Digital Studio Pocket.watch Builds Kids’ Biz on YouTube Stars

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To get a sense of Pocket.watch’s rapid rise, look no further than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The start-up was launched by founder and CEO Chris M. Williams in March 2017 with a mere $6 million in Series A funding and the bold goal of taking digital kids and family content creators and turning them into multiplatform franchises. A mere 3 1⁄2 years later, in November 2020, a 42-foot-tall Red Titan balloon depicting the superhero alter ego of Ryan Kaji, star of its top YouTube channel Ryan’s World, floated down 34th Street in Manhattan alongside iconic characters such as Snoopy, SpongeBob and Pikachu.

“You can have a hit TV show or a toy, but when you get into pop culture, that’s when you really start to understand how big your franchises have become,” says Pocket.watch chief content officer Albie Hecht, a onetime president of film and TV entertainment for Nickelodeon, who launched the company with Williams and chief strategy officer Jon Moonves.

Last year, Pocket.watch’s roster of creators generated more than 4 billion hours of views across its 44 global distribution partners, including AVOD, SVOD and linear platforms in more than 129 countries. But watching time is not the only yardstick of the company’s success. It also boasts a popular consumer products line featuring everything from Love, Diana dolls to a Colgate Ryan’s World Pocket Watch Extra Soft Spin toothbrush, as well as mobile games and live events.

“We set out very intentionally to change the conversations around the creative economy and create a whole new digital-first category of franchises,” says Williams. “Now, it’s recognized by everyone, including new platforms, retailers and game publishers.”

It in its first year, Pocket.watch partnered with only a handful of creators, including CaptainSparklez, HobbyKidsTV, EvanTubeHD and Ryan’s World, then known as Ryan Toys Review. It was a stark contrast to the 60,000-plus signed to Williams’ previous employer, Disney-owned multichannel network Maker Studios, where he served as chief audience officer.

But as Pocket.watch celebrates its fifth birthday, it’s experiencing a major growth spurt. In May, 13 new creators joined the Pocket.watch family, including Vania Mania Kids, Hudson’s Playground and Mackenzie Turner, giving it a grand total of 30, and more are expected soon.

“Kaleidoscope City” is the latest franchise from Toys and Colors. Courtesy Pocket.watch

The recent additions expand its library to over 70,000 videos amounting to more than 15,000 hours of content.

“By bringing more creators into our fold, we are actually creating more heft, more scale, which benefits creators because we can get better output deals,” says Xavier Kochhar, the former AT&T and HBO Max exec who joined Pocket.watch as the company’s first COO and CFO in September.

One of Kochhar’s primary directives is to take the company out of startup mode and scale it up, so it can, in his words, “hang with the big boys.” And that means securing some major additional financing or making a deal to be acquired by a larger company. “Either we’re going to be big or we’re going to be a part of big.”

As Pocket.watch grows and matures, it remains mindful of the youthful nature of the people it serves.

“The big thing is making sure that we’re protecting the privacy of the kids that we entertain and educate, and also protecting the joy and authenticity of our creators that inspired them to start doing this in the beginning,” says Kerry Tucker, Pocket.watch’s chief marketing & franchise officer.

While Pocket.watch is determined to maintain the innocence of its constituency, that hasn’t stopped it from devising ingenious ways to help its creator community age gracefully, exemplified by the strategy it’s employing for the Onyx Family, which consists of parents Rita and Mirthell Mitchell and their four children, now ranging in age from 15 to 22. Pocket.watch turned them into animated characters for “Onyx Monster Mysteries,” creating a forever-young version of the family that can be employed indefinitely throughout its multiplatform franchise, along with their own talk show, “Onyx Family Dinner,” where the kids can demonstrate their growth, discussing topics ranging from mental health and racism to proper nutrition and body positivity.

“Pocket.watch has been an excellent partner,” says Rita Mitchell. “They’ve grown into such a main player in the business that to have our brand aligned with them has just been a real blessing.”

(Pictured at top: Pocket.watch executives, left to right, Albie Hecht, chief content officer; Xavier Kochhar, COO and CFO; Jon Moonves, chief strategy officer; Chris M. Williams, founder & CEO; Kerry Tucker, chief marketing & franchise officer; Ed Kaufman, general counsel.)

POCKET.WATCH PARTNERS

Ryan’s World
(32.6 million YouTube subscribers)
Pocket.watch’s most popular property follows 10-year-old Ryan Kaji (dubbed “The Boy King of YouTube” by Time Magazine), along with his parents and younger twin sisters. It has grown from a simple toy unboxing channel to a megamillion-dollar, multiplatform behemoth encompassing toys, books, apparel, cartoons, a live-action series (Nickelodeon’s “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate”), videogames (“Ryan’s Rescue Squad”), live interactive online experiences and Ryan’s World Plus, a $3.99-per-month SVOD channel available through Amazon.

Toys and Colors
(36 million YouTube subscribers)
This group of Asian American kids (Wendy, Alex, Emma, Jannie and Andrew) rose to fame pretending and playing in whimsical skits with various family members, distributed in six different languages. Now, under their partnership with Pocket.watch, they’re rolling out “Kaleidoscope City,” a new franchise featuring consumer products, games, podcasts, live events and a hybrid live action/CG-animated series.

Lankybox
(18 million YouTube subscribers)
Best-known for its “zero-budget” parodies and “Guess the Price” videos, the channel, hosted by 20-somethings Justin Kroma and Adam McArthur, has branched out with its “Lankybox Simulator” Roblox game and a line of plush toys.

Vania Mania Kids
(17 million YouTube subscribers)
Launched in Russia in 2015, the channel follows siblings Vania, Mania, Stefy, Dasha and Alex as they play, pretend, learn and explore alongside their parents.

Love, Diana
(7 million YouTube subscribers)
Ukraine-born 8-year-old Diana (aka the “Princess of Play”) recently launched her own line of toys and clothing for kids available at Walmart and other retailers.

Onyx Family
(3.5 million YouTube subscribers)
The African American Mitchell family, comprising parents Rita and Mirthell and children Shalom, Sinead, Shasha and Shiloh, moves deftly from the silly (the animated series “Onyx Monster Mysteries”) to the serious (the “Onyx Family Dinner” talk show, featuring interviews with everyone from Jemele Hill to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones).

GEM Sisters
(1.24 million YouTube subscribers)
The three Lomelino sisters (Giselle, Evangeline and Mercedes, ages 19, 14 and 15, respectively) mix gaming, vlogs, sketch comedy and life hacks.