Pocketwatch is winding a pitch to shake up children’s entertainment, and the digital startup has attracted a band of Hollywood investors and execs.
The company, which is aiming to produce, acquire and distribute content for kids 2-11 across multiple platforms, has closed $6 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Allen DeBevoise’s Third Wave Digital with participation from 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.
Pocketwatch is led by founder and CEO Chris M. Williams (pictured, above), former chief audience officer at Maker Studios and GM of Disney Online Originals. He’s recruited two other key members for the management team: chief content officer Albie Hecht, former head of Nickelodeon and HLN; and chief strategy officer Jon Moonves, an entertainment lawyer and dealmaker (and Leslie’s brother).
Williams said his experience at Maker and Disney convinced him that as digital-video consumption among tykes continues to balloon, there’s an opening for a truly multiplatform kids’ media brand. It’s 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 said. “That’s not a knock. That’s what they should do. But that presents an opportunity — there’s no endemic digital brand for kids.”
Pocketwatch plans to officially launch content targeting kids 5-11 this summer, with additional brands aimed at preschoolers and parents rolling out later in 2017.
Williams uses a clock metaphor to describe Pocketwatch’s content strategy: the second hand is very short content designed for social media; the minute hand is longer-form YouTube content; and the hour hand will comprise full TV series and potentially movies, for distribution on subscription VOD services or other outlets.
Pocketwatch (whose website is at pocket.watch) will use the financing to build out its media channels on YouTube and other platforms like Musical.ly, Instagram and Snapchat; develop a slate of original character-driven programming franchises; and recruit creator partners. Williams said the aim is to launch five YouTube channels this year populated with more than 1,000 videos.
Hecht, who exited HLN in 2015, said he was inspired to get back into the kids-and-family content game with Pocketwatch upon becoming a grandfather — after, as he put it, “seeing my kids’ children click and swipe on their phones, and being both horrified and fascinated by the amount of content they can consume.”
According to Hecht, Pocketwatch’s content-development approach will be geared around characters first — think Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny or SpongeBob SquarePants. “To me, if I can take a character-based development approach, it can start anywhere in the ecosystem and go anywhere else,” he said. “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.”
Williams says Pocketwatch is seeking to work with about 10 YouTube creators with large followings. But the model is not the traditional multichannel-network aggregation play, he said. Instead, the company will grant “meaningful amounts” of equity to creator partners to give them a stake in Pocketwatch’s success.
The company’s team includes senior VP and GM of channels David B. Williams, former chief content and technology strategist at Endemol Beyond USA, an ex-Maker exec and an early digital entrepreneur, and VP of production Logan Burdick, a former producer at Maker and Endemol Beyond USA. Pocketwatch also has an exclusive consulting arrangement with Matt Gielen, founder of Little Monster Media Co. and former VP of programming and audience development at Federator Networks.
“There is no other founding team or company better positioned to transform the kids’ digital entertainment space than Pocketwatch,” said Allen 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 will come in the form of advertising and branded integrations, as well as content licensing, according to Williams. But the first focus for Pocketwatch will be to create brands and amass audience. “I believe in brand and reach, more than anything,” Williams said. “In success, that will enable us to do a number of things, including potentially direct-to-consumer.”
Pocketwatch’s headquarters is in Culver City, Calif., in an 8,000-square-foot office and studio space. Hecht is based in New York City, operating from an office on 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan.