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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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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