More Screen Time? OK Play Says It's a Kids App Parents Won't Feel Guilty About

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

More Screen Time? OK Play Says It's a Kids App Parents Won't Feel Guilty About

Mr. Rogers made the boob tube acceptable television for a generation of kids and parents who had previously seen the small screen as antithetical to learning. Chris Ovitz wants do the same for his new mobile app OK Play, another in a recent blitz of edutainment products for children.

But this one, Ovitz said he has a twist: It's also made for parents. OK Play asks them to put their phones down and play with their young children.


"The way Mr. Rogers used the TV to reach so many families and talk about emotions — especially the hard ones — I think we can do something similar with the mobile device," said Ovitz, a founder and president of OK Play. "We can use that to create more connection between parents and children."

The company, which has already raised $11 million, launched its signature product on Thursday. It's backed by Obvious Ventures, Forerunner Ventures, Greycroft, but also the venture arms of the companies behind Sesame Street and Lego.

And if that sounds like a lot of cash for an app, it is. Ovitz, an entrepreneur who co-founded WorkPop and Viddy, said what he is actually creating is "a media company."

If his name sounds familiar it's because Ovitz is the son of the former Disney president and powerhouse behind CAA, Michael Ovitz, who also is an investor in the company. Ovitz grew up watching his powerful father create blockbusters and saw how they can stimulate the popular imagination and catapult an already successful company further.

The younger Ovitz is now the father of a four-year-old and said he had once carefully restricted his own son's screen time. But, he said, he wants to use the power of storytelling to draw in children. His vision was inspired by the documentary on Mr. Rogers, "Won't You Be My Neighbor."

"My first phone call was to JJ, who's the biggest empath," Ovitz said. OK Company CEO JJ Aguhob was a product and design consultant for Headspace and Musical.ly (now owned by TikTok's parent company ByteDance). "I was like, 'You got to watch'."

The two began plotting out their path and brought on several other co-founders including Colleen Russo Johnson, a developmental psychologist with an expertise in children's media and technology who is the company's chief scientist. Much of her work showed that screen time wasn't always bad, if parents helped guide children.

What the team designed was an interactive application populated by a cast of recurring characters: Mapa and her friends.

The characters are each designed for a different type of play. Jicama, the artist, is all things creative. Kim and Tim, workout enthusiasts, are all things active.

A premium version of the app costs $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year.

Each day, parents will find a fresh batch of activities to engage in with their kids. While doing so, they are encouraged to create special "moments," so kids can record, for example, how they feel one day - angry or sad.

Those 'memories' can then later be tapped and used to motivate parents to keep using the application. Another section of the app guides parents through the developmental framework.

"Our goal is to get kids and parents playing together, spending quality time and, through that, growing their social and emotional skills, which are extremely important for young children to focus on," said Russo Johnson.

Founding team JJ Aguhob, Chris Ovtiz, Dr. Colleen Russo Johnson, Ken Chung and Travis Chen

Originally, OK Company planned to launch their app later this year, but the pandemic left so many families stuck at home searching for child activities that it accelerated the timeline for their launch.

"We really want to try and help strip away the stress and pressures on parents, remind them that it's okay to just be wherever they are," she said.

The company will compete in an increasingly crowded multi-billion-dollar edutainment marketplace, but their ambitions are to transcend it.

"I think the overarching dream for us is to build that once-in-a-generation children's entertainment and technology company, but we can't get there until we really start to build this," said OK Company CEO Aguhob.

"We are at the starting line," he said, noting there is room to grow eventually adding books, toys and other physical merchandise that traditional media franchises have used to expand their reach.

"We're not just going to make traditional entertainment because it's the thing that you do," he said "We're going to create a new interactive experience that brings families together. And from that, the media is going to look different."

Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @racheluranga. You can also email me.

**An earlier version misidentified Michael Ovitz's title.


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LA Tech ‘Moves’: Mapp Gains New CPO and CTO, Prodoscore Taps Boeing Exec

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

LA Tech ‘Moves’: Mapp Gains New CPO and CTO, Prodoscore Taps Boeing Exec
LA Tech ‘Moves’:

“Moves,” our roundup of job changes in L.A. tech, is presented by Interchange.LA, dot.LA's recruiting and career platform connecting Southern California's most exciting companies with top tech talent. Create a free Interchange.LA profile here—and if you're looking for ways to supercharge your recruiting efforts, find out more about Interchange.LA's white-glove recruiting service by emailing Sharmineh O’Farrill Lewis (sharmineh@dot.la). Please send job changes and personnel moves to moves@dot.la.

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This Week in ‘Raises’: GITAI Lands $30M, Steno Gains $15M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Raises
Image by Joshua Letona

A local space robotics startup raised fresh funding to expand the flight model manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S. and increase employment, while a remote litigation platform raised more funding to continue growing its footprint in new markets across the country, develop service channels for its clients and continue expanding its tech team.

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Gitai Raises $30 Million to Expand Manufacturing Footprint in Los Angeles

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Gitai Raises $30 Million to Expand Manufacturing Footprint in Los Angeles
\u200bPhoto: Gitai

Space robotics company Gitai raised a $30 million Series B extension this week, bringing the total value of the round to roughly $47 million.

The funding will be used to further develop Gitai’s suite of space robots as well as build out its manufacturing footprint in Torrance. Previously Gitai announced it raised a $17.1 million Series B in March 2021; this additional raise is still part of that round.

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