YouTube has grown into an online video empire. In his first interview as the site’s engineering chief, Matthew Mengerink discusses virtual reality, making money and stepping into the role during trying times for YouTube’s engineers.
Soon after Matthew Mengerink became YouTube’s engineering chief a few weeks ago, he got a taste of some of the virtual reality footage Google has been working on but hasn’t yet released to the public.
“I saw stuff that just melted my brain,” Mengerink said Tuesday in his first interview since joining the Google-owned video site.
He won’t go into detail about what he saw but gives general examples of the kinds of things VR can do, like taking you cycling through the Alps while you’re really just on your exercise bike. Or letting you stomp around the city pretending to be Godzilla.
The world’s top tech companies, from Facebook to Samsung, have become enamored with virtual reality. Once mostly the dream of video game makers, Silicon Valley has expanded the vision for the technology, an industry worth an estimated $7 billion.
“That’s the future technology of YouTube,” said Mengerink. “Those are the table stakes: How do you change the way people look at things?”
It’s probably not exactly the way the one billion people who visit the site every month think of YouTube. The juggernaut video service, which Google acquired in 2006, is known for its massive haul of cat videos, sports rants and makeup tutorials. But all of that is evolving as the site expands and becomes more ambitious.
On Wednesday, Google is launching YouTube Red, a subscription version of the service that nixes the ads and gives you access to original shows and movies from top YouTube talent for $10 a month. In August, Google launched YouTube Gaming, a hub dedicated to video game-related content. Google, which recently restructured as a holding company, also plans to place the streaming media site at the heart of its virtual reality efforts.
It’s not obvious, but Mengerink, a 43-year-old veteran of eBay and PayPal, said his background makes him well-suited for the top engineering job at YouTube. After all, a career at e-commerce companies doesn’t automatically make you the right person to make sure people’s video streams don’t buffer incessantly.
As YouTube grows and looks for more ways to make money, Mengerink said there are similarities in maintaining sites like eBay and YouTube. eBay has various levels of sellers, from one-off dealers to mom and pop shops, as well as buyers. YouTube has viral video-seekers, along with casual video uploaders and creators who want to make money.
“We need to make sure that monetization doesn’t interfere with the joy of watching videos,” he said. “That’s a hard balance to strike.”