Fledgling media start-up Ozy Media continues to implode in the wake of scandalous claims – this time, for lying that heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne and his wife Sharon invested in the company after suing it for trademark infringement.
During a 2019 interview with CNBC, Ozy Media co-founder Carlos Watson boasted that he was friends with the Osbournes after the two parties settled a lawsuit over Ozy Media’s Ozyfest and its likeness to the Osbournes’ Ozzfest music festival.
He added that they were on such good terms that the Osbournes even became investors in the fledgling media company, saying: ‘They’re part of the family.’
But Sharon told CNBC that Watson’s story was just one more of the many lies being exposed in the wake of a tsunami of scandalous claims against Ozy Media that began just five days ago when Watson’s fellow co-founder was accused of posing as a YouTube exec to investors.
‘We’re not ever, ever a friend, and we don’t have any interest in his company,’ Sharon said. ‘He’s insane.’
‘This guy is the biggest shyster I have ever seen in my life.’
How Ozy Media imploded in a week:
On Sunday, the New York Times revealed that Ozy co-founder Samir Rao allegedly impersonated a YouTube exec to impress potential investors
On Wednesday, a Forbes article revealed how Ozy operated a toxic and abusive culture of overworking young and inexperienced employees
The article also detailed how Ozy profited off the insurance money of a cancelled music festival in 2019 likened to the Fyre Fest fiasco
Wednesday also saw Ozy investor Ron Conway, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, surrender all his shares of the company
On Thursday, Ozy Chairman Marc Lasry stepped down, saying the company was in need of crisis management leadership
That same day, former BBC anchor Katty Kay, one of Ozy’s biggest names also resigned after learning of Rao’s alleged behavior
CNN later released a report detailing how Ozy CEO Carlos Watson acted as a ‘bully’ who never took no for an answer
On Thursday, the NY Times found that television producer Brad Bessey had quit Ozy in August when he found out the show he was producing had no cable deal
Sharon Osbourne also spoke up on Thursday, revealing that Watson’s claim that the Osbournes invested in the company was a lie
Carlos Watson, pictured in February, had claimed he was good friends with Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne and that the iconic television couple had invested in Ozy Media
Sharon Osburne, pictured with her husband Ozy, denied Watson’s claims and said her interactions with Ozy Media were never amicable as the couple sued over the company’s Ozyfest name due to its striking similarity to the heavy metal legend’s Ozzfest
The Osbournes sued Ozyfest in 2017 and settled in court with the condition that Ozyfest distance itself from the Osbournes’ brand
In truth, Ozy media and the Osbournes are far from friends as Sharon saw the company as nothing but a headache for her and her husband’s brand.
The iconic Osbournes first came to learn of Ozy Media in 2016 after the media company launched its Ozyfest event in Manhattan.
The Osbournes claimed OzyFest trademarks were ‘nearly identical in sight, sound, connotation and commercial impression to MLC’s [Monowise Limited Corp.] well-known Ozzfest mark,’ court documents showed.
The television power-couple sent a cease-and-desist letter to Ozy Media before suing the company in 2017.
Sharon said the Osburnes paid about $300,000 in legal fees over the trademark battle before settling the dispute in court, which involved Ozyfest distancing itself from the famous festival.
Sharon said it became annoying to keep up with Watson and Ozy Media to keep the company from infringing on her family’s brand.
‘He couldn’t have the sort of artists that we have on our bill,’ Sharon said. ‘So he couldn’t have any rock artists or alternative artists on his bill. Because he was starting to take rap artists and we’ve had a few rap artists on. So I’m like ‘this is getting ridiculous now.’ So, he had to approve the bills with me and he had to approve the advertising with me.’
Sharon Osbourne claimed Ozy Media co-founder Carlos Watson tried to strong arm her family into ending their lawsuit by talking up their wealth and investors
Watson, pictured at Ozyfest 2018, allegedly offered the Osbournes shares of his company
The Osbournes said they rebuked Watsons offer of shares in his company, saying it was ‘worth nothing’ during their 2017 legal battle
She added that Watson had allegedly offered her shares of Ozy Media during their legal battle, but she declined after Watson supposedly tried to strong arm the Osbournes with claims of their wealth from billionaire investors.
