Between its $40 billion valuation and increasing star power of the creators, YouTube is becoming a breeding ground for the next generation of digital talent gone mainstream. The latest is a partnership with Dreamworks’ multi-channel network AwesomenessTV and Defy Media to finance the production of The Smosh Movie.
Smosh had more than 18 million YouTube subscribers and is already part of Defy Media’s network when Lionsgate picked up international distribution rights.
According to Variety, “The film may have a theatrical window in addition to digital and VOD, or it could be released day-and-date with digital or be digital-only… Shooting has been completed on the film, which is now in post-production.”
Lionsgate has been laying the groundwork for this type of project through its investments in Defy Media. “The SMOSH Movie brings to life a YouTube comedy franchise beloved by fans around the world and reflects our commitment to extend storytelling in exciting new directions that reach today’s digital audience,” said Jason Constantine, Lionsgate’s president of acquisitions and co-productions.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lionsgate has several other projects in the works starring YouTube creators, including a project involving YouTube prank troupe The Janoskians.
These kinds of ventures have the potential to show the film industry that YouTube is an incubator for talent with mainstream appeal. YouTube is already more popular among 18- to 24-year-olds than any cable network, so there’s no reason to think these viewers wouldn’t follow their content creators to movie theaters.
John Green, author and Vlogbrother, could be considered a test case. His online fandom took his book The Fault In Our Stars to the New York Times bestseller list before it was even finished. The movie also performed incredibly well, but Green admitted that this success wasn’t entirely a result of his online presence.
As more YouTubers go mainstream and broker deals with larger media companies, it’s entirely possible that YouTube could become a hunting ground for great ideas and stories that need to be told. Then again, there’s always the potential for disaster.