Pocket.watch, a digital-first kids’ media company, has signed overall deals with two big YouTube channels in its wheelhouse — MarMar and the Onyx Family — and is gearing up to launch new programming with both of them, as well as with existing partners EvanTube, JillianTube and HobbyKids TV.
Pocket.watch is the studio behind “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate” on Nickelodeon, starring the 7-year-old kid in Ryan Toys Review, one of the most popular YouTube channels for kids. Since its debut last month, “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate” has become the No. 1 preschool show on TV.
The company’s strategy is to take popular YouTube personalities and boost their digital audiences with premium original content in new formats. For example, it has variety-show kids’ channel in the works with MarMar (Marlin Ramsey Chan) and an an animated series with the Onyx Family. Then, the idea is to launch them into new areas like TV, movies, games and merchandise, as Pocket.watch has done with Ryan, said founder and CEO Chris M. Williams.
“YouTube is certainly not in the league of TV [in terms of economics] but the ability to use that frequency of connection between creator and fan really lends itself to the extension model,” Williams said.
Pocket.watch thinks of YouTube content the way Marvel thinks about comic books, according to Williams: “We start with these fabulous fanbases on YouTube. And we can extend that [audience] to other platforms pretty quickly.”
Here’s a rundown of Pocket.watch’s new slate:
- “MarMar Land”: Marlin Ramsey Chan, the creator behind the MarMar channel on YouTube (3.3 million subscribers), is working with Pocket.watch to create MarMar Land, an open-ended, challenge-driven fantasy children’s YouTube channel. Designed “to delight, surprise, educate and inspire,” MarMar Land will include interactive elements like puppets, song and dance. Slated to debut July 2019.
- “Onyx Family Monster Mysteries”: The company is working with the Onyx Family to create an animated adventure comedy, described as “Scooby Doo” meets “Ghostbusters.” In each 7-minute episode, the family will rescue and bring monsters back to Atlas Island for the monsters’ own good. Set to launch in the first quarter of 2020.
- “HobbyKids Adventures!”: Animated adventure-comedy series featuring the YouTube channel’s brothers HobbyPig, HobbyFrog and HobbyBear. Created by Butch Hartman (“Fairly OddParents,” “Danny Phantom”), the show transports the trio of cartoon adventurers to lands far and near in their time-bending Giant Egg (modeled after the Giant Surprise Egg featured in their popular YouTube videos). Launches on YouTube June 22 with 7-minute episodes.
- “Jillian’s Mystery Box of Craft”: Live-action hybrid of “Chopped Jr.” and “Project Runway” in which Jillian is challenged by fellow YouTube craft queens to create a DIY project with a basket of mystery items, the bare essentials, and some sabotages (a la EvanTube) along the way. To premiere in August with 11-minute episodes..
- “EvanTube’s Dollar Toy Squad”: Stop-motion animation/live-action hybrid comedy starring EvanTube and JillianTube, who receive a mystery box every week containing the mixed-media adventures of a ragtag team of plastic bootleg toys from the dollar store as they thwart the evil plans of Rust-O-Tin and his cohort of evil toys. Slated to debut fall 2019 with 11-minute episodes.
The company’s model isn’t to mass-produce shows and push them out all at once, but to handcraft content with each creator individually, said Albie Hecht, Pocket.watch’s chief content officer and former president of Nickelodeon. “Creatively, it’s the ability to work with YouTubers who may not have experience with animation or a TV-level style of production.”
Launching content on YouTube also lets Pocket.watch quickly evaluate which shows are getting traction and which ones aren’t, Hecht said.
The YouTubers cultivated by Pocket.watch have the potential to capture big audiences in other media. Since its recent April 19, “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate” has reached over 15 million total viewers delivering ratings for Nick +30% with kids 2-5 and +60% for the 2-11 demo versus comparable 2017 periods. On Nick’s digital platforms, “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate” has garnered over 6 million full episode views in three weeks, representing a massive audience for a new preschool series.
“This is the result of franchise building,” said Williams. “It’s not a YouTube star launching a television show — it’s a franchise coming to TV.” He added that Ryan Toys Review-licensed merchandise is projected to hit sales in the “nine figures” this year.
Culver City, Calif.-based Pocket.watch investors include Viacom, which led a $15 million funding round last year, along with UTA Ventures, Greycroft’s Tracker fund, Third Wave Digital, Les Moonves, Robert Downey Jr. (through Team Downey) and producer Jon Landau.