It’s been a tough few days for Ozy. Since New York Times media columnist Ben Smith exposed “the New and the Next” digital media company as being maybe sorta one big fraud with a chief operating officer bold enough to impersonate a YouTube executive on a call with potential investor Goldman Sachs, the aces in this house of cards have been tumbling down one by one.
First, Ozy’s board said it had hired an outside law firm to investigate the company’s business practices. COO Samir Rao, the one who attempted a shoddy YouTube exec impersonation using Jigsaw-esque digital voice alteration, was placed on a leave of absence. CEO Carlos Watson, who called Smith’s piece a “ridiculous hitjob,” bowed out of hosting the documentary portion of the 42nd News and Documentary Emmy Awards, and A&E Network canceled the broadcast of a documentary special hosted by Watson and co-produced by A&E and Ozy. Katty Kay, a longtime BBC journalist who had jumped ship to Ozy just a few months ago, resigned from her position as senior editor and executive producer. OZY Fest Miami, an upcoming installment of the outlet’s regular festivals and events, was postponed. One of the company’s early investors pulled out. Sharon Osbourne(?) said that Watson lied about the Osbournes investing in Ozy(??) and falsely claimed that they were all friends(???).
Just today, Marc Lasry — a hedge fund manager and Milwaukee Bucks co-owner who served on the Weinstein Company’s board until sexual assault allegations against co-founder Harvey Weinstein were made public — resigned as the chairman of Ozy Media’s board after just three weeks on the job, saying he does not “have particular expertise” in “areas like crisis management and investigations.” Imposter syndrome, much?
All this, amid reports that Ozy employees were made to work ‘round the clock and pressured to accept stock options instead of higher salaries. Other outlets also reported that, upon further scrutiny, many of Ozy’s branding and marketing tactics have been misleading or outright false. For example, the company apparently has a habit of taking brags about Ozy that its own executives said within the pages of another publication — in, say, a paid advertisement, or in an interview — and attributing those compliments to the other publication to make it seem like the Los Angeles Times or Time Out or Deadline is calling Watson “the best interview on TV” or other equally flattering descriptors.
This long con has been so audacious that it’s almost admirable (or it would be, if the company weren’t allegedly treating many of its employees like shit). As Watson tweeted, “Building something new, fresh and worthy is not for the weak.” Better luck next time.