Ozy Media is closing its doors following a bombshell exposé alleging the company defrauded investors and inflated its online traffic numbers.
The digital media outlet, founded by former CNN contributor and MSNBC host Carlos Watson, has been in freefall since the New York Times published a Sept. 26 article saying Ozy’s co-founder and COO Samir Rao impersonated a YouTube executive on a conference call with Goldman Sachs while attempting to raise $40 million from the investment bank.
Hours after the Times article went live, Watson responded with a tweet calling the story a “ridiculous hitjob.”
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As scrutiny of the company increased, Ozy announced Friday it is shutting down.
“At Ozy, we have been blessed with a remarkable team of dedicated staff. Many of them are world-class journalists and experienced professionals to whom we owe tremendous gratitude, and who are wonderful colleagues,” the company’s board of directors said in a statement to the Times. “It is therefore with the heaviest of hearts that we must announce today that we are closing Ozy’s doors.”
Ozy launched in 2013. The company described itself as “a modern media company producing original TV series podcasts, festivals and news for curious people.”
It created a splashy website and branched out into television after signing production deals with A&E Networks, OWN, Hulu, Amazon Prime and PBS.
In August, A&E’s Lifetime announced Ozy was co-producing the made-for-TV immigration movie Torn From Her Arms. Watson is listed as an executive producer on the film.
According to published reports, Ozy raised more than $83 million. Part of the company’s appeal was claims that it garnered 50 million monthly unique users on its website. But in 2017, BuzzFeed News reported a lot of that traffic was “fraudulent” and had been “purchased and delivered via a system that automatically loads specific webpages and redirects traffic between participating websites to quickly rack up views without any human action.”
On Thursday, Sharon Osbourne slammed Watson for claiming she and husband Ozzy Osbourne were investors. Two years ago, Watson told CNBC he became friends with the famous couple and they eventually invested in his company after a legal battle over the name “Ozy Fest.”
CNBC contacted Sharon Osbourne yesterday for comment on the growing controversy surrounding Ozy Media. She said her family had nothing to do with the company and called Watson a liar.
“We’re not ever, ever a friend, and we don’t have any interest in his company,” she said. “This guy is the biggest shyster I have ever seen in my life.”
There are reports the FBI is now looking into Ozy Media.