Sophia Chang Sold Her Show to Ozy Media and Then It Imploded — Now She Wants It Back (Exclusive)

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Sophia Chang with Ozy founders Carlos Watson and Samir Rao. (Sophia Chang)

Sophia Chang Sold Her Show to Ozy Media and Then It Imploded — Now She Wants ItBack (Exclusive)

Carlos Watson said her show could be a ”refresher“ for his company

Back in February, influencer and author Sophia Chang approached Carlos Watson at Ozy Media to pitch her first show “Sophia’s Salon,” a series that would feature the creator with friends discussing topics from ageism to feminism.

Now with Ozy offering to use her show as a “refresher” to get the company back on its feet, as Watson told her, Chang is struggling to get her footage back and to get paid. Instead, she told TheWrap exclusively that discussions with the company have gone nowhere with Watson making it impossible for her to buy back her show.

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“It was not how we planned on negotiating this deal,” Chang said. “I have no desire to do this show with them. … I don’t want the scrutiny of my show to be because it was an Ozy show.”

Watson did not return several requests for comment.

As a media company founded by two leaders of color, Chang felt an instant connection to Ozy as the right place to produce a show featuring smart guests that were all accomplished women of color. Watson, CEO and brand behind Ozy, loved the idea and acted quickly to seal the deal and promise an air date of Nov. 21.

Chang said her team was told vaguely the five episodes would get released on Ozy’s YouTube channel and run on Amazon Prime, though Ozy did not supply them with specific metrics. When Chang asked about whether they could shoot it for the streaming platforms, she was assured they would employ the “Carlos Watson model” of posting directly on YouTube. It was what they did for Watson’s own show, and it was successful, Ozy told her. The Ozy Media channel on YouTube has just under 4,000 subscribers and 265 videos uploaded.

“Carlos is the first person I went to, and he said immediately that he would be interested,” Chang told TheWrap. “Their whole ethos lined up so beautifully with mine. They want to uplift marginalized voices. Clearly it didn’t turn out that way, but I was very happy.”

Chang had met Watson two years ago when Ozy featured her on an episode of its Hulu series “Defining Moments.” The premise for “Sophia’s Salon” was to recreate popular gatherings and dinner parties she hosted at her apartment in New York City. Some of the guests on the show included Danielle Belton, editor in chief of HuffPost, Kierna Mayo, VP and executive editor of One World Books & Roc Lit 101, and Marcelle Karp, author and cofounder of Bust Magazine. Chang and her guests hung out over food and drinks on the set of an Airbnb in Brooklyn, talking about issues from how to negotiate as women to being a model minority.

Chang met with co-founder and COO Samir Rao after getting the green light and mostly interacted with him throughout the process. Watson and Rao flew out to New York to visit the set earlier this summer. But within days of finishing the shoot for their final episode, the Ozy founders were ousted in September for impersonating a YouTube executive on an investment call with Goldman Sachs. The company has since been under investigation and exposed for its business practices, which included inflating its traffic and viewership metrics and misleading investors and partners about its products.

According to Watson, Rao was the one who impersonated the YouTube exec due to a mental health episode.

But Chang said she interacted with Rao on several occasions within weeks of the call with Goldman Sachs, and she said nothing in his demeanor suggested any crisis or mental health issue.

“[Samir] did not strike me as somebody having a mental health crisis. He was smart. He was insightful. He got me very clearly. He understood the show,” Chang said.

In all of this unraveling, Chang has been attempting to buy back her show from Ozy after deciding that she no longer wanted to be involved with the company. Within four days of the initial New York Times report, Ozy ended up shuttering, only to reopen days later. Since then, Ozy has been slow to ramp back up, with Watson only recently teasing new episodes of “The Carlos Watson Show.”

In trying to make a comeback, Watson later approached Chang to move forward with her show. But when Chang made clear she had no intention to release the show with Ozy, she said Watson left her with two options: She can either buy back the footage, or — if she can’t afford that — she can pay a portion of the production costs with an override. After asking Ozy to provide the amount they spent on the show, Chang heard nothing back for more than a month, despite having involved lawyers at that point. The figure Ozy finally produced was “an extortionate demand,” Chang added, declining to specify the amount.

“He was clearly anxious to put out my show,” Chang said.

Chang said she heard from a senior executive at Ozy that her show was the only one they shot other than Watson’s. Watson tried to convince her that the show would actually get more attention given the company’s recent scandal, and that it could be a “refresher” to repair Ozy’s reputation, Chang said.

Numerous investors, partners and employees have since distanced themselves from Ozy since the Times’ exposé. Former BBC anchor Katty Kay had joined only months prior to the scandal to produce podcasts and shows for Ozy, but she resigned shortly after the devastating report.

Chang, a Korean Canadian who got her start in hip hop managing and working with artists from A Tribe Called Quest to The Wu-Tang Clan, has resolved to walk away with the encouragement that her guests would be willing to re-tape the show. And contractually, there is nothing preventing her from remaking the show elsewhere since Ozy has now breached their terms by not paying her.

“I’m just disappointed that I made a decision that felt so right and turned out to be so wrong. My friends were so excited to see it before end of the year,” Chang said.