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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Cadence

Robot Bartenders, Space Construction and a Weight Loss App: Highlights From Techstars’ LA Demo Day

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Robot Bartenders, Space Construction and a Weight Loss App: Highlights From Techstars’ LA Demo Day
Andria Moore

On Wednesday, Techstars’ fall 2022 class gathered in Downtown Los Angeles to pitch their products to potential investors in hopes of securing their next big funding round. dot.LA co-sponsored the demo day presentation alongside Venice-based space news website Payload.

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Derek Jeter’s Sports Trading Card Company Brings in $10M

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

sports trading cards
Arena Club /Andria Moore

Sports trading card platform Arena Club has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Co-founded by CEO Brian Lee and Hall of Fame Yankees player Derek Jeter, Arena Club launched its digital showroom in September. Through the platform, sports fans can buy, sell, trade and display their card collections. Using computer vision and machine learning, Arena Club allows fans to grade and authenticate their cards, which can be stored in the company’s vault or delivered in protective “slabs.” Arena Club intends to use the new cash to expand these functions and scale its operations.

The new funding brings Arena Club’s total amount raised to $20 million. M13, defy.vc, Lightspeed Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and BAM Ventures contributed to the round.

“Our team is thankful for the group of investors—led by M13, who see the bright future of the trading card hobby and our platform,” Lee said in a statement. “I have long admired M13 and the value they bring to early-stage startups.”

M13’s co-founder Courtney Reum, who formed the early-stage consumer technology venture firm in 2016 alongside his brother Carter Reum, will join Arena Club’s board. Reum has been eyeing the trading card space since 2020 when he began investing in what was once just a childhood hobby.

The sports trading card market surged in 2020 as fans turned to the hobby after the pandemic brought live events to a standstill. Since then, prices have come down, though demand remains high. And investors are still betting on trading card companies, with companies like Collectors bringing in $100 million earlier this year. Fanatics, which sells athletic collectibles and trading cards, reached a $31 billion valuation after raising $700 million earlier this week. On the blockchain, Tom Brady’s NFT company Autograph lets athletes sell digital collectibles directly to fans.

As for Arena Club, the company is looking to cement itself as a digital card show.

“Providing users with a digital card show allows us to use our first-class technology to give collectors from all over the world the luxury of being able to get the full trading card show experience at their fingertips,” Jeter said in a statement.

Is Airbnb’s New Push To Expand Short-Term Rentals Enough for Hosts To Combat LA’s City Policy?

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to amrita@dot.la or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
LA house

L.A.’s lax enforcement of Airbnbs has led to an surge of illegal short-term rentals — even four years after the city passed a regulation to crack down on such practices. But what if hosts lived in a building that welcomed Airbnb guests and short-term rentals?

That’s the idea behind Airbnb’s new push to expand short-term rental offerings. The company is partnering with a number of corporate landlords that agreed to offer “Airbnb-friendly” apartment buildings, reported The Wall Street Journal last week. According to the report, the new service will feature more than 175 buildings managed by Equity Residential, Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC and 10 other companies that have agreed to clear more than 175 properties nationwide for short-term rentals.

But prospective hosts in Los Angeles who decide to rent apartments from Airbnb’s list of more than a dozen “friendly” buildings in the city likely won’t earn enough to break even due to a combination of high rents, taxes and city restrictions on short-term rentals. Rents on one-bedroom apartments in most of the partnered buildings listed soared well over $3,000 a month. Only a few studios were available under the $2,000 price range. If a host were to rent a one bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $2,635 (which amounts to $31,656 annually), they would have to charge well over the $194 average price per night for Los Angeles (which amounts to $23,280 per year) according to analytics platform AllTheRooms.

Either way, residents who rent one of these Airbnb friendly apartments still have to apply for a permit through the City of Los Angeles in order to host on Airbnb.

“[..Airbnb-friendly buildings] seems like a good initiative. However, from a quick look, it seems that given the rent, Airbnb revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all expenses if the host follows the city’s policy,” says Davide Proserpio, assistant professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.

In addition, since L.A.’s 120-day cap on short-term rentals still applies to the buildings on Airbnb’s listing platform, that greatly limits the number of longer-term guests a resident can host. Not to mention, some of the buildings that Airbnb lists have even shorter limits – The Milano Lofts in DTLA for example only allows residents to host 90 nights a year.

Airbnb’s calculations of host earnings may be greatly misleading as well, given that the estimate doesn’t include host expenses, taxes, cleaning fees or individual building restrictions. For example, Airbnb estimates that a resident of a $3,699 one bedroom apartment at the Vinz in Hollywood that hosts 7 nights a month can expect $1,108 a month in revenue if they host year-round. But the Vinz only allows hosts to rent 90 days a year, which greatly limits the potential for subletters and a consistent income stream.

Keep in mind too that since the apartment will have to serve as the host’s “primary residence”, hosts will have to live there six months out of the year. All of which is to say, it’s unclear how renting an apartment in an “Airbnb-friendly” building makes hosting easier — especially in a city where illegal short-term rentals already seem to be the norm.

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