It's not clear X CEO Linda Yaccarino knew about Elon Musk's plan to charge for X

In a live chat earlier this month, Elon Musk said X would charge users “a small monthly payment” to use its service — a necessity, he explained, in order to combat the “vast armies of bots” on the platform. But in an interview this week at the Code Conference, X CEO Linda Yaccarino seemed to be caught off guard by a question about this plan, asking the interviewer first to repeat the question, then 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, had wanted to know how such a shift would impact X’s business, which today is largely reliant on ad revenue. Yaccarino, who joined X from NBCU where she had been chairman of its advertising and partnerships group, would surely have known if X was attempting to shift away from its largely ad-supported model to one that also relied on user subscriptions to generate revenue. (Or at least keep the bots at bay!)

When asked how many users X might lose with such a change, Yaccarino seemed flustered. She asked Boorstin to clarify if Musk had said X was moving to this model or rather if he had just floated the idea.

(For the record, Musk had announced in a live-streamed conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 18, that the company was “moving to a small monthly payment” for use of the X platform. He did not appear to be suggesting it was just a passing thought at the time, as he went on to explain how a small fee paid by all users would make it prohibitive for spammers to profit from their bots.)

When Yaccarino didn’t directly answer the question, Boorstin pressed, asking if the X CEO had been consulted about the decision.

“We talk about everything,” Yaccarino vaguely replied, again side-stepping an answer.

The interviewer noted Yaccarino’s background was in advertising — a point she made likely because it would be surprising if Musk had made his decision about charging fees without the former ad exec’s input.

But Yaccarino cut her off.

“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 expound upon the future of X, a platform that planned to broaden its horizons in a number of ways — by allowing users to watch videos, for example, and soon, transact. She also touted her past experience in pushing legacy media companies to innovate.

“That is a whole experience where there is no surrogate. There is no surrogate for X,” Yaccarino said.

But as the question of user subscriptions was still not addressed, Boorstin tried once again, asking if Yaccarino thought a subscription-based X was a good plan, if she was consulted, and whether or not she thought X should still retain some free tier. She also questioned if Yaccarino was really in more of a COO role, given that product teams at X still report to Musk. Or perhaps a CEO in name only.

“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 audience members raised their hands and laughs were heard.

Unfortunately, however, the CEO of X never directly answered any of the questions about the proposed subscription model at X that Musk had discussed.

If anything, her responses indicated she was either unaware of such a plan or didn’t think it was anything beyond being in the idea phase at this point. It wasn’t clear she even understood what the intention was, as she was unable to touch on the bots issue or how fees would work to keep them off the service.

Of course, as a former ad exec, she may not have wanted to spook X advertisers into thinking that X’s days as a free, ad-supported service were limited in some capacity.

Overall, the interview was a messy one, with Yaccarino seemingly flustered by basic questions about X’s business as well as those regarding Musk’s activity, whether that was his proposed lawsuit against the ADL, subscriptions, or staffing for election integrity. In fact, she denied X was disbanding X’s election integrity team hours after Musk had posted on X that they were “gone.”

She also seemed to not have a precise grip on X’s user numbers, at one point saying X had “200 to 250 [million]” daily active users…”something like that.”

She also said that X had 540 million global monthly active users, even though Musk had said only days ago that figure was 550 million. 

The larger takeaway from the discussion was that Yaccarino and Musk were not, perhaps, quite on the same page when it came to running X and that on some of X’s biggest moves, the CEO was out of the loop.

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