A former Makers Studios chief audience officer has partnered up with an ex-Nickelodeon Chief in an attempt to create a next generation kids’ content platform called Pocketwatch.
Chris M. Williams, former chief audience officer at Maker Studios and GM of Disney Online Originals, is launching the new platform with the help of Albie Hecht, former head of Nickelodeon and HLN, who will work as a member of the management team.
The company, which plans to produce, acquire and distribute content for kids 2–11 across multiple platforms, has just closed $6 million in Series A funding. The round was led by the venture-capital firm Third Wave Digital, with other investors including CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves; film producer Jon Landau (“Avatar,” “Titanic”); UTA; Robert Downey Jr.’s Downey Ventures; Chris Jacquemin, WME partner and head of digital media; and Defy Media CEO Matt Diamond.
The start-up, which plans to launch later this spring with channels on Google’s YouTube, intends to eventually create its own online channels as well as on-demand channels for its programming. Pocketwatch will explore having its branded content available on streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, and plans to have 1,000 videos across five owned-and-operated channels as well as social media platforms by the end of the year.
As the tide shifts from traditional TV to online entertainment, and with American children spending 72% of their content watching time on a streaming source, Pocketwatch hopes to create programming that will make it the “Disney Channel” and “Nickelodeon” of the online world.
“The model that your kids are going to sit in front of a traditional cable network, that’s over,” Allen DeBevoise, head of Third Wave, which also holds stakes in Jukin Media, Tastemade and Beautycon, told WSJ.
“I think there is an incredible window right now because the cable model is going through something of a transition,” added Williams, CEO of Pocketwatch.
Also advising Pocketwatch as its chief strategy officer is Jon Moonves, prominent entertainment industry attorney and brother of the CBS CEO who is backing the company. His new media clients include YouTube star Bethany Mota and Lele Pons, and he also represents Apple on some of its content plays as well as the National Football League.
Though still early in the online game, Pocketwatch will face tough competition from competitors like YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix, all which have more recently made the push into kids programing, but with much larger audiences already attached. With such fierce competition, from already well established platforms, it’s hard not to question William’s reasoning for entering the digital-video arena. But according to Williams, it was his time at Maker and Disney that convinced him digital-video consumption among tykes would continue to balloon, leaving an opening for a truly multiplatform kids’ media brand, an area that traditional conglomerates, he believes, aren’t able to fully exploit.
“It’s very hard for them to embrace these new forms of content, these new platforms, when they’re protecting an existing business: pay television,” Williams told Variety. “That’s not a knock. That’s what they should do. But that presents an opportunity — there’s no endemic digital brand for kids.”
As part of their strategy in competing with the bigger names in the business, Pocketwatch’s content-development approach will be geared around character first programming, think Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny.
“To me, if I can take a character-based development approach, it can start anywhere in the ecosystem and go anywhere else,” Hecht explained to Variety. “Linear TV is still doing the same thing. It takes six months to do a deal. In six months, we’ll have characters developed and data to look at.”
“There is no other founding team or company better positioned to transform the kids’ digital entertainment space than Pocketwatch,” said DeBevoise, a digital-media investor and co-founder of Machinima. “Pocketwatch is taking a really disruptive approach to attacking the white space in the ever-expanding kids’ entertainment marketplace.”
Revenue for Pocketwatch will come in the form of advertising and branded integrations, as well as content licensing, according to Williams who explained to Variety that the first step will be to create brands and amass an audience.
“I believe in brand and reach, more than anything,” expressed Williams. “In success, that will enable us to do a number of things, including potentially direct-to-consumer.”