Why OZY’s disappearance is hurting other black-owned media platforms
OZY CEO and Co-Founder Carlos Watson speaks on stage during OZY FEST 2017 presented by OZY.com at Rumsey Playfield on July 22, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder / Getty Images for Ozy Fusion Fest 2017)
The Disappearance of Black Owned OZY Media and the Subsequent Scandal Around the Founder of OZY Media Carlos watson, a black man, who had successfully built the media platform for the past eight years, is both tragic and predictable.
OZY was an American media and entertainment company launched in September 2013 by Watson and its investing partner Samir rao. It was headquartered in Mountain View, California, with additional offices in New York City. OZY was a producer of podcasts, YouTube content and TV series as well as social media and in-person events.
Before its sudden and abrupt fall, the OZY media platform was growing and attracting renowned talent like the former BBC presenter Katty kay and the talented staff from various platforms in Hollywood and Washington, DC It seemed like a business on the move. And with a billionaire chairman of his board at the helm, they seemed on their way to becoming a major media and entertainment group. This president, Marc Lasry, and Kay have now resigned from the company very publicly like others, with senior executives vowing not to return.
All this hubbub started with a pity New York Times story a few weeks ago also alleging that OZY COO and co-founder Samir Rao posed as a YouTube executive during a call with Goldman Sachs that was specifically directed at them to collect funds from the investment bank. Rao, after the story broke, said he had mental health issues. For its part, OZY said it had raised investment capital of up to $ 70 million from investors in late 2019. OZY has long been suspected of having likely inflated its audience size to gain investors.
In a recent interview, Carlos Watson claimed just two weeks ago that OZY has 25 million email subscribers and 30 million Youtube views. The New York Times, who broke the story and has an audience of 15 million newsletter readers, countered this information and said that in fact OZY had less than 500,000 subscribers in June and July, according to data from Comscore. Worse yet, according to reports, OZY paid for its audience rather than creating a substantial and verifiable database of readers and viewers.
On Tuesday, OZY Media was sued by one of its investors, Lifeline Legacy Holdings, for $ 2.2 million. The Beverly Hills-based company made an initial investment in February 2021 for $ 2 million after Watson and Rao approached them for financial support. OZY was able to secure the investment based on the caveat that Goldman Sachs was “positioned to make a substantial investment” in the nascent platform. And in May 2021, Lifeline made an additional $ 250,000 after learning that Alphabet was going to invest $ 30 million.
After all that, the board announced last week that OZY was shutting down, it informed its employees on a call last week before it was canceled by founder Carlos Watson in publications and appearances in national media.
This is where the tragedy begins in my book.
Perhaps Brother Watson did not understand that black people who make professional mistakes of this proportion rarely get a second chance. We can’t “fail” like so many white men and women, who ruin businesses and make big money, then get hired into another business. Former CNN presenter, award-winning journalist and media superstar Soledad O’Brien called it in a Message on Twitter this pointed out that OZY’s issues were an open secret and that they are impacting other black companies that don’t peddle lies and fake subscribers.
This story is still developing, but Watson dreams if he thinks he can just get back to business as usual. It’s the stereotype that comes back to haunt us all: you can’t trust black men. They are still trying to get over it. They are criminals. They are not honest brokers. All this and more. Carlos is a shiny black man who was on his way, but he cut corners and allowed shady practices in his business. These practices caught up with him.
Yes of course white boys do it all the time. But as our grandmothers all told us, “you have to be twice as good”. In no world does this work well for him and for those who trusted him and his vision. I suspect that today’s lawsuit is only the first in a long series. They will make him an example. A large. And it will impact the ability of black entrepreneurs to secure investment and start-up support. This is really the tragedy in all of this.
In 2021, and there are less than ten large, successful black-owned media platforms (The Grio, TV One / Radio One, Black company, Gasoline and a few others). What does this say given the number of blacks in the news and entertainment industry? I think the answer is in the question: we have to do better. We need to be ‘twice as good’, we need to do good deals, partner with ethical people and be transparent with our business platforms.
Doing less or cutting corners, not only destroys our own goals and possibilities, but seriously hurts the chances of others who watch our example and want to create successful public enterprises themselves.
Sophie a nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a television commentator and author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock”, “Black Women Redefined”.
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