YouTube Execs Talk Logan Paul's "Unfortunate Missteps," Potential Redemption

Robert Kyncl GETTY  - H 2016
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

YouTube executives made the trek to Pasadena on Saturday for their semi-annual turn in front of reporters at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. But they had little opportunity to talk up their new shows during their time on the hot seat. 

Instead, the focus was squarely on Logan Paul, the YouTube star who on Dec. 31 posted a video that showed images of a man who had committed suicide. The backlash to the video has been fierce. Paul ultimately took the post down and hasn't updated his vlog in more than 10 days. Meanwhile, YouTube on Wednesday announced that it had put all of Paul's upcoming original projects on hold — including a sequel to his popular sci-fi film The Thinning — and had dropped him from their premium advertising tier, Google Preferred. 

Even so, the first question on Saturday was about Paul's future with YouTube. "Thank you for making it the first question so we can get it out of the way," responded chief business officer Robert Kyncl, before explaining that a final decision on Paul had not been made. "We believe he's made missteps, unfortunate missteps. He's expressed remorse very quickly and is learning from the experience. Actions should speak louder than words. Logan has the opportunity to prove that."

But that wasn't the end of the Paul talk, as he continued to come up during the half-hour Q&A. 

What has YouTube learned from the experience? Kyncl sidestepped the question a bit, noting, "I'm not sure there's much difference between YouTube and a TV network or any other company. When you work with real-life people, real-life situations can happen at any time. What's important is that you develop a set of principles and community guidelines that you adhere to." 

But the Paul experience is about more than one creator who made a mistake. It comes after a rocky few months for YouTube, during which it has come under fire for its inability to monitor Russian propaganda and exploitative children's content. Many advertisers have expressed their frustration about their videos appearing alongside inappropriate content, some of whom have pulled their ads from the platform. 

In early December, before Paul posted his video, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote in a blog post that the company was working on solutions for advertisers and creators, including hiring a larger content moderation team. Kyncl declined to comment further on what some of those changes could entail. "I can't announce that today," he said, responding to a question about how YouTube will allay advertiser concerns. "But there will be forthcoming changes that will achieve that."

One topic that YouTube executives seemed more eager to talk about was diversity. Content chief Susanne Daniels started her prepared remarks by highlighting that representation has been important to her since she took over the task of developing projects for YouTube Red, the streamer's ad-free subscription service. 

The upcoming drama series Step Up: High Water, Impulse and Origin were all written and produced by women, she noted. Meanwhile, high school series Youth & Consequences exclusively hired female directors. Of the four series being promoted at TCA (Best Shot, Impulse, Youth & Consequences and Step Up), 70 percent of episodes were directed by women.  

"Female directors haven't had as many opportunities," said Daniels. "I've found that you have to make it a conscious effort to do it ... otherwise, it's not going to happen." 

Daniels also fielded a question about Cobra Kai, YouTube Red's high-profile Karate Kid sequel, noting that it would be faithful to its source material and provide a next-generation look at the characters. Give YouTube's work on Step Up and Karate Kid, the conversation turned to Daniels' interest in other film adaptations. "I can't say that I have any in development right now, but I'm certainly always open to working on that type of content," she explained, noting that she has always loved Clueless but "didn't love the TV adaptation. "A hit movie doesn't necessarily mean a hit TV series."