The board of Ozy Media, the media and entertainment company accused of deceiving investors and advertisers, has had a change of heart and will not be shutting its doors, CEO Carlos Watson said Monday.
“We are going to open for business,” Watson said in an appearance on NBC News’ “Today” show. “This is our Lazarus moment, if you will.”
The about-face comes after New York-based Ozy announced Friday, Oct. 1, that it would wind down the business, following a series of damaging reports about the company falsifying audience metrics and the revelation that its COO impersonated a YouTube executive on a call with prospective investor Goldman Sachs. Ozy’s questionable practices were first reported by the New York Times on Sept. 26, leading to an avalanche of other disclosures including allegations of a toxic workplace culture.
Over the weekend, Watson said, the company spoke with advertising partners, readers and viewers, and investors — and concluded that Ozy’s business is worth saving.
“The last couple of days gave a lot of people a chance to take cheap shots,” Watson said Monday on “Today.” “That’s not to say that there aren’t things that we can do better. We need to do better on data, we need to do better on marketing, I think there’s some things we can do better on leadership and culture.”
It’s unclear, however, how Ozy Media may be able to recover from the crisis.
Watson — who had called the Times piece, by media columnist Ben Smith, a “ridiculous hit job” — complained in the “Today” interview that media coverage of Ozy’s past transgressions was out of proportion, including journalists comparing him to disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who is on trial for 12 counts of fraud. “We have five newsletters that go out to millions of people, a dozen TV shows including one that won an Emmy. That is not a house of cards,” Watson said.
In the interview on “Today,” Watson said he was not on the Goldman Sachs conference call with Ozy COO Samir Rao, who was placed on leave. “[As] part of the fund-raising process, you end up talking to a lot of people, and I’m not on every call,” he said. Watson also said he has not been contacted by the FBI or other law enforcement officials about any allegations of criminal activity or fraud relating to the Goldman phone call.
The reports of Ozy Media’s alleged misconduct led to the resignation of chairman Marc Lasry, owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and head of a hedge fund that raised $35 million in funding for Ozy in 2019. In addition, A&E cut ties with a production it had in the works with Ozy Media. Katty Kay, a former BBC News anchor and correspondent, last week announced her exit from Ozy after just three months. And Watson stepped down from hosting the documentary portion of this year’s News & Documentary Emmy Awards.
On the “Today” segment, Watson also addressed his conflict with Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. In a 2019 interview with CNBC, Watson boasted that he was friends with the Osbournes after the two parties settled a lawsuit over the company’s Ozy Fest and its likeness to the Osbournes’ Ozzfest music festival — and that the Osbournes were investors in Ozy Media. On Sept. 30, Sharon Osbourne said in a CNBC interview that wasn’t true and called Watson “the biggest shyster I have ever seen in my life.” On Monday, Watson hit back, claiming that Ozy Media granted the Osbournes shares in the company as part of the legal settlement and that, therefore, they were “investors.”
“Let’s be really clear, I’m not going to raise money by telling sophisticated people that Sharon Osbourne’s an investor,” Watson said on the “Today” show. “No smart investor is going to say, ‘Oh, great, you’ve got Sharon Osbourne.'”