The Success of Smosh; Smells Like The WB's Teen Spirit
Jordan Levin’s career blossomed as one of the founders of The WB, the little network that existed brightly, but briefly from the mid-90s to 2006. The WB was something different—unabashedly aimed at teens, it was extraordinarily successful and was the network that more than any other saw the potential in the Internet, long before the term “social media” meant anything.
Today, Levin is the president of Alloy Digital and CEO of Generate. The company runs five of YouTube’s top 100 premium channel offerings, and Smosh, more or less the flagship has 6.8 million subscribers—a lot of them eager teens. Whatever, Smosh has more subscribers than any other YouTube channel, according to new data from VidStatsX.
Smosh and Alloy’s other YouTube channels like Shut Up! Cartoons and Clevver News attract over half of all the U.S. Internet users 12-34, according to the company, and has millions of followers on its social media sites.
But probably most of the ad-buying world has hardly heard of Smosh, a situation that must seem familiar to Levin when he recalls his time at the network of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Charmed” and “Smallville.” The WB had a hard time being taken seriously at first, except by tens of millions of enthusiastic young viewers. The buying community used to send their young associates to the upfront, which back then was a loud raucous, rocking event that perfectly showcased The WB’s appeal, and no doubt perplexed agencies that didn’t get it.
It was at The WB that Levin first got a Web 1.0 taste of how the Internet helped form communities and built engagement, though I hardly remember that word being mentioned at the time.
“I saw early dial-up and chat rooms audience to start forming,” Levin says now. “Show creators at that time, like Josh Whedon and J.J. Abrams really embraced that. You see how some of those creators use that relationship building to this day.”
But Levin credits Barry Blumberg, Alloy Digital EVP and Smosh president for also recognizing the community building ability of youth-oriented content, and for Blumberg’s insistence that programming is scheduled and refreshed regularly.
“Smosh stays very committed to posting original content on a consistent basis, day in, day out,” Levin points out. “That’s important as a publisher, you have to have a commitment to stay in the present, if you will, and continually distribute original content in the form of video and postings and tweets. The audience really stays enthused and more engaged.”
The need for that regular scheduling Levin a bit—it doesn’t seem Internet-like. But it’s an aspect of community building he now knows is important. “For our audience, we are content they care about and they want to communicate their feelings. That’s part of the entertainment experience as well. Real time experience pulls media more tightly together, and that’s what platforms can offer.”
So when Smosh adds content on Friday, fans are waiting for it and waiting to get involved with it.
Indeed, Levin thinks some advertisers are missing the big picture with successful online video. “If you look at the numbers on a daily or weekly or three day [Nielsen rating] basis, there are some of our videos that can be compared to television,” Levin says. “It sort of reminds me of the early days of basic cable networks, when some of the Turner networks were starting to perform in prime time on a very competitive level. But it took a while for cable’s perception to change for institutional watchers... There’s a whole world that is developing under the radar. People in traditional media, on the media buying side, even on the programming side, they don’t look at those numbers.”