Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

US media firm Ozy seeks UAE base for Middle East expansion

About 10% of the company's audience comes from the Middle East, which houses Ozy's fastest-growing consumer base outside the US

Ozy Media, a platform which runs websites, audio and video channels and hosts live events, hopes to bring its Ozy Fest platfrom to the Middle East. Instagram/ @ozyfest
Ozy Media, a platform which runs websites, audio and video channels and hosts live events, hopes to bring its Ozy Fest platfrom to the Middle East. Instagram/ @ozyfest

The founder of a US media company backed by German media giant Axel Springer wants to set up a Middle East unit in the UAE.

Ozy Media, a platform which runs websites, audio and video channels and hosts live events, said the company is seeking a base for regional commercial and content operations, and is trying “to figure out whether it will be in Dubai or Abu Dhabi”.

“We really have ambitions to work throughout the region,” Carlos Watson, Ozy co-founder and chief executive told The National. “We have a meaningful audience here – the Middle East is our top region outside the US, so there is a lot of excitement about building on top of that by being based here.”

About 10 per cent of Ozy’s audience comes from the Middle East, and the region houses the fastest growing consumer base for the company outside the US, with revenue expected to increase five-fold between 2020 and 2022. The company projects the media industry will grow an annual 10 per cent to $6 trillion (Dh22tn) globally by 2030, which it hopes to capitalise on as a disrupting platform.

“The region, especially in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is undergoing a meaningful, creative transformation when it comes to entertainment and media. Supported by economic diversification plans, and buoyed by young, fast-growing and highly connected audiences, a whole new opportunity in media is emerging,” said Mr Watson.

Ozy Media was co-founded by Mr Watson – a former CNBC anchor and Goldman Sachs alumnus – and Samir Rao who also worked at the investment bank. The company has a monthly audience of 50 million people and has raised more than $70 million through a series of funding rounds since it was founded in 2013.

It employs almost a 100 people, Mr Watson says, as well as a network of freelancers around the world.

He said Ozy Media’s aim is “to bring our audience of curious millennials and Gen Xers the new and the next, hopefully a year or two before they would typically encounter it”.

“We want to introduce them to Trevor Noah before he’s the host of the Daily Show, we want to introduce them to AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] the bartender before she’s AOC the congresswoman.”

He says the company’s successes to date include creating four podcasts which broke the top 100 charts globally – one of which was in the top 10 – media partnership deals with organisations including streaming platform Hulu, the New York Times, PBS and the Financial Times. The company also created a festival of music, comedy and learning, Ozy Fest, “which started with a small, 1,000 person event and in this past year sold about 100,000 tickets to people from 41 countries”.

The festival mixes prominent speakers such as author Malcolm Gladwell, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Karl Rove with musicians including John Legend, Zara Larsson and Miguel.

“We have exciting plans for the Mena region, to be supported by additional investment that will see us grow our team on the ground, open a new office and generate engaging and authentic regional content across all our platforms and mediums, including television, podcasts, festivals and compelling digital news and features,” said Mr Watson.

“We are excited to expand the footprint of Ozy Fest – the world’s largest music, comedy and ideas festival – from New York to the Middle East.”

The company has been loss-making so far, but he said it would “roughly break even this year and we’ll be profitable next year”.

Mr Watson also said the company has been approached “by several people who have wanted to invest further in us” as they see demand for content from streaming platforms and growth in the live events business.

“So we are considering new investors who have approached us and said to us, in effect, ‘don’t go slowly’.”

Updated: December 16, 2019 04:50 PM

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