Jan 12, 2021 - Economy

Exclusive: OZY hits profitability on $50 million in revenue

Photo of Ozy CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson

OZY brought in $50 million in revenue last year, helping it hit profitability for the first time in its 7-year history.

Why it matters: The company has received acquisition offers from at least two major media companies, its founder and CEO Carlos Watson tells Axios.

  • Watson isn't interested in a sale right now, but the offers speak to OZY's success amid the pandemic.
  • OZY launched in 2013 as a digital-native outlet that aimed to help inspire innovators and people who were curious about trends shaping the country.
  • It has since raised a little over $70 million from venture capital groups and has 75 full-time employees.

The big picture: OZY has grown revenue by 50% year-over-year for four years in a row. "We tried to be incredibly disciplined about spending," says Watson.

  • Half of the company's revenue comes from TV and podcasts, with the rest from its digital division via branded content and advertising.
  • Branded content and advertising exists on the company's website and via its 5 newsletters, which collectively have more than 20 million subscribers.

Details: In the past four years, OZY has produced and sold 12 prime time TV shows, with 9 being renewed or as spin-offs of previous shows, Watson tells Axios.

  • "It's become a big meaningful business," Watson says. "We have a robust team that focuses on it specifically." OZY relies on a network of roughly 200 freelancers to help produce its growing portfolio of shows and podcasts.
  • Most of the shows are based on original reporting that OZY does on people and trends before they get big. Examples include early profiles of people ranging from Brett Kavanaugh to Trevor Noah — years before either became household names.

OZY has licensed programming deals with several streaming and linear platforms including A&E, Hulu, History Channel, OWN, Amazon, PBS, BBC and YouTube.

  • The company received its first Emmy for a TV show on the Oprah Winfrey Network last year. The Carlos Watson show, a daily YouTube series that features newsmaker interviews like Bill Gates and Malcolm Gladwell, was one of the fastest-growing YouTube shows last year.
  • This year it will debut a new show on Lifetime about the science of dating as well as documentaries for the History Channel. The company has a pipeline of 20+ shows for 2021. It plans to announce its first live thriller show in 2021.
  • The company also launched 6 podcasts in the past few years, including four partnerships with iHeartMedia and a new podcast partnership launched last year with the BBC.

Between the lines: OZY is perhaps best known around the world for its 8-figure event franchise OZY Fest — often dubbed a mix between Ted Talks and Coachella.

  • In 2019, a heat wave in New York City forced the company to cancel.
  • In 2020, the pandemic caused the company to cancel it again.
  • In 2021, the company will host three virtual festivals and it hopes to expand its in-person OZY Fest events globally over the next three years to other world cities.
  • Watson says those circumstances served as a sharp reminder that no media company can be overly reliant on one source of revenue.

The bottom line: OZY is one of the few digital media companies today that was founded and is run by a person of color.

  • "More than half of our company is people of color, more than half of our leadership team is female," Watson says. "Half of our stories feature a woman or person of color as a rising star or subject ... 30% of our audience across platforms is people of color."
  • Watson co-founded OZY with Samir Rao, an Indian-American businessman, and Louise Rogers, a British-American private equity executive.
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