Smosh launched on YouTube more than 11 years ago as the brainchild of two friends with a video camera and a vision. Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox started uploading their sketch comedy clips to their own website and even Myspace before finding a weird new platform called YouTube.
Since then, the Smosh channel has gained over 22 million subscribers. It's also branched out into many new channels, including Smosh Games with nearly 7 million subscribers, and a bonus content channel created in 2005 with 5 million subscribers.
Adweek recently spoke with Smosh ahead of the release of Ghostmates, the duo's second feature film—about a man with a ghost roommate who has unfinished romantic business—available on YouTube Red today.
Adweek: How did Smosh get started all those years ago?
Anthony Padilla: We were just two guys who wanted to make each other laugh. We started creating and uploading videos by ourselves more than 11 years ago, and now more than 50 people help with the production.
Ian Hecox: There are 13 cast members, or talent, who are on camera for our shows and about 20 other full-time employees who help make the show as well.
What's the attitude toward joining a new platform and dealing with its changes?
Hecox: At first people had to decide if they even wanted to establish a presence on this new platform [YouTube].
Padilla: Ian made us keep uploading to Myspace, just in case!
Hecox: I've been reluctant to start pages on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. People think new platforms are just gonna go away, but those website have become mainstays. It's the Wild West on the internet; who know's what'll stay around.
Padilla: YouTube is always changing within itself, too. You really have to stay evolving with it. We were kind of getting known for our lip sync videos, so when we started to produce more sketches, people were like: "What is this?!" But we would die out on YouTube if we didn't keep true to what we want to do.
What's been one of the biggest changes on YouTube in that time? It's been more than 10 years, so there's plenty to choose from.
Hecox: You mostly see trends that follow the algorithm shifts on YouTube. When it started rewarding the amount of time people spent watching your videos, in an attempt to reduce spam content, people started creating those super long uploads of playing video games. That's why video game content got popular online. With those longer videos, people might even stick around to watch the next one, if they were really into it.
Padilla: For me, it was when YouTube started actually paying people. For the first one and a half years that we were on there, we weren't getting paid at all. Now it's a different playing field. We were just excited to make stuff without any reward for it, and we had to have day jobs. These days people are able to focus on YouTube and building whole careers out of it.
Hecox: Yeah, that's when people started taking the platform more seriously.
Padilla: The lines have basically blurred between online stars and more traditional stars. Everyone's seen those stories about how much YouTubers can make online; it's common knowledge at this point. But people are moving from YouTube to become movie stars, or people who made movies are creating their own YouTube channels. Streaming services, like Hulu or Netflix, are basically in between YouTube and traditional TV platforms.
Hecox: That's kinda what makes YouTube Red a little different. No ads on regular YouTube videos, plus music streaming and original content.
Padilla: YouTube Red is an opportunity to do stuff we never knew we wanted to do, or that for a long time, we never had the means to do.
You even created a live YouTube stream in the style of Saturday Night Live, which incorporated live ads sponsored by 5 Gum. What was that like?
Hecox: That was a good example of what our spin on livestreaming would be, even if we're not necessarily going to go all in on live video.
Padilla: Mostly, we want to stay relevant by trying new things. It's worth it, just to see our spin. We started our Smosh Games channel when video game content was starting to get popular on YouTube and our fans were asking us to do more gaming shows.
Hecox: Because we own and create our shows and channels, we're allowed to do that. If it's someone else's show, we can't do an episode, say, where everyone is a dog … but we could.
What was it like to create Ghostmates, your second feature film?
Padilla: At first it was a huge brainstorming process between us and Ryan Finnerty, the writer. At first, we were going to be paranormal investigators, but we kind of wanted to have a story with heart. Our reality is that Ian and I used to be actual roommates, so we thought it'd be interesting to see how that relationship evolves.
Hecox: They do say to write what you know. … We each had a lot of roommate experiences to pull from. For one of our first sketch series, Part-Timers, we based it on my first job, which was at Chuck E. Cheese's. So, YouTube came to us and asked if we wanted to make something for YouTube Red. YouTube is a great creative partner because they're very hands-off, which is important for creators.
Padilla: It's our own project. We're not catering to someone else's vision of what Smosh is. A lot of people think our content is for a younger audience than it actually is. We're just excited to get to play these characters, in a featured way, that aren't just ourselves.
And T-Pain is in this movie, right?
Hecox: He plays a big part in the movie! He wildly exceeded our expectations. As we were writing the movie, we imagined this role as just played by T-Pain [the rapper], but that was such a pie-in-the-sky dream. We just wanted to see what it would look like by imagining him in it. We didn't think we would get him, but we did! He knew his lines perfectly, and even brought his own material to set.
Padilla: We're so excited about this movie. It's a big evolution for us. It just has so much heart, and while writing it, we focused on making a really concise story. We added in jokes—and a fun twist—to the story later, instead of just coming up with joke, joke, joke. We're playing real leveled characters with backstory, which feels much more relatable.