The COVID-19 pandemic has been terrible for business, but for some businesses, like OZY Media, there have been opportunities.
Watson co-founded OZY Media in 2013 as an omnichannel media outlet. It now produces television, podcasts, online news, and an annual festival that has been put on hold due to coronavirus.
“We’ve rolled out eight new TV shows this year, which is four times what we had done last year,” Watson said. “We’ve doubled the number of podcasts that we’ve rolled out this year. We’ve tripled the number of newsletters. As a result of COVID and knowing that people are at home and need more news, more entertainment, more inspiration in some cases, we doubled, tripled, and quadrupled our offerings.”
The first priority for the company, however, was ensuring the safety of its staff.
“We first tried to understand if anyone was impacted, if anyone caught COVID, or had family members who were impacted,” Watson said. “Second, we shut down our offices to try and make sure people were healthy and safe. Third, we tried to make sure people were set up properly from home so they could work as well as possible.”
In the seven years since its inception, OZY Media has gained ground as an innovative media company. This year, it won its first Emmy for “Black Women OWN the Conversation,” a news analysis program made in partnership with Oprah Winfrey.
Shows like “Black Women OWN the Conversation” are emblematic of OZY’s model: Diversity is foundational, not a secondary agenda.
“Diversity has never been an extracurricular for OZY — it’s always been one of our competitive advantages,” Watson said. “I think because OZY is organically a diverse organization, we knew these stories were important, and I hope we were a part of catalyzing a larger awareness of a need to hear from a wider array of people.”
Watson believes media organizations are having to adapt to new demands from the current generation, which means speaking with and for a wider array of voices.
“Every generation demands something different from their media companies,” Watson said. “OZY believed from the very beginning that there was a cutting-edge group of people that were often underserved when it came to news and entertainment. We called this group the ‘change generation.’ We thought of it as a very diverse and very open-minded group that often were fed lots of establishment stories and establishment trends, when what they wanted was the new and the next.”
Ahead of the curve
Media consumers are also becoming savvier, and Watson said media has to keep up with higher expectations.
“There’s a higher level of expectation from this generation — they’re able to compare choices that their parents never could in real time,” he said. “They’re not going to take something that’s smart and boring, or something that’s cool but vapid; they’re going to expect that you can deliver both.”
Watson hopes OZY Media will set an example for greater diversity at the executive level as well, and he encourages young minority leaders to create their own paths.
“There’s a big delicious opportunity here,” Watson said, “but make sure you are tough as nails. There is such a dangerous myth around meritocracy, that opportunities are roughly even. I’m here to tell people it’s not 10 percent more challenging, it’s 100 percent. Make sure you are super thoughtful about your plan, about raising money, and make sure you have people in your life who are really prepared to support you — not for a sprint but for a really tough marathon.”