×

Tim Shey, Former YouTube Programming Exec, Joins Duolingo (EXCLUSIVE)

Tim Shey, most recently head of YouTube’s scripted original programming, has moved back into the startup world after leaving Google earlier this year.

Shey has been hired at language-learning app startup Duolingo, where he’s head of studios and content. Duolingo offers courses in 31 different languages, available in an ad-supported free version as well as a premium subscription version that starts at $9.99 per month. The company says it has more than 200 million users worldwide.

“I had a really amazing seven years at Google and YouTube,” Shey told Variety. “I wanted to see what other challenges were out there and get back into a startup environment… I always wanted to take another shot at building out a new studio from scratch.”

Shey said he was already a fan of the app and the company, and jumped at the opportunity to “use content and storytelling to make a meaningful impact on the way people learn.”

Prior to Shey’s arrival, Duolingo had launched several original content initiatives. Those include Duolingo Stories — short stories designed to reinforce language comprehension — and its Spanish Podcast with simple stories en Español, with season 2 det to debut June 28. In addition, the company also produced a 30-minute documentary film, “Something Like Home,” about Syrian refugees and how language informs their experience that it plans to release June 20 (World Refugee Day) on YouTube and other films. The film was directed by Pittsburgh-based photographer Justin Merriman.

Shey will focus on developing and product “different kinds of engaging content that can get people to get to fluency.” Those will span new content formats and range across all levels of language proficiency. He’s also interested in content that helps people learn a language by telling stories about culture, including history, music, food, travel, and fiction.

“This year is going to be about trying a number of things and then seeing what works,” Shey said.

Shey is one of the founding executives on YouTube’s original programming team, formed in 2014. Scripted programming developed and launched by his team include YouTube’s first hour-long dramas, “Step Up: High Water” from Lionsgate and “Impulse” from Doug Liman and Universal Cable Prods. He’s also overseen YouTube original comedies “Foursome” from Awesomeness TV, “Single by 30” from Wong Fu and New Form, and action series “Lifeline,” from Corridor Digital, Studio 71 and Dwayne Johnson. Shey also led deals for YouTube’s first feature-length films, including “Lazer Team” from Rooster Teeth and “The Thinning” from Legendary.

Shey joined YouTube in 2011 when Google acquired early multichannel network startup Next New Networks, where he was co-founder and president. Before joining YouTube’s original programming team, he was director of the YouTube Next Lab and YouTube Spaces. He also was part of YouTube’s Original Channels, under which it funded and launched 200 channels from celebs and influencers.

For now, Shey will continue to remain based in L.A., though he plans to regularly visit Duolingo’s HQ in Pittsburgh. Long term, he said, “we’ll work with the creative community all over the world.”

By the way, Shey — who has a bilingual family — said he’s been using Duolingo to help brush up his Spanish, and now he’s been learning French as well.

Duolingo, founded in 2011, has raised about $108 million in funding to date from investors including Google Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, New Enterprise Associates, Union Square Ventures, Drive Capital, CapitalG, and individual investors including actor Ashton Kutcher and author Tim Ferriss.

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • YouTube logo

    YouTube Reportedly to Stop Targeting Ads in Videos for Children

    YouTube is finalizing a plan under which it would no longer serve targeted ads in videos that are popular with kids, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources. The move is intended to appease U.S. regulators that have been investigating whether YouTube violated privacy laws that prohibit online services from collecting data on children, according to the [...]

  • Facebook

    Facebook Looking to Hire Journalists for Curated News Section

    Facebook is looking to assemble a small team of journalists to help curate a news tab within its app. The team of 10 media professionals will complement algorithmic curation, and highlight the top stories of the day, according to a New York Times report. “We are building a new surface for news that will give [...]

  • Best Podcasts: 14 Podcasts You Should

    14 Podcasts You Should Be Listening to

    Here are a few of the informative, funny, thrilling and downright addictive podcasts that deserve your listening attention. Read Variety’s cover story, a deep dive into the podcast revolution with Conan O’Brien, right here. CaliphateThe New York Times Rukmini Callimachi’s reporting about the Islamic State is harrowing boots-on-the-ground journalism at its finest. Conan O’Brien Needs [...]

  • Lee-Daniels-headshot

    Lee Daniels Entertainment Announces Diverse Creative Workshop

    Lee Daniels Entertainment and the online entertainment network Represent by OMV have launched a diversity-focused creative workshop to promote a diverse group of new writers. The workshop will be held from Sept. 25-28 in Los Angeles, with travel provided by American Airlines. Industry professionals will mentor aspiring creatives from underrepresented communities with workshops, meetings with [...]

  • Apple-Card-on-iPhoneXs-screen

    Apple Card Launches in U.S. With 3% Cash Back on Apple, Uber Purchases

    Apple launched Apple Card, a new credit card tied to iPhones that it’s offering in partnership with Mastercard and Goldman Sachs, broadly in the U.S. The card, available to all qualified users in the U.S. starting Tuesday, is designed to encourage people to make more purchases from Apple — including apps, games, media content and subscriptions [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content