“Dude, you just created what could potentially be the biggest channel on YouTube.” That was the pronouncement from an emphatic Lilly “Superwoman” Singh to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a video announcing the launch of Johnson’s new YouTube Channel, Seven Bucks Digital Studios, in collaboration with the digital entertainment company Studio 71.
Seven Bucks Digital Studios will be the newest division of Seven Bucks Productions, the production company behind Paramount’s “Baywatch,” New Line Cinema’s “Shazam,” and Dreamworks’ “Alpha Squad Seven,” all starring Johnson. The company was co-founded by Johnson and Dany Garcia. Studio 71 is a multi-channel network representing over 1,000 channels, which has partnered with RocketJump on “Video Game High School” and the comedian Colleen Balinger (“Miranda Sings!”).
Johnson already has a robust online presence, (with 100 million followers across social media platforms), and he is certainly not the first celebrity to launch a YouTube channel. But with this channel, titled simply “The Rock,” Johnson is attempting something no celebrity with his reach has before: Putting his considerable Hollywood weight behind some of YouTube’s biggest stars to create original digital content.
Singh–YouTube’s crown princess with 9.7 million followers–got the plum gig touring Johnson around a fictional YouTube hit factory for the launch video. The unlikely duo opens doors into studios housing a motley crew of YouTubers, including trans beauty vlogger Gigi Gorgeous (2.3 million followers), funny gamer Markiplier (13 million), comedian Grace Helbig (2.96 million), and many others with equally large online reaches.
Johnson appears in another video with Singh titled “How To Be a YouTube Star,” chock full of uncomfortable sexual advances. The dynamic between the two works well. Johnson may not win an Academy Award anytime soon, but his sizable charm and winning smile have won audiences over. The same could be said for Singh. The dialogue may feel forced, the jokes may be unabashedly tired, but at least “Superwoman” and “The Rock” are in it together.
Though studio execs are chomping at the bit to cash in on online star power, no YouTuber has yet successfully crossed over into traditional film and television roles in a major way. The comedian Bo Burnham (who has since renounced his Internet origins) has appeared on sketch shows “Key and Peele” and created the series “Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous,” before MTV cancelled it after one season. Anna Akana (1 million) had small roles in “Hello, My Name is Doris,” and “Ant Man,” for which she also has a writer’s credit. Helbig has produced and starred in feature length films released digitally, which have so far been financially but not critically successful. It is worth noting that the YouTubers who appear in Johnson’s initial video fall mainly in the category of YouTubers who have not yet crossed over.
But Johnson and his YouTuber crew seem content to stay in the digital sphere. Johnson is smart to meet them on their terms, using his movie star cache to bank on the enormous online presences of YouTube’s rising stars. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. By working with YouTube talent in their space, rather than transplanting them into his, Johnson just might have the last laugh.