Ozy: We're Back, and Have More Readers than the New York Times Actually

A media company rises from the ashes

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21:  Guests during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2...
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Ozy Media is having its Lazarus moment, if you will. Here’s a quote from their CEO, Carlos Watson, on the “Today” show Monday morning:

We are going to open for business. We’re making news today. This is our Lazarus moment, if you will.

Eastern Orthodox heads will know that St. Lazarus had his own “Lazarus moment” in the Gospel of John, when Jesus brought him back from the dead after four days. Ozy Media, similarly, announced it planned to shut down Friday, after the New York Times’ Ben Smith revealed that their leadership had, among other things, grossly inflated their audience metrics, impersonated a YouTube executive on a call with Goldman Sachs, and bragged that Sharon Osbourne had invested in the company, when she had not.

On “Today,” Watson called the past week “traumatic,” “difficult” and “heartbreaking in many ways,” but said that he planned to power through. “This is our Tylenol moment,” he said, referring possibly to the scandal in 1982, when the drug manufacturer recalled 31 million bottles of the pain reliever due to possible cyanide contamination.

Last week, we did suspend operations with a plan to wind down. But as we spent time over the weekend, we talked to advertisement partners; we talked to some of our readers, our viewers, our investors. And I think Ozy is part of this moment. It’s not going to be easy. But I think what we do with newsletters, what we do with TV shows, original TV shows, podcasts and more, I think it has a place.

The week after Smith’s piece ran, the generously funded multimedia operation seemed to collapse in real time. On Tuesday, the Ozy board announced they had retained a private law firm to investigate their own business activities and leadership. The same day, former BBC journalist Katty Kay, one of Ozy’s most prominent anchors, tendered her resignation over the reports. Then advertisers pulled out, including Target, Facebook, Chevrolet, Walmart, and Goldman Sachs, Watson’s former employer that had also helped fund the operation. At least one federal investigation is underway.

On Thursday, two former Ozy employees — executive producer Brad Bessey and TV writer Heidi Clements — told the Times that they had been deceived on the set of its marquis program, The Carlos Watson Show. They had been told the series, billed as “Anderson Cooper meets Oprah,” would air on A&E. This was not true; Bessey resigned when he found out. On Friday, Watson et al called it quits, announcing that Ozy would shut down in a five-minute, question-less call to his staff. A spokeswoman broke the news in a statement Friday evening.

But now, after a relaxing weekend off, Ozy is back, baby. Perhaps the company’s second act will be more successful than its first; we hear reboots are all the rage right now.