By Nicole Lyn Pesce
Reports of Ozy Media’s death have been greatly exaggerated, according to the CEO and co-founder of Ozy Media.
“We’re going to open for business, so we’re making news today,” the digital media company’s CEO Carlos Watson told NBC’s “Today” show on Monday morning. “This is our Lazarus moment…. Last week was traumatic, it was difficult, heartbreaking in many ways.”
Not long after that, he was on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” explaining that after having “good conversations” with investors, advertisers, readers and viewers over the weekend, “I realized we were premature” in deciding to shut down.
Watson was referring to the Ozy Media company board emailing a statement on Friday, which announced it was “closing Ozy’s doors” and shutting down the digital media organization, including its website, podcasts, newsletters, shows and OzyFest festival.
While the board didn’t give a reason for closing shop, the announcement came in the wake of a New York Times column that questioned the media organization’s claims of millions of viewers and readers. What’s more, the article also suggested a potential case of securities fraud. Columnist Ben Smith reported that Ozy’s chief operating officer, Samir Rao, impersonated a YouTube /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -2.69% executive on a call with Goldman Sachs /zigman2/quotes/209237603/composite GS -2.45% while trying to score an investment from the bank.
Watson’s Monday morning media blitz on the Comcast-owned /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA -1.50% networks addressed those concerns, while also claiming that the company isn’t down for the count just yet.
In response to accusations of overselling Ozy’s success, Watson owned up to being “too aggressive” in marketing the company. “If you ask me do I think we got it wrong 20% of the time? Yeah. We probably did,” he said on MSNBC. And when Melvin asked him earlier on “Today” if he had ever paid for digital traffic, he answered, “Like everyone, 100%.”
But he bristled at being compared to Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, the fallen tech billionaire who is on trial on charges that she defrauded investors and patients about her blood-testing startup .
“When you saw people start to put my name in the lede alongside Elizabeth Holmes, who never had a real product, who raised billions of dollars?” Watson said to Melvin. “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.”
The news show appearances led Watson’s name to trend on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -0.95% on Monday as clips of his interviews made the rounds online. Many of his claims raised eyebrows, as well, such as stating on CNBC that BuzzFeed offered $225 million to buy Ozy Media in 2019.
And Watson didn’t miss the opportunity to capitalize on that attention. “If people now know the name Ozy, I hope they’ll sign up for our newsletters,” he said on “Today. “