Ozy Media Not Shutting But “Open For Business” Says Carlos Watson; Takes Dig At Sharon Osbourne

Embattled Ozy Media continues to make headlines as founder-CEO Carlo Watson told the Today show that the company is not in fact shutting down as it had previously announced in the wake of a fast unfolding financial scandal.

Watson said he stayed quiet all last week as scandal engulfed Ozy because he’d gotten “some very bad advice from crisis communications folks.” He’s speaking out now, and that included  a pot shot at Sharon Osbourne, whom Watson had described as a friend and investor in Ozy Media. Osbourne denied both when asked as the company imploded last week, and called Watson “insane.”

The two parties had a 2017 legal fight over Ozy Media’s Ozyfest festival’s alleged infringement on the Osbourne’s Ozzfest name. She said Watson offered them shares of his company to settle the lawsuit but she declined.

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Watson, however, told Today that the settlement had indeed included handing Osbourne shares of Ozy Media. “And lets be really clear. I am not going to raise money by telling sophisticated people that Sharon Osborne is an investor. No smart person is going to say, ‘Oh great, you’ve got Sharon Osborne.’”

Watson also said this morning that he had no knowledge and was not on a conference call where his co-founder and COO Samir Rao impersonated a YouTube executive, triggering the scandal. Asked if he’d heard from the FBI or law enforcement, he said “I definitely haven’t.”

“We’re going to open for business, so we’re making news today,” Watson said. “This is our Lazarus moment, if you will, this is our Tylenol moment. Last week was traumatic, it was difficult, heartbreaking in many ways. The reversal comes after Ozy Media announced Oct. 1 it was shutting down days after an explosive NYT report triggered a financial fraud investigation and increased scrutiny of the company’s business claims. Watson said that decision to shutter was reconsidered over the weekend.

“At the end of the week, we did suspend operations with a plan to wind down,” he told NBC’s Craig Melvin. “And as we spent time over the weekend we talked to advertising partners, we talked to some of our readers, some of our viewers, our listeners, our investors… I think what we do with newsletters, what we do with TV shows, original TV shows, podcasts and more, I think has a place.”

The scandal that did or it seems didn’t shutter Ozy was unveiled by NYT columnist Ben Smith last Monday. It said Rao impersonated a YouTube executive on a Feb. 2 conference call with banking giant Goldman Sachs, which was looking to invest $40 million in the company. The purported YouTube exec asked to switch from a Zoom video call to a voice teleconference at the last minute. But the voice sounded odd and electronically altered and sparked suspicions of by a Goldman banker who followed up with that exec’s office directly and discovered he was not on the call and had no knowledge of it. After several days Watson said the voice had been Rao and the reason given was mental health issues.

A top journalist Katty Kay quit, so did billionaire Marc Lasry, chairman of the board.

The notice of the shutdown late last week thanked staffers: “Many of them are world-class journalists and experienced professionals to whom we owe tremendous gratitude, and who are wonderful colleagues. It is therefore with the heaviest of hearts that we must announce today that we are closing Ozy’s doors.”

Watson said today he was not on the call.

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