Fallout From 'NYT' Expose Of Ozy Media Has Only Begun

  • by September 29, 2021
Ozy Media founder-CEO Carlos Watson this week withdrew from hosting an Emmy Awards ceremony after a New York Timesexposé questioned his media company’s claims about its audience size. The story also indicated the FBI had begun a fraud investigation into Ozy.

Watson had been set to host the documentary category of tonight’s 42nd News and Documentary Emmy Awards ceremony, but backed out yesterday afternoon. The fallout for Ozy has only just begun.

The juiciest revelation in the NYT story was the account of how Ozy co-founder Samir Rao had impersonated a YouTube executive in a meeting to raise money from investment bank Goldman Sachs. It may turn out to be one of the weirdest cases of attempted impersonation since disgraced lawyer Marc Dreier was arrested for posing as a Canadian pension employee in a fraud scheme.
After stints as a CNN commentator and MSNBC anchor, Watson founded Ozy in 2013 amid the growing popularity of digital media companies geared for millennials. Ozy expanded into TV production in collaborations with networks including OWN, PBS and A+E Networks. It also began hosting Ozy Fest, a series of live events featuring music, comedy and talks.
In February, four Goldman Sachs executives had scheduled a video call with Watson and Alex Piper, the head of unscripted programming at YouTube Originals, NYT media columnist Ben Smith reported. Piper was supposed to affirm that Ozy had generated millions of views on the video-sharing site.
Right before the video conference, Piper said he couldn’t log onto Zoom and suggested they meet in a conference call. Unable to see Piper, the Goldman Sachs executives could only listen to him gush about Ozy’s ability to rack up viewership and advertising revenue. They noticed the man’s voice sounded peculiar, as if may have been digitally altered.  
The Goldman Sachs team contacted Piper by phone -- not through a Gmail address he had provided -- and learned he hadn’t been on the conference call. The incident led YouTube and Goldman Sachs to open an investigation. Days later, Watson apologized to Goldman Sachs and admitted that Rao had pretended to be Piper, attributing the episode to a mental-health crisis.
Since the NYT story ran, media reporters and analysts have piled on their criticism of Ozy, expressing doubt about its audience size. That scrutiny will only get more intense in the days ahead.



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