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Ozy Media founder and CEO Carlos Watson has backed out of a significant hosting gig, following a New York Times exposé that raised serious questions about the media company’s legitimacy and revealed that Watson’s co-founder, Samir Rao, impersonated a YouTube executive while the company was seeking to raise money from Goldman Sachs.
Watson had been scheduled to host the documentary portion of the 42nd News and Documentary Emmy Awards ceremony on Wednesday night. However, on Tuesday afternoon, Watson stepped aside from the role.
“Carlos Watson has graciously reached out to us and asked to be removed from his hosting duties tomorrow night so as not to distract the focus from the talented nominees in the documentary categories of the 42nd News & Documentary Emmy Awards,” a spokesperson for the awards show told The Hollywood Reporter.
In his place, presenters June Cross, CJ Hunt and Sonja Sohn will split hosting duties.
The news portion of the News and Doc Emmys, which are presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, will be held Tuesday night, with Wolf Blitzer, Norah O’Donnell and Juju Chang among a slate of hosts.
Watson, a former CNN commentator and MSNBC anchor, founded Ozy Media in 2013, seeking to capitalize on what was a boom in positive, millennial-focused digital media companies. Ozy has since expanded to include TV production deals with OWN, PBS and A+E Networks, among others. It also hosts an annual event called OzyFest, with an eclectic mix of musicians, performers and public figures.
The Times story, however, suggested that Ozy’s self-reported online engagement numbers are based on specious data, and pointed out dubious marketing claims (for example, a billboard in Los Angeles said The Carlos Watson Show was “Amazon Prime’s first talk show,” when in fact Ozy uploaded it to Prime through a service that any YouTube user can take advantage of).
Watson responded to the article by accusing its author, former BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, of having a conflict of interest stemming from his involvement in acquisition talks that BuzzFeed had with Ozy in 2019.
After the Times article broke, Ozy Media’s board said on Tuesday that it hired the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP “to conduct a review of the company’s business activities” and asked COO Rao “to take a leave of absence pending the results of the investigation.”
The media firm also named Harry Hawks, former CFO of Hearst TV, as interim CFO.
Sept. 28, 5:30 pm PST Updated with a statement from Ozy Media announcing an independent review of the company’s business activities.
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