Hollywood Investors Bet Pocketwatch Could Be New Nickelodeon

  • Ex-Disney, Nickelodeon officials lead Pockewatch online effort
  • Creators seek to develop fresh web series for YouTube, Netflix

A handful of Hollywood power brokers, including “Iron Man” star Robert Downey Jr. and CBS Corp.’s Leslie Moonves, invested $6 million in Pocketwatch, backing a startup that’s trying to be the next Disney Channel or Nickelodeon.

The company will produce animated and live-action shows for kids ages 5 to 11, according to Chris Williams, a former Maker Studios official and chief executive officer of the venture. Pocketwatch will start by creating YouTube channels and releasing videos online through Facebook and Musical.ly, with the goal of eventually selling to Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.

With large entertainment companies still mostly focused on their TV networks, Williams said the next great kids’ media company will be born online, where costs are lower and development times shorter. He came up with the idea for Pocketwatch a couple of months after leaving Maker and its parent company, Walt Disney Co. The goal will be to create characters quickly, put them online and see what works.

“Kids will sit in front of a 60-inch TV and whip out an iPhone to watch YouTube videos,” Williams said in an interview.

Children’s videos were a small category on YouTube when Williams started at Maker Studios, which Disney acquired for about $700 million in 2014. Yet in recent years, the business has become more competitive. Kids-focused YouTube channels have become more popular, while Netflix and Amazon have begun to produce dozens of children’s series and unscripted shows.

Initial Funding

Allen DeBevoise, the managing partner of venture capital firm Third Wave Digital, is leading Pocketwatch’s initial funding, which also includes Producer Jon Landau and United Talent Agency. The co-founder of the YouTube network Machinima, he’s joined by Jon Moonves, brother of CBS’s CEO, who will be chief strategy officer. Albie Hecht, former president of Nickelodeon, will be chief content officer.

They expect to have shows ready around mid-June or after, and will expand to preschool-age programming later, according to a statement.

“It feels like a great time to get back into creating characters for another generation,” said Hecht, who who oversaw the creation of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Dora the Explorer” and “Blue’s Clues.” “The good news for us is the legacy brands haven’t changed at all.”