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Former Disney and Nickelodeon execs launch kids' media brand Pocketwatch

Pocketwatch, a new entertainment company led by former Disney and Nickelodeon executives, aims to be the children’s media headquarters of the 21st century.

The Culver City company, whose content will target 2- to 11-year-olds, debuted this month and announced Wednesday that it had raised $6 million in venture funding. It said it plans to use the financing to build out channels on YouTube, develop new franchises and attract top creator-partners.

The start-up is the latest among several digital media companies that have aimed to capitalize on rapid changing viewer habits, especially among younger consumers. Companies like WndrCo, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s new venture that has raised more than $600 million, are pursuing a similar model.

Pocketwatch’s founder and chief executive is Chris M. Williams, a former chief audience officer at Maker Studios and former general manager of Disney Online Originals.

Williams said he was motivated by the changes he saw in his own 9- and 12-year-old sons’ viewing habits. “They’ll sit in front of a 60-inch television watching [videos] on a five-inch phone,” he said.

While mainstream media companies have struggled to embrace new business models, Pocketwatch will combine digitally savvy creators and experts in kids’ TV programming to deliver content to children where they’re most watching it: online and on mobile devices, Williams said. (The company name refers to kids watching content on devices they pull from their pocket).

Pocketwatch has raised enough money to produce 1,000 live action and animated videos for various digital platforms this year, Williams said. The company plans to launch five owned and operated YouTube channels this year, as well as a channel on the app Musical.ly and one on Facebook for parents. The company has an 8,000-square-foot studio not far from Maker Studios, the digital network owned by Disney.

Albie Hecht serves as Pocketwatch’s chief content officer. Hecht is a former president of Nickelodeon, where he oversaw the creation of hit series such as “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Dora the Explorer.” The company’s leadership also includes Hollywood lawyer Jon Moonves, brother of CBS Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Leslie Moonves.

Venture firm Third Wave Digital led this first round of financing. Investors include actor Robert Downey Jr., “Titanic” and “Avatar” movie producer Jon Landau, Leslie Moonves and United Talent Agency.

An Ipsos poll last year found that 72% of American, British and Canadian children’s daily content viewing comes from streaming services. YouTube was most popular, followed closely by Netflix. Amazon and Hulu were on the list as well. The poll also found that although three-quarters of children watched TV for some content, six in 10 used a tablet to watch their favorite shows and four in 10 used a smartphone.

Market research firm SmartyPants found that, in 2016, YouTube was the most popular brand among kids ages 6 to 12. Disney ranked sixth; Disney Channel, ninth; Netflix, 11th; and iPad, 16th. (Snack foods made up most of the other top-ranked brands.)

Williams would not describe any of the characters or shows he has planned, but said they wouldn’t stray too far from Hecht’s earlier successes. “We believe in humor, we believe in irreverence, and we believe in entertaining kids,” he said.

The company’s initial focus, he said, will be building the Pocketwatch brand and audience and its library of content. The goal is to expand to partnerships with premium streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon, and even produce TV series and films.

For now, the primary revenue stream will be from ads on those third-party sites.

Michael Pachter, a research analyst who covers the Internet and social media, said distribution is critical to the success of any new brand. But, he said, developing a brand with mass appeal is no small task.

“It is so hard to a) make a brand, and b) cross it over [to new platforms],” said Pachter. “You have a start-up with $6 million going up against Disney with $20 billion and something to defend.”

Williams acknowledges the stiff competition, but says Pocketwatch can thrive.

“No one’s tried to create the digitally native kids and family media brand,” he said. “I think we have pretty open territory that way.”

nina.agrawal@latimes.com

Twitter: @AgrawalNina

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UPDATES:

3:24 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details, including comments from the company’s chief executive.

This article was originally published at 10:05 a.m.

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