At YouTube, there are two kinds of days. There are days when they celebrate the viral popularity of superhero parody videos that register millions of views. Then there are days when they deal with legal challenges to their policies from governments around the world. Robert Kyncl calls these ‘sugar and broccoli’ days, respectively.
Kyncl, class of ‘95, serves as the chief business officer for the Google-owned company. On Thursday, April 28, Kyncl spoke in the eighth annual SUNY New Paltz Distinguished Speaker Series, delivering a lecture entitled, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” in Lecture Center rooms 100 and 102.
SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian introduced Kyncl to an audience comprised of faculty, students and distinguished alumni. Christian spoke highly of Kyncl’s involvement with SUNY New Paltz, praising the alumni get-together he hosted at his home in Los Angeles last fall.
“People ask me if I succeeded because of New Paltz or in spite of it,” Kyncl said. “It’s an intriguing question and I would have to say the answer is probably both.”
Speaking about how he views the constantly changing job market, Kyncl said he gains perspective through his 16-year-old daughter, who is beginning the college search. While admitting that education is important, Kyncl does not view it as a prerequisite to success, listing many technology icons who have had little to no formal education. He said that the combination of passion and education served as his personal path to success.
“Growing up in Czechoslovakia, I have spent one half of my life under communist rule and one half in a capitalist system,” Kyncl said. “For me, New Paltz was my way to America. I’m proud to work for a company that spreads information across the world. It goes beyond our role as an entertainment company.”
Kyncl also highlighted YouTube’s role in the evolving media market, stating that his prior work at Netflix prepared him for YouTube’s mission to “encourage production and aggregate audiences.” Analogizing the flattening of the media market to a train ride from Switzerland to India, Kyncl stated that unlimited noise helps brands stand out as consumers are attracted to a solid commodity.
“The move from small and organized to large and chaotic depends on each industry,” Kyncl said. “Music went there quick and the TV and movie industries are going there soon, too. The noise level is only increasing. Right now, only a small fraction of TV is Internet programming, but the diversity of content is amazing.”
Kyncl compared Hollywood to Microsoft, arguing that both were crafted in a disconnected world and have struggled to build outside of their skillset. YouTube, meanwhile, has cultivated a new audience who have actually benefitted financially alongside the company. The account Cute Girl’s Hairstyles, which began when a middle class mother started making simple how-to videos now has over 4 million followers. Kyncl cited this as an example of how regular people become self-empowered by the platform they offer and make significant advertisement money by partnering with YouTube.
Additionally, Kyncl praised YouTube’s integrity in the face of constant legal action and political opposition around the world. In 2012, in the wake of the deadly attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, the U.S. government asked YouTube to remove a video entitled, “Innocence of Muslims,” claiming that it incited the violence. YouTube refused to do so and were later vindicated after multiple investigations revealed that the video had nothing to do with the attacks.
“If something we do is against the law, then we will change our ways to comply with the law,” Kyncl said. “However, if it isn’t then we won’t do anything about it. Scaling openness is difficult but we have to contend with the downside of our business.”