Interviews

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp buys UK tech heavyweight Unruly

4 min read

16 September 2015

Former editor

After demonstrating success in helping the likes of Evian, T-Mobile and Adidas create and distribute viral videos, London-based Unruly has been acquired by News Corp in a deal worth £114m.

The business, which has been backed by equity investors Amadeus, Endeit Capital and the Business Growth Fund (BGF) since 2012, has expanded to 15 different global office and reached $50m in annual revenues inside a decade.

News Corp’s chief executive Robert Thompson said the media company has a “track record of acquiring businesses with unique capabilities” – then giving the teams there the “freedom to do what they do best”, but backed by global platform.

Going forward, Unruly and its three founders, Scott Button, Sarah Wood, and Matt Cooke, will operate as a separate business unit and report to newly-reinstated News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks.

Brooks commented: “We have always been pioneers in our field, so combining the formidable reach and resonance of our titles with their cutting-edge technology and video expertise will help accelerate our growth in this digital age.

“We look forward to working with one of Europe’s most highly regarded tech teams to create new premium video inventory for our News UK mastheads and other businesses, and to provide advertisers with best-in-class brand solutions across all platforms.”

Unruly’s biggest product, Unruly Activate, was established in 2007 after brands and agencies began asking the business for consultation on how ads could enter the already-existing Unruly Viral Video Chart. Based on quantifying a video’s success by analysing shares rather than views, Unruly Activate has delivered over 10,000 video campaigns for 84 per cent of Ad Age 100 brands, according to a statement.

Alongside its work with big corporates and brands, Unruly has been a mainstay in the London Tech City community, been in the Guinness Book of World Records twice and founded a pop-up university for the “next generation” of technology entrepreneurs. Unruly was also a winner of a Real Business Growing Business Award in 2011 as part of the Digital Innovation category.

Unruly’s Button, who is co-CEO, said of the deal: “We have had great support from our three institutional investors and I know that they would have been happy to continue backing our growth, but the opportunities and synergies of being part of a major global media business like News Corp offer us a hugely exciting prospect. We are now looking forward to a completely new phase of development.”

Unruly was one of the bank-backed BGF’s first investments back in 2012. The £25m deal, alongside Endeit Capital and Amadeus, gave the company the funds needed to pursue international expansion.

Stephen Welton, CEO of BGF, said: “Over the past four years, growth capital has helped Unruly move into new markets, expand the team, increase revenues and create value for the founders and shareholders.

“As one of BGF’s first investments and now representing our first full exit, we are truly proud of what the Unruly team has achieved – and we look forward to backing more and more entrepreneurs just like them.”

News Corp has had a chequered history when it comes to making acquisitions. Having bought early social media pioneer MySpace in 2005 for a fee of £361m, it was offloaded to Specific Media in 2011 for what was reported to be $35m.

Murdoch also bought his daughter’s business, Shine Group, for £415m in 2011 – giving Elisabeth Murdoch a seat on the News Corp board for the first time since 2001.