‘To be honest, he did say, “Well we’ll give you shares in the company,” but I said, ‘Your company is worth nothing.’”
Ozy Media’s known investors are Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Apple founder Steven Jobs, venture capitalist Ron Conway and former Google exec David Drummond.
Berlin publishing giant Axel Springer, investment bank LionTree and the radio and podcast company iHeart Media also invested in the company.
The Ford Foundation also gifted Ozy grants as part of its program to support minority-led companies, The New York Times reported.
The named investors did not immediately reply to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.
On Wednesday, Conway surrendered all of his shares in the company, Axios reported.
On Thursday, Ozy Media Chairman Marc Lasry stepped down in the wake of a tsunami of scandalous claims which began just five days ago when co-founder Samir Rao was accused of posing as a YouTube exec to investors.
Since then, allegations have surfaced accusing the company of a toxic work environment, a bullying boss, and smoke-and-mirror business tactics that almost ended in a Fyre Festival-style disaster.
Lasry, a billionaire financier, admitted that Ozy was in dire need of ‘crisis management’ as he resigned his position.
He told the New York Times: ‘I believe that going forward Ozy requires experience in areas like crisis management and investigations, where I do not have particular expertise’.
‘For that reason, I have stepped down from the company’s board. I remain an investor in the company and wish it the best going forward.’
Rao had allegedly set up a videoconference call with Goldman Sachs on Feb. 2 that included an appearance by Piper to discuss Ozy’s standing on the social media platform.
Ozy Media Chairman Marc Lasry resigned on Thursday, days after a report found that the company’s co-founder Samir Rao allegedly impersonated a YouTube executive on a call with potential investors
The company’s co-founder Samir Rao (right) allegedly impersonated a YouTube executive Alex Piper (left) on a call with potential investors
But when it came time for Piper to talk, Goldman Sachs officials received a notice that the YouTube exec was running late and having trouble logging into Zoom.
The videoconference then switched over to an old-fashioned telephone call where Rao allegedly began impersonating Piper.
During the call, Rao – as Piper – boasted that Ozy had a huge subscriber base, garnered significant ad dollars and was run by an incredible leader, all to win favor with Goldman Sachs.
Ozy had also allegedly claimed it had a great relationship with YouTube, where many of its videos attracted more than a million views despite the company having only about 95,500 subscribers.
Goldman Sachs officials described the call as unnatural, almost sounding ‘digitally altered,’ the Times reported.
After the call, a Goldman Sachs official emailed a confused Piper, who said that he was never on the call.
YouTube launched its own investigation after finding that someone had impersonated one of their executives, which quickly led them to identify Rao.
Carlos Watson, Ozy’s chief executive officer reached out to Goldman Sachs and also confirmed that Rao was the one on the call, apologizing profusely for his actions.
Watson blamed the incident on Rao’s mental health.
Lasry, who invested just $1 million in the startup – according to Axios – had previously defended Watson and the company following the report.
In a statement to the Times, he wrote, ‘The board was made aware of the incident, and we fully support the way it was handled.’
He added, ‘The incident was an unfortunate one-time event, and Carlos and his team showed the kind of compassion we would all want if any of us faced a difficult situation in our own lives.’
Marc Lasry, right, had defended Ozy Media and its leadership following the report of co-founder Samir Rao impersonating a YouTube exec. Lasry is pictured in January with Michael Jordan, left, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
Earlier this year Emmy Award-winning television producer Brad Bessey quit the company after he discovered he was producing a show for the embattled company without there being a network on which to air it.Bessey joined Ozy Media in June 2020, to work on The Carlos Watson Show – a daily, half-hour talk show presented by Watson, who is also Ozy’s CEO.
He was told repeatedly that the show would be broadcast on the cable channel A&E.
But this summer he discovered that there was no agreement with A&E, and that the show would just appear on Ozy’s YouTube channel.
Bessey and his team had told guests that they were appearing on a show to be broadcast on A&E, and said he was deeply troubled by the duplicity.
Bessey said that he was shocked by the cavalier attitude of the company’s founders
‘You are playing a dangerous game with the truth,’ he wrote in his resignation email, obtained by The New York Times on Thursday.
