A day after a New York Times article revealed that Ozy Media chief operating officer Samir Rao impersonated a YouTube executive on a call with potential Goldman Sachs investors, the company has announced that the exec will take a leave of absence.
Also as part of the news, Ozy’s board of directors has hired a law firm to review the company’s practices. The news also comes just hours after Ozy Media CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson informed the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences that he would no longer host the organization’s documentary Emmys ceremony on Wednesday.
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Per a statement from the Ozy board: “Following reports of conduct that is not in keeping with our standards or values, Ozy has engaged Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP to conduct a review of the company’s business activities. We have also asked Samir Rao, Chief Operating Officer, to take a leave of absence pending the results of the investigation.We will continue to review the company’s leadership in the coming months and are pleased that Harry Hawks, former Executive President and Chief Financial Officer of Hearst Television, Inc., has agreed to serve as interim-CFO through this period of transition and review.”
In the New York Times report written by Ben Smith, some of Ozy’s claims about its audience size have been called into question, including a 2019 press release that claimed 50 million monthly unique users.
It’s the Goldman Sachs incident that perhaps riled the most reaction, however. Per Smith, Rao posed as Alex Piper, the head of unscripted programming for YouTube Originals, in a conference call with Goldman Sachs. Rao, as Piper, touted Ozy’s performance on YouTube. Later, suspicious Goldman Sachs investors reached out to Piper, who said he wasn’t on the call.
Watson later apologized to Goldman Sachs and admitted it was Rao on the call. Watson told the Times the incident was a mental health crisis: “Samir is a valued colleague and a close friend,” he told the newspaper. “I’m proud that we stood by him while he struggled, and we’re all glad to see him now thriving again.”
But Ozy has also been accused of misrepresenting quotes from media outlets in its marketing campaigns, and vastly overstating its reach and engagement levels.
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