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Startup Says Time’s Right For New Kids Media Brand

Pocket.watch will take multiple digital paths to reach young audiences 5/22/2017 8:00 AM Eastern

When it comes to video services tailored for children — ones that fit in with fragmented viewing habits; are steering kids toward PCs, laptops and smartphones; and are also sending them to streaming outlets such as YouTube — it’s time for a change.

That’s the main thrust of Pocket.watch, a startup and emerging media brand that is pushing ahead with a plan to create a broad mix of short- and long-form content for kids ages 2-11 that can be accessed on an array of digital distribution channels, including social media and YouTube and other over-the-top services.

“We felt like the timing and the team is right for the next great kids’ media brand,” Chris M. Williams, CEO and founder of Pocket.watch, said.

The former chief audience officer at Maker Studios and general manager of Disney Online Originals, Williams said he believes that traditional TV networks aimed at younger audiences are still too attached to the old pay TV model in a way that prevents them from properly connecting with the audience Pocket.watch will pursue.

“In the way that MTV and Nickelodeon spoke to me and my generation and the generation after me, I really feel like there’s not a brand for kids that is engendering that emotional connection as something new,” he said. “We really felt like there was room in the market there.”

Traditional programmers, he added, are challenged by managing the tectonic shifts that are affecting the old pay TV distribution model while also going in new digital directions. “Those things are often at odds,” Williams said.

Still, that doesn’t mean they’re standing still. Turner and Warner Bros. recently launched an OTT subscription service under the Boomerang brand, and Nickelodeon has Noggin, a subscription video-on-demand service for preschoolers.

But Pocket.watch said it will be much different. Its name speaks directly to its content distribution strategy, with each arm of a pocketwatch representing a different form: The hour hand is for longer-form, premium programming; the minute hand, for short-form fare; and the second hand representing the “moment-by-moment pulse” of the brand, with content distributed through social media outlets such as Snapchat and Instagram.

That longer-form content is where Pocket. watch intends to take its “bigger shots” with premium, franchise-level, character-driven series and feature films, possibly in partnership with larger digital platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or Verizon’s go90, Williams said. However, YouTube will serve as the “foundation” of Pocket.watch’s distribution.

“But these things all work together,” Williams said. “It’s important that we’re taking our intellectual property and plugging them into all of these.”

Though Pocket.watch, headquartered in Culver City, Calif., will focus on various forms of digital distribution, it will also employ some tactics and strategies around character-focused franchises that have helped networks such as Nickelodeon connect with kids.

EX-NICK CHIEF’S KEY ROLE

Albie Hecht, the former head of Nickelodeon who played a big role in developing popular franchises such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer, is on board to head up development at Pocket.watch. Hecht’s role in running Pocket.watch’s franchise and character development will be “critical,” Williams said.

Pocket.watch will take the wraps off sometime this summer and launch a slate of content under its brand, and has plans to introduce other brands for preschoolage kids and parents later this year. Early on, the plan is to build and launch five owned-and-operated YouTube channels for kids 5-11 covering a variety of genres that are populated with more than 1,000 videos being produced in-house. Brands and content for preschool-age children will bow later this year.

Pocket.watch has already signed on a creator partnership with HobbyKidsTV, a company that runs a family of 10 YouTube channels focused on areas such as toy reviews and video games that generates about 200 million views per month. The focus for the first year will be about building the brand, creating audience reach and growing Pocket.watch’s content library, Williams said.

Williams is also keeping an opportunistic eye on potential content distribution via a new wave of virtual multichannel video programming distributors. “I’m pretty obsessed with them; I’ll be frank,” he said. “I do believe that they represent the future of what cable becomes.”

He’s on the fence about possible distribution on traditional set-top boxes, as Comcast and several TiVo cable operator partners start to integrate OTT services with pay TV. For now, that potential option is not a focus.

THE BIG BUILDUP

“I strongly believe you need to build brand and reach and a content library before you endeavor to do that,” Williams said. “I’m not taking it off the table, but I think in the short term and even the medium term you’ll see us much more focused on building our brand, our reach and our content, leveraging these third-party platforms.”

Pocket.watch is moving ahead with a war chest in the form of a $6 million “A” round led by Third Wave Digital and participation from CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, Academy Award winning producer Jon Landau, United Talent Agency, Robert Downey Jr.’s Downey Ventures, and Chris Jacquemin, partner, head of digital media at WME. Jon Moonves (Leslie Moonves’s brother) is Pocket. watch’s chief strategy officer.

Williams said those resources will be used primarily for production and distribution of digital content, though it will also use some to develop its premium franchises and intellectual property.

Pocket.watch’s first year will focus more on the build than monetization, Williams said. But Pocket.watch will pursue several revenue streams, he said, including advertising and subscriptions, as well as merchandise, mobile gaming and other models that are underpinned by the company’s coming franchises and characters.

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