‘The consequences of offering an A&E show to guests when we don’t have one to offer are catastrophic for Ozy and for me.’
Bessey announced his departure to his show colleagues during a Zoom call August 3. The call – which Watson was present for – saw Bessey tell those assembled that the chat show would not be airing on A&E as promised.
Watson countered by claiming his project would instead be appearing on YouTube’s prestige YouTube Originals channel, which broadcasts programming made by professional studios, and paid for by YouTube.
But that claim failed to materialize, with the shows appearing on Ozy’s standard YouTube channel. YouTube has denied claims the show was ever slated to appear as an Original.
Some of the episodes have only a few hundred viewers, with others claiming more than a million.
The small number of comments underneath episodes in relation to the viewing figures has let to speculation that audiences were inflated using a practice called ‘paid boosting.’
That would have seen episodes appear as adverts before videos users had actually clicked on to watch, dramatically bumping up traffic.
Further allegations of smoke and mirrors came over the ad campaign for the show, which saw billboards erected in New York and Los Angeles.
One billboard included a quote branding Watson ‘the best interviewer on TV,’ and credited showbiz publication Deadline.
While that statement had appeared in Deadline, it was actually from a statement made by Ozy’s COO Samir Rao, during an interview about the startup.
Another billboard branded Watson ‘Anderson Cooper meets Oprah,’ but came from an advert Ozy had itself run in the Los Angeles Times.
Despite the deception, the show managed to attract multiple big-name guests for its interviews, filmed virtually because of COVID, including Dr Anthony Fauci, Scarlett Johansson and Megyn Kelly.
The Carlos Watson Show, which was broadcast on YouTube, was going to be shown on A&E, Watson and others told Bessey. He later found out that no deal had been reached. Watson (left) is pictured interviewing Terry Crews for the first episode
Brad Bessey, a veteran television producer, was hired by Ozy in June 2020. In August he resigned, having discovered that the show he produced had no network on which to air it
The resignations come as several former Ozy employees shared stories of alleged systematic abuse in the workplace that was understaffed and overworked, as well as reports that the company cashed in on insurance money for a failed festival in 2019.
Staff at Ozy have accused Rao of being a bully and creating a toxic work atmosphere.
Rao, also allegedly once demanded to see an employee’s medical records after she suffered a panic attack and extreme depression after working 18-hour days at the ‘abusive’ firm.
Eva Rodriguez, 24, a creative director for Ozy since 2017, was rushed to the ER and later admitted into a six-week outpatient program for ‘extremely depressed people’ after the panic attack late last year.
‘I felt so helpless because I desperately needed to sleep and take time off, but Carlos had expressed how critical my role is to the show,’ Rodriguez told CNN Business in reference to Ozy CEO Carlos Watson.
‘And if I didn’t do this, the show cannot go on.’
Soon after, she says she got a call from her doctor’s office that a ‘pushy’ and ‘aggressive’ man claiming to be Ozy’s Human Resources director had been asking to review her medical records. It allegedly turned out to be Rao.
Eva Rodriguez, left, said Ozy Media co-founder Samir Rao had allegedly acted as the company’s Human Resources Director and demanded medical records from her doctor after the employee suffered a panic attack late last year
Rodriguez worked an 18-hour role for The Carlos Watson Show, hosted by the company’s CEO
Rodriguez revealed she’d suffered the panic attack – which she at first mistook for a heart attack, two weeks after being pushed into an 18-hour work day role creating branding for The Carlos Watson Show.
She said she returned to work after completing her program, but ultimately decided to leave Ozy in February when she contracted COVID-19 and her employers allegedly told her to ‘work through it.’
‘It’s like a cult,’ Rodriguez said. ‘I really felt like I would be nothing without them because they had given me so many great opportunities and that I would let them down severely if I ever quit.’
CNN reported it had interviewed nine other former Ozy employees who shared stories similar to what Rodriguez experienced.
The former staffers accused Ozy Media of pushing employees too far as the fledgling media company set about ambitious goals to become a big name news outlet.
One former employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told CNN that the company expected four writers and two editors to produce 40 high-quality magazine articles per week.
