It seems as though posing as a YouTube executive to trick investors is not the only act of apparent deception Ozy’s management has attempted to pull off in recent months.
As it turns out, the embattled media company has also seemingly engaged in misleading marketing tactics, including boasting that the Los Angeles Times called Ozy founder and CEO Carlos Watson’s YouTube show the “most important show of 2020” when, in fact, the paper says it has no record of ever doing so.
And that’s not the only time Ozy has boasted of outside media praise that appears to not exist.
On Sunday, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith shed light on dubious tactics employed by Ozy, a multimedia company that launched in 2013 as a millennial-focused outlet and whose resilience has perplexed observers in an unforgiving digital-media ecosystem that has challenged and sunk other more well-known publications.
Ozy’s chief operating officer Samir Rao, Smith reported, posed as a YouTube executive during a crucial business meeting with Goldman Sachs officials, who were close to making a $40 million investment in the digital media company. The bank discovered the deception after growing suspicious of the presentation, in which Rao, posing as a YouTube programming boss, overinflated the performance metrics of the company’s online videos. (The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday evening that Ozy hired powerful law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP to “conduct a review of the company’s business activities.”)
Rao’s actions, which Ozy claimed was the result of the executive’s struggles with mental health, appears to be just one of several times the media org has hyped itself up in ways that crumble under scrutiny.
After the Times exposé ran, Forbes contributor John Moreno shared on Twitter a series of what appeared to be exaggerated or misleading advertisements for Ozy. Moreno cited one particular digital ad for CEO Watson’s YouTube show, bearing the bold-font “most important show” declaration attributed to the Los Angeles Times. The reporter, however, could not find a single instance of the newspaper praising Watson’s show.
And in an email to The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Times spokesperson Hillary Manning confirmed that the paper could not find the quote in any published story over the last several years, nor could it find any mention of Watson’s show at all.
“It’s safe to say that quote is not from LA Times editorial coverage,” Manning wrote. Ozy and Watson did not respond to multiple emails and messages for comment on this story.
And several other Ozy advertisements touting outside media praise similarly fall apart upon closer inspection.
The website for Ozy Fest 2021, the company’s annual live festival, for example, features supportive quotes from major news outlets, including Time Out New York allegedly likening the festival to “TED meets Coachella.”
That label, however, did not come from Time Out at all: it was said by Ozy’s CEO himself during an interview with the New York Daily News. Time Out merely quoted that Watson interview in an article on the festival and Ozy, in turn, attributed it to the popular magazine instead of its own founder.
Another ad promoting Watson’s YouTube show boasted of the Los Angeles Times saying it was “what true discussions should look like,” but as Times reporter Chris Megerian tweeted Tuesday, that quote actually came from Ozy’s own paid content that ran on the Times website.
And a quote on the front page of an Ozy promotional packet, titled “Ozy Magazine,” touted Watson as “the best interviewer on TV”—a quote attributed to Deadline, a prominent entertainment industry trade publication.
But Vice News Tonight correspondent Michael Moynihan pointed out that the quote was actually made by Rao—the Ozy executive who impersonated a YouTube boss—in an interview with Deadline, which Ozy then attributed to the influential trade pub anyhow.
Following the initial publication of this article, The Daily Beast learned of an Ozy ad campaign that ran on the side of MTA buses in New York City, featuring an alleged Los Angeles Times quote labeling Watson as “Anderson Cooper meets Oprah.” As it turns out, that quote also appears to be from Ozy’s paid content on the Times website.
Additionally, officials confirmed to The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening that Ozy Fest Miami—which was set to be held next month at Maurice A. Ferré Park—has been postponed. Ozy announced the festival back in July, and promised to release tickets and post headliners later this summer, but not acts were ever publicly announced. Ozy did not return a request for comment on its festival, but after The Daily Beast reached out the company quietly scrubbed any mention of the Miami event from its festival website.