X CEO Linda Yaccarino knew about Elon Musk’s plan to charge for X – Elon Musk stated in a live chat earlier this month that X will charge users “a small monthly payment” to utilize its service — a requirement, he argued, in order to battle the “vast armies of bots” on the network.
However, in an interview this week at the Code Conference, X CEO Linda Yaccarino appeared to be caught off guard by a question about this plan, asking the interviewer to repeat the question before asking if Musk had actually said if X was planning to move to a subscription for all users or was he “just thinking about it?”
CNBC’s Julia Boorstin, who was conducting the interview, was curious about how such a transition might affect X’s business, which is now heavily based on ad income. Yaccarino, who came to X from NBCU, where she was head of the advertising and partnerships department, would have known whether X was trying to change away from its mostly ad-supported strategy and toward one that relied on user subscriptions to generate income. (Or, at the very least, keep the bots at bay!)
Yaccarino was embarrassed when asked how many users X may lose as a result of such a shift. She asked Boorstin to explain if Musk had stated that X was switching to this model or if he had simply floated the notion.
(For the record, Musk revealed on September 18 in a live-streamed chat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the business was “moving to a small monthly payment” for usage of the X platform. He didn’t seem to be implying it was a fleeting idea at the moment, since he went on to describe how a little price paid by all users would make it prohibitively expensive for spammers to benefit from their bots.)
When Yaccarino didn’t respond immediately, Boorstin persisted, asking if the X CEO had been contacted about the decision.
“We talk about everything,” Yaccarino vaguely replied, again side-stepping an answer.
The interviewer mentioned Yaccarino’s expertise in advertising, which she probably did since it would be remarkable if Musk made his choice about collecting fees without consulting with the former ad executive.
But Yaccarino interrupted her.
“Why wouldn’t he?” she responded, somewhat combatively. “Do you think Elon brought me to the company to be the head of advertising…or do you think he brought me to run the company and to deliver to our users the best possible experience?”
She then went on to discuss the future of X, a platform that wanted to widen its boundaries in a variety of ways, including allowing users to view films and, soon, transact. She also emphasized her previous experience pushing traditional media businesses to innovate.
“That is a whole experience where there is no surrogate. There is no surrogate for X,” Yaccarino said.
But, because the issue of user subscriptions had not been addressed, Boorstin tried again, asking whether Yaccarino believed a subscription-based X was a good idea, if she had been consulted, and if she thought X should still have a free tier. She also questioned if Yaccarino was truly in a COO role, considering that product teams at X continue to report to Musk. Or possibly he is merely a CEO in name.
“Yeah, not nice,” Yaccarino responded, referring to the final comment about her lack of power, before continuing to explain. “[Musk] runs product. He runs technology. He leads a team of exceptionally talented engineers…Who wouldn’t want Elon Musk sitting by their side running product?”
Some individuals of the crowd raised their hands and laughed.
Unfortunately, the CEO of X never explicitly responded to any of Musk’s concerns concerning the planned subscription model at X.
If anything, her comments suggested that she was either uninformed of such a strategy or didn’t believe it was much more than a notion at this time. She didn’t seem to understand what the purpose was, since she couldn’t address the bot issue or how fees would work to keep them off the service.
Of again, as a former ad executive, she might not have wanted to scare X advertisers into believing that X’s days as a free, ad-supported site were over.
Overall, the interview was a shambles, with Yaccarino appearing rattled by simple queries concerning X’s business as well as Musk’s behavior, whether it was his intended lawsuit against the ADL, subscriptions, or election integrity hiring. Indeed, she disputed that X was disbanding X’s election integrity team just hours after Musk announced on X that they were “gone.”
She also appeared to be unsure about X’s user counts, remarking at one time that X had “200 to 250 [million]” daily active users…”something like that.”
She also claimed that X has 540 million global monthly active users, despite Musk’s earlier claim of 550 million.
The bigger conclusion from the talk was that Yaccarino and Musk were not always on the same page when it came to operating X, and that the CEO was sometimes left out of the loop on some of the company’s most important decisions.