Ozy Media is a media startup widely believed to cook its traffic numbers and the New York Times has reported out its shenanigans in amazing fashion. Ben Smith reports that Ozy's co-founder tried to trick Goldman Sachs into investing $40m in the company by posing as a YouTube executive on a conference call. Goldman Sachs almost fell for it, too, but someone on the call noticed the voice sounded digitized.
Once everyone had made the switch to an old-fashioned conference call, the guest told the bankers what they had been wanting to hear: that Ozy was a great success on YouTube, racking up significant views and ad dollars, and that Mr. Watson was as good a leader as he seemed to be. As he spoke, however, the man's voice began to sound strange to the Goldman Sachs team, as though it might have been digitally altered, the four people said.
After the meeting, someone on the Goldman Sachs side reached out to Mr. Piper, not through the Gmail address that Mr. Watson had provided before the meeting, but through Mr. Piper's assistant at YouTube. That's when things got weird.
A confused Mr. Piper told the Goldman Sachs banker that he had never spoken with her before. Someone else, it seemed, had been playing the part of Mr. Piper on the call with Ozy.
According to Comscore, as cited by the NYT, Ozy gets a couple of hundred thousand visitors a month. If that's true, this blog post has a fair chance of getting more traffic than Ozy Media's entire content shop will bring in today. Smith also details many other examples of traffic cookery attributable to Ozy, but keeps coming back to the incredible conference call ploy.
Goldman Sachs took no further action after the call with the Ozy executive who had apparently impersonated the YouTube executive. But the security team at Google, which owns YouTube, determined a crime might have been committed.
It's wire fraud and securities fraud, but these things are rarely prosecuted. Frankly, I love that Goldman Sachs almost paid for $40m for this wheeze.
If you want to imagine the present, Winston, imagine the Monopoly Man writing checks while listening to the cartoon text-to-speech bear talk about YouTube engagement.