Outgoing YouTube Business Chief Robert Kyncl in Talks With Warner Music for CEO Role

Robert Kyncl
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When YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl announced late last month that he’ll be leaving the company after 12 years in the job, many observers quickly moved him to the front of the line to replace outgoing Warner Music CEO Steve Cooper, who’d announced just two months earlier that he’ll be stepping down after 11 years in the job.

After all, Kyncl knows the music industry  — YouTube is both the world’s largest video-streaming platform and the largest music-streaming platform, and he played a huge role in its negotiations with labels and publishers and generally received high marks (remarkably, considering the often-contentious relations between the two sides). He’s also pioneering force in the streaming business: Before he was chief business officer of YouTube, he led Netflix from DVDs to digital, a transition that was much more complex and fraught with potential failure than he and the company made it seem.

But then the consensus became, Why would he? After those two world-dominating roles, wouldn’t a music company feel small?, industry sources close to Kyncl said to Variety at the time. He’s probably going to start his own thing.

What a difference three weeks can make: Sources confirm to Variety that Kyncl and Warner are well into talks that could see him taking on the role after Cooper steps down next year. The news was first reported by Bloomberg.

Variety’s sources stress that no decision has been made on either side. But there are many reasons why the move could appeal to Kyncl, who clearly enjoys a challenge. Most obviously, as a rare tech leader crossing into music (as opposed to vice-versa), he has a unique perspective and could bring ideas for synergy with enormous potential impact on both businesses. And although Warner seems indefinitely locked in the No. 3 position behind the much larger Universal and Sony, people love an underdog that punches above its weight. With a vast catalog and a current roster that includes Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Lizzo and many others — and the heft of Warner’s Atlantic Records, the most consistently successful label in the business over the past two decades — Kyncl might find it fun to give the leaders a run for their money. Speaking of which — although Warner went public two years ago, it remains controlled by Access Industries and billionaire Len Blavatnik, who could presumably make an attractive offer.

Looking from Warner’s side, it’s hard to even think of other realistic potential candidates who could bring similar firepower to the role, the search for which is being led by Warner board chairman Michael Lynton (formerly head of Sony’s entertainment division) and fellow board member Ceci Kurzman. While many impressive names have been bandied about — Roger Lynch, CEO of Condé Nast and former CEO of Pandora, Universal Music Publishing chief Jody Gerson, Vice Media chief Nancy Dubuc and SiriusXM’s Scott Greenstein; internally there’s Warner recorded music CEO Max Lousada — all have either stated they’re not interested or declined comment.

From a music-business fantasy-baseball perspective, Kyncl taking over Warner would be a huge step forward for both industries. How might it all play out in reality? Time will tell. Variety will have more on this story as it develops.