pocket.watch’s Chris M. Williams Talks Generation Alpha


Chris M. Williams, the founder and CEO of pocket.watch, discussed the company’s approach to developing IP for a digital-first generation at TV Kids Festival today.

The entire conversation between Williams and Kristin Brzoznowski, executive editor of TV Kids, is available to view here. “I had the good fortune to have a front-row seat to a revolution in how kids and families consume content,” Williams said, both as a father in his own home and in his post at Maker Studios, which was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2014. “We were the largest network of YouTube channels in the world. My responsibility was managing 60,000 channels and partner relationships. I got to see a lot of data. One thing I saw was Disney Channel ratings plummeting and a corresponding surge of kids and family audiences getting onto YouTube.”

Williams continued, “I said, why aren’t we taking these audiences that are consuming content around this new talent, new IP, new characters, and treating them like franchises? In some cases, they are bigger than what we have on TV!” That thinking led Williams on a course to establish pocket.watch in 2017.

“There were a lot of prevailing notions at the time,” Williams continued. “‘If it’s on YouTube, it’s not going to work anywhere else.’ I did not believe that. So I said, we need to break down that wall. And the other was that this talent couldn’t serve as the basis for premium content on premium services. ‘YouTube stars don’t work on TV!’ I wanted to prove these things wrong. We’ve had a tremendous amount of success taking YouTube content, repackaging it, reformatting it, upscaling it to more premium-feeling content, and then distributing it broadly across over 40 different platforms in 80 countries. Everywhere we put the content, it performs, always.”

Ryan’s Mystery Playdate, for example, brought a raft of new viewers to Nickelodeon. “That first episode, 40 percent of the audience had never watched Nickelodeon before.”

Ryan’s World has become a significant franchise for pocket.watch. “Scale and reach matter. Data is one of the first things we have access to. Ryan and his family had done an incredible job building a huge audience on YouTube. We felt we could work with them to make a franchise. When we partnered with them, it was just Ryan ToysReview. The family had done a tremendous job planting the seeds of animated and other characters to expand the storytelling universe and world, which becomes a critical factor in creating franchises.”

The pocket.watch relationship with the team behind Ryan’s World extends across content distribution, ad sales, original content development and consumer products—“everything you need to create a franchise. They wanted to partner with somebody who understood, as Disney does, how to harmonize all the different pieces of the franchise platform to work together to create enterprise value for the main IP. That’s what we do. We take that Disney model and apply it to these digital brands in a way that creates the enterprise value.”

On what the company looks for in YouTube talent, Williams said it starts with the data. “We’re not just looking for scale and reach and locality; we’re looking for depth of fandom. In many cases, we’ll start relationships and partnerships by distributing content. It gives us more data. We can package and distribute content across a variety of platforms all over the world. That gives us more data. And it helps us understand whether or not what’s coming from YouTube actually can serve as the basis for new IP.”

He continued, “Every family we’ve partnered with, they want to do the right thing as parents. As a company, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to empower them to always do the right thing. That takes the form of things like a creator handbook, where we show all the best practices: What’s the proper way to set money aside for my children for their future? What are the right amounts of work hours on a set? How to book a studio teacher.”

Discussing Generation Alpha, Williams said that this demo’s prolific use of devices has driven new consumption habits as well as content formats. “Kids want to watch other kids. There’s an intimacy and a connection that kids share on these mobile devices that is different than a big-screen, passive experience on television. That has driven a lot of changes. And it’s constantly evolving. We’re moving from the mobile age to the Web 3 age.”

Legacy media companies are learning more about “the creator economy, franchise economics, just the value of kids and family content generally. This has come to light over the last year.” He referenced his former bosses, Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, whose Candle Media recently acquired Moonbug Entertainment. “It gives a lot of people permission to be bold and do more things in the creator economy, even if you’re at a traditional media company, or do things with original content coming from pocket.watch. We see it brings new audiences. This is finally being widely recognized, between CoComelon on Netflix and Ryan’s Mystery Playdate on Nickelodeon. I think working with traditional media companies this year will be even bigger for us than it’s been.”