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View. “What are you finding inspiring? What are you passionate about? Opportunities present themselves and being open to an opportunity that wasn’t necessarily planned at the time can take you off on a new path of growth.”

Coe has worked in tech and media for over 30 years. She made the jump to YouTube about a year ago after a decade spent in Google’s ads operations working with small and medium-sized businesses. She’s been taking YouTube past its “broadcast yourself” roots in desktop web video: YouTube TV has crossed over 5 million subscribers and trial users in five years, while YouTube Shorts is being watched by over 2 billion logged in users every month and averaging over 50 billion daily views.

She’s also on the board of directors for the pharmaceutical giant Merck — which seeems like one of those not-so-linear opportunities.

“When [then-Merck CEO] Ken Frazier reached out to me, I thought to myself ‘Well, pharmaceuticals, what could I add to that equation?'” she recalled. “And we talked a lot about technology transformation, digital transformation, many of the themes that I had experienced in my over a decade of consulting, management consulting and in the tech industry and I’ve been on that board for four years now.”

She now sees parallels between tech and pharmaceuticals — for example, the regulatory environment they contend with — and benefits from that fresh perspective.

“I think you can’t underestimate that varied experiences, whether they be different functional experiences or different industry experiences, can really be a catalyst for new thinking in any role,” she said.

In advancing one’s career, Coe says its crucial to balance what’s best for you individually and your team.

“Ultimately, as people get more senior in their careers, opportunities happen more through referrals,” she said. “If you keep a mindset of how am I having an impact on the team and how am I being a good partner to my team as we have impact together on the business, people will naturally remember that.

“That being said, you also have to think about what’s good for you in terms of what are you going to wake up every morning feeling excited about, and that may take some time to figure out. We all work hard and that is so much easier when you are feeling very passionate and excited about the impact you’re having.”

Check out the rest of TheWrap’s conversation with Coe below.

What trends are people not paying enough attention to?
User-generated content and the importance of that to users. We are the largest global platform for users and we have billions of users every day around the world.

We always say quality is in the eye of the user. We ultimately would say the user defines premium by what they would like to watch. MrBeast, for example, his average video reaches an audience of a Netflix top 10 show. “Mythical Morning Show” has been on for 10 years and has a broader audience than any of the morning shows that are broadcast. There is really, really strong demand, particularly among Gen Z.

We see these creators as businesses and it’s our job to help them use the platform, to have thriving and healthy businesses, to reach audiences and to really grow their businesses.

YouTube accounted for 9% of streaming viewership in Nielsen’s latest Gauge report. How do you view competition in the streaming space and do you see services like Netflix and Disney+ as direct competitors?
They’re really our partners. If you follow the user, you can use YouTube TV to find any of the linear channels you’re interested in, you can go to primetime channels to get some of the specific streaming brands. We have 40 primetime channels services, “NFL Sunday Ticket” is now going to be featured both on YouTube TV and primetime channels.

Paramount and Disney are both incredibly important and close partners of ours, Netflix as well. The way we look at it, we offer an array of business models, they can stream through primetime channels, we offer TVOD models, we host linear on YouTube TV. So I think that is one of the things that our partners really value in us is that we have this versatility of business models that makes great economic sense for them and gives them the ability to reach their audiences in different ways.

How has Disney’s carriage dispute with Charter affected sign-ups to YouTube TV ahead of the start of the NFL Sunday Ticket?
We are in the window of sign-ups, so I can’t uniquely speak to what is attributable to the Disney and Charter situation.

I will say that it speaks to how everyone wants to make sure their users have a great experience, and I think their confidence in recommending YouTube TV to fans and to their users demonstrates that they understand that it is a great place to watch all the content they are missing in this short-term window.

Our subscriptions business is experiencing incredible growth and “NFL Sunday Ticket” is going to be a big inflection point for that.

What is your outlook for YouTube over the next three to five years?
One of the things that was really intriguing to me in coming to YouTube was that there was an incredible acceleration with short-form video, both on creation and consumption. We have really seen this growth of the creator economy, and our creators are like media moguls or small businesses. They’re both directors and screenplay writers. Many of them actually have audience reach that rivals Netflix Top 10 shows.

We are very much a global platform. Many of our creators, as well as other content partners, want to expand internationally. We have a really strong subscription business, not just on YouTube TV, which is a U.S.-only business, but YouTube Music and Premium is over 80 million subscribers now and rapidly growing. So a really, really important growth driver for us on subscriptions and it’s a very global business. We still have markets to expand into internationally which will continue to fuel that growth.

We’re also expanding our international primetime channels as well. There’s a significant runway to expand. We launched in Germany just a few months ago, and we have many other markets slated for the next three to five years.

We continue to be committed to our creators with lots of innovation on creation capabilities. Google is one of the leaders in the generative AI space and using that to make sure that users are able to find their favorite content. So we want creators to have access to seamless and easy creation, whether you’re just getting started or whether you’re a MrBeast and you’re dubbing in 12 languages from around the world. So all of that kind of investment in innovation is really we think that will fuel great growth on the platform.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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