Opinion

Deal uncovered: Inside look at the Unruly acquisition by News Corp

4 min read

16 September 2015

Former editor

With the £114m purchase of Unruly by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp marking a turning point for one of the UK’s most successful technology companies in recent times, what are both parties getting out of the transaction?

Knowing when and how to exit the business is a conundrum entrepreneurs may face on numerous occasions during their career. Having built up a business to a position of scale, they then have to decide whether to continue going it alone or join forces with a larger company that can provide assets to leverage.

The three enterprising entrepreneurs behind Unruly, which was set up in 2006 and has gone on to become a global market leader in the ad technology space, decided now was the right time to change up.

Following in the footsteps of many rivals in terms of joining a big brand, founders Matt Cooke, Scott Button and Sarah Wood have signed on the dotted line with News Corp and will now call the controversial Rebekah Brooks boss.

Read more about acquisitions:

Julie Langley, partner at M&A advisors Results International, believes that News Corp has made the acquisition to boost its ability to work with brands to find “more engaging ways” of communicating with consumers and answering the question of how to compete for spend that is increasingly going to the likes of Vice and Instagram.

“Unruly helps News Corp play in the earned media space, as well as providing a presence in some of the fastest growing areas of ad spend – social, video and native,” Langley explained.

Giving some inside scoop on the transaction itself by using her experience of working in the marketing, adtech and technology sectors, Langley revealed the deal is structured with a “very sizeable earnout” – reflecting that this is a people-based deal as well as a tech deal, and will require News Corp to keep the business independent until at least the earnout expires. Unruly will, going forward, stay as a separate business unit based in the UK.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp buys UK tech heavyweight Unruly

On why Unruly is selling now, Langley commented: “A number of their competitors have become part of larger groups in recent times: Adap.tv sold to AOL in 2013; LiveRail sold to Facebook in 2014 and Brightroll to Yahoo a few months after that.

“Quite naturally Unruly would want to secure the advantages that comes with being part of a larger group including audience reach and advertiser relationships.”

So, in light of other transactions like the Financial Times Group being acquired by Nikkei for $1.3bn, what does this mean for the media sector, and in particular News Corp’s offering, going forward?

“I think we’ll see them doing things in content, data, online-to-offline, maybe shopper, as they look at new and innovative ways to provide brands with effective means of engaging with their customers,” Langley said.

“The Unruly acquisition will also be a valuable tool to help engage with the notoriously difficult millennial audience. News Corp might not know how to do this, but Unruly certainly does. It’s not surprising that News Corp would want some of this secret sauce.”