Others said they found themselves managing entire departments while in their 20s with little to no experience.
Whenever employees felt overwhelmed, the former staffers claimed Watson would step in and use his charisma to make sure staffers could not say no.
‘Carlos was a bully,’ a former staffer said.
‘He would do whatever it took to get what he wanted. He did not accept no for an answer.’
The employees added that they often found themselves working on the weekend and having to schedule their lives around Watson.
The employees were also upset by Watson’s claim that Rao’s alleged impersonation incident was due to ‘personal mental health issues’ and that the company stood by Rao, noting that they had never seen such support about their mental health from the CEO.
Many in the industry began to accuse the company of overinflating its audience size and influence, with one source calling it a ‘Potemkin village,’ a term for a decorative façade that hides what’s failing just beneath the surface
Featured speakers at OZY Fest 2018 included Christian Siriano, Roxane Gay, Isaac Mizrahi
Carlos Watson: The former MSNBC star turned entrepreneur who founded Ozy
Watson, 52, was born in Miami to a Jamaican father and a mother from Virginia, and went on to graduate from Harvard University and Stanford Law School.
A fast-rising star, his early career included stops at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company.
His TV career launched in 2002 as a political analyst for Fox News and CourtTV. He was also a CNN commentator for two years.
By 2009, Watson had secured an anchor gig with MSNBC, where he co-hosted an afternoon segment with Contessa Brewer.
The show was short-lived, and Watson launched Ozy in 2013 with Samir Rao, his fellow Goldman Sachs alumn.
Ozy has garnered some $70 million in venture capital backing, but the latest allegations raise questions about the site’s business performance.
Along with its news department, Ozy also produces a number of non-fiction television shows and, in 2016, launched its own Manhattan-based music and comedy festival, OzyFest – which brought a cease-and-desist letter from Ozzy Osbourne who claimed that the name was too similar to his Ozzfest music festival.
Watson had once vowed that the annual event was going to be ‘the new South-by-Southwest,’ but former employees and insiders said that the struggling festival was more akin to the infamous Fyre Festival.
By 2018, Ozy was raising eyebrows with the claim that it had sold 20,000 tickets to that year’s event at the Rumsey Playfield despite the venue only having a capacity of just 5,000.
‘We had never proven the ability to sell even 5,000 tickets,’ a former employee told Forbes. ‘When we were trying to sell 5,000 tickets we were begging people to buy them. We were putting them on discount, discount, discount, giving them away.’
Much like the Fyre Festival, the failed 2017 event meant to promote the Fyre music booking app, Ozyfest seemed to be an expense that promised much more than it could deliver.
Then in 2019, Watson made an ambitious gamble by scheduling Ozy Fest for Central Park’s massive Great Lawn, vowing to sell 100,000 tickets and promising appearances from comedian Trevor Noah and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
Planning for the event got off to a rocky start after the company was busted using an image of the much more popular Global Citizen Festival in ads for the Ozyfest- a bait-and-switch that Ozy execs blamed on a rogue team member.
And the promised lineup for the event was even more sleight of hand, according to former employees.
‘The way they’d get guests on their TV shows and guests on their festivals is they’d lie and say they already had commitments from X, Y and Z,’ one employee who worked on Ozy Fest told Forbes.
‘And they were like, oh that person dropped out, oh that person can’t participate. But they never had those people to begin with.’
Another employee told Forbes that unlike other media outlets that give trade air-time with guests who appear on their shows by allowing the stars a chance to talk about their projects or causes, Ozy’s high profile guests were always paid for.
‘Ozy would bill them as ‘friends of Ozy’ and that’s why they’re there,’ says the former employee. ‘But no, they were paid to show up. Everything has a price tag.’
Documents filed with the New York City Buildings Department showed the 2019 festival was only licensed to host 15,500 people per day during the two-day festival.
Staging the event would have cost some $6 million, in addition to the millions Ozy likely spent on advertising, according to experts consulted by Forbes.
Insiders say it came as a relief when the festival was cancelled at the last minute by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also called off the New York City Triathlon due to a searing heatwave that hit 100 degrees.
Likewise, Ozy’s 2020 festival was canceled due to the pandemic.