PBS Expands Relationship With Ozy Media, Orders Unscripted Series 'The Third Rail' and 'Breaking Big' (Exclusive)

Courtesy of PBS
Ozy Media's 'The Contenders'

The public broadcaster last year aired Ozy-produced 'The Contenders' ahead of the presidential election.

Six months after Ozy Media's The Contenders ended its run on PBS, the two companies are back in business. 

PBS has ordered a 12-episode series called Breaking Big from the digital publisher that will explore how some of the world's most influential artists, innovators, athletes and leaders got their big break. It is slated to premiere in the first part of 2018. The public broadcaster has also greenlighted The Third Rail with Ozy, which hails from Ozy and Boston-based public radio station WGBH. The show, which will focus on discussing and debating hot-button topics, is a continuation of a partnership that began last spring with Point Taken, a debate show hosted by Ozy CEO Carlos Watson. The Third Rail will begin airing on PBS this fall. 

"Every day, millions of Americans turn to PBS for thought-provoking content that is timely, relevant and serves as a platform for discussion," says Marie Nelson, vp news and public affairs at PBS. She points to Ozy's The Contenders and Point Taken as helping the pubcaster "foster a national conversation around the election and its corresponding issues, to great success. We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Ozy media and are looking forward to collaborating with them on future projects."

The projects are part of a push into television production at Ozy, which was founded in 2013 as a digital magazine for news junkies. The company raised $10 million in fundraising in January, led by GSV Capital, to further its TV efforts, noting at the time that the investment would allow it to double its staff to 100 and invest more resources into production.

In addition to the projects with PBS, Ozy is working with unscripted production company Outpost Entertainment to shop a new project. And it has four other projects currently in development, including a dating show with a twist and a series that would explore underground worlds. 

Watson says that today about one-third of the company is focused on its television efforts, but he expects that part of the business to grow to about half the company by next year. In addition to its editorial and TV efforts, Ozy also produces events, including an outdoor festival known as Ozy Fest. The event is returning to New York for a second year in July, featuring panels with Malcolm Gladwell, Katie Couric and Ta-Nehisi Coates as well as performances by Jason Derulo, Samantha Bee and RuPaul. 

Ozy is one of a number of digital publishers looking to bring ideas developed in-house to the small and big screens. But it can be a slow process. BuzzFeed established a large operation in Los Angeles in 2014 to fuel its video business and begin developing projects for television and film. It recently sold its first television series to Oxygen and has a film in the works with Warner Bros. 

Mountain View, Calif.-based Ozy — which, with a cross-platform audience of 25 million unique visitors a month, is considerably smaller than the leaders in the space — has taken a different, and slightly more measured, approach to TV development. It has not established an L.A.-based production unit, but is signed with CAA and thus far has developed and produced all of its projects in-house. That strategy has paid off. The company's relationship with PBS started as a content distribution partnership before the pubcaster began distributing Ozy-produced shows. Watson says talks are already underway with other networks for projects currently in development 

"More than building a studio, it's really critical that you build compelling content," says the exec. "Ozy is able to mine original stories. We take smart, original reporting and turn it into The Contenders."