Ozy Media’s Collapse
Ozy Media is a media and entertainment company founded by Carlos Watson and Samir Rao in September of 2013. The site is headed by Watson, a highly revered entrepreneur with education from Harvard and Stanford as well as work done with MSNBC and Goldman Sachs. The company’s focus on podcasts, events, and TV series has given it a spot in the limelight since its start and after receiving an Emmy. It first started as a daily newsletter and magazine that eventually expanded after financing from multiple other sources to its most profitable point in January of 2021.
On September 26th, 2021, New York Times author Ben Smith published an article revealing that Goldman Sachs’ almost-investment of 40 million dollars in the company, Ozy Media, had been obtained fraudulently. The meeting with the Goldman Sachs asset management division and the head of YouTube Originals, Alex Piper, was a chance to boast Ozy’s impressive numbers on YouTube in terms of views and ad revenue.
The meeting, however, seemed off as if Piper’s voice had been digitally altered by using a voice modulator app. Later, it is speculated that this fraudulent behavior was indeed true and Piper was allegedly impersonated by Samir Rao, the COO of Ozy. Watson explained and apologized to the team at Goldman Sachs and attributed this fault to extraneous mental health circumstances.
On Friday, October 1st, Ozy Media shut down. It isn’t a surprise as the viral company was essentially built on a foundation of lies in performance reporting and more, and this instance of trickery places Ozy Media under intense scrutiny as people find out the truth of some of their overstated success on major platforms. Mr. Watson’s YouTube talk show is marketed by Ozy as one of the platform’s fastest-growing shows in history, but this claim among other overstatements has put Ozy Media in a difficult position in terms of credibility in the entertainment industry.
Over 95% of traffic to “The Carlos Watson Show” was paid and an over 20 million email list was made suspiciously while requests to unsubscribe from the platform were ignored. More questionable acts include the over-reporting of Ozy Fest live events and social media following being paid for rather than having organic engagement.
In a CNN interview, a former employee revealed that the company, in addition to the fabricated traffic and engagement, also expanded on the toxic work environment. The accumulation of lies and the New York Times article that sparked more cause for concern, led to the chairman of Ozy stepping down, the resigning of star journalist Katty Kay, and SV Angel giving back its shares in the company. Following this, the board voted to shut down the company.
CEO Watson, however, has different plans. On Monday morning, Watson went on television to report that Ozy Media would not shut down despite their announcement earlier. Although employees had already lost access to their company emails and other communication methods, Watson reported that they will still “open for business” and that “this [was their] Lazarus moment, if you will.”
It remains unclear what the final verdict is, but it isn’t wrong to question why any employee would return after the truth behind the company was exposed and they were expected to receive their last paychecks soon. As the company tackles this scandal, it is uncertain what the future for Ozy Media holds.