Ozy Media to Shut Down, Following Revelations of Questionable Business Practices

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After a series of damning revelations about how Ozy Media has conducted business, including reports of shady outside dealings and a toxic internal work environment, the digital startup announced on Friday that is shutting down.

Per a statement from the company’s board of directors: “At Ozy, we have been blessed with a remarkable team of dedicated staff. Many of them are world-class journalists and experienced professionals to whom we owe tremendous gratitude, and who are wonderful colleagues. It is therefore with the heaviest of hearts that we must announce today that we are closing Ozy’s doors.”

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The news comes a day after billionaire businessman Marc Lasry, who had just been named chairman of Ozy Media earlier this month, cut ties with the crumbling organization. Earlier on Friday, NPR announced that Ozy Media CEO Carlos Watson had resigned from its board. And the Wall Street Journal reported that Ford, Target, Goldman Sachs and AirBnB paused campaigns with Ozy in light of all the recent revelations of questional business practices.

The quick fall of Ozy Media came after a New York Times column, by Ben Smith, who revealed that Ozy Media chief operating officer Samir Rao impersonated a YouTube executive on a call with potential Goldman Sachs investors.

At the time, Rao and Ozy Media blamed the misstep on a “mental health issue,” and the Times reported that Ozy’s board was satisfied with that explanation, although the Times wrote that Google alerted the FBI over the matter.

After the story was published, Rao took a leave of absence from the company, and his bio was removed from Ozy’s website. The Ozy board also hired Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP to conduct a review of the company’s business activities.

Still, more exposés about Ozy and its practices continued to run throughout the week. The Times also reported that Watson falsely told producers of a new Ozy show, including veteran “Entertainment Tonight” alum Brad Bessey, that their show had been greenlit by A&E — which was a lie.

Bessey resigned after he learned he had been lied to. Per the Times report: “In a farewell email to Mr. Watson and Mr. Rao, which he shared with The Times, he wrote, ‘You are playing a dangerous game with the truth. The consequences of offering an A&E show to guests when we don’t have one to offer are catastrophic for Ozy and for me.'”

It became evident that Watson had been twisting the truth for some time, claiming “The Carlos Watson Show” was Amazon Prime’s “first talk show,” when it had been uploaded to Amazon’s website by Watson and was not a “Prime Video original.” Ozy did a similar thing with YouTube. Insiders also believe Ozy’s inflated usage numbers on sites like YouTube were bought, and didn’t reflect the meager engagement those posts had on the site. Ozy’s marketing materials also had a habit of using glowing quotes and attributing them to major publications like the Los Angeles Times — when in reality those quotes came directly from the mouths of Ozy execs or paid advertising content.

Earlier this week, Watson agreed to step down from hosting the documentary portion of this year’s News & Documentary Emmy Awards. And A&E, which had indeed been working on another project with Watson, unrelated to the one that Bessey had been producing, cut ties with that production.

Then, former BBC News anchor and correspondent Katty Kay, who had just joined Ozy Media in late June, also departed. “I was looking forward to working with the talented young reporters but I did not expect this,” Kay wrote on Twitter.

Lasry, the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and head of a hedge fund that raised $35 million in funding for Ozy in 2019, had taken over Ozy’s board in September to oversee strategic planning, and help Ozy handle large partnerships, including mergers and acquisitions.

“I believe that going forward, Ozy requires experience in areas like crisis management and investigations, where I do not have particular expertise,” he said in a statement. “For that reason, I have stepped down from the company’s board. I remain an investor in the company and wish it the best going forward.”

Other damning stories in recent days include this Forbes piece on how the Ozy Festival isn’t nearly as successful as it claims to be, and this CNN story on the company’s alleged abusive work environment.

Even Sharon Osbourne somehow got in the middle of all of this, denying Watson’s claim that she and her husband, rock star Ozzy Osbourne, were investors in Ozy. Osbourne told CNBC on Thursday: “This guy is the biggest shyster I have ever seen in my life.”

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