London-based digital ad tech company Unruly, which sells video ad tech including services to track and step up engagement, is to be acquired by global media conglomerate News Corp in a deal worth up to £114 million ($176M), it was announced today.
The purchase price breaks down to an expected cash payment of £56 million upon the acquisition’s closing — with a further payment of up to £56 million in “future consideration primarily related to payments contingent upon the achievement of certain performance objectives”.
The deal is subject to “customary closing conditions” and is expected to be completed by the end of September. Unruly, which was founded back in 2006, has some 200 employees in 15 locations around the world at this point. Since 2012 it’s taken investment from Amadeus Capital Partners, Endeit Capital and BGF (Business Growth Fund).
In its press announcement today, News Corp’s CEO Robert Thomson, said the acquisition is aimed at making more of the media giant’s existing editorial content, including on mobile devices. “The acquisition will serve as a catalyst for our brands, helping to extend our expertise in the digital and mobile video area,” he said. “Unruly complements our traditional editorial and commercial expertise with contemporary insight into how people read, watch, buy and sell in the digital era.”
The subtext here is News Corp looking to tool up to better chase millennials’ clicks — with a younger reader demographic being aggressively courted by less long-in-the-tooth media giants such as Vice Media and BuzzFeed.
In its own blog post on the acquisition, Unruly’s three co-founders said: “We will continue to be headquartered in Shoreditch, where our Social Video Lab is housed and the company will continue to be led by the three of us. We’ll be retaining the Unruly brand, the Unruly values and the Unruly passion, operating as a separate business unit. We’re agile, we’re passionate, we’re disruptive — and that’s not about to change.”
News Corp said Unruly will report to newly (re)appointed News Corp exec Rebekah Brooks — who was named CEO of News U.K. earlier this month, coming back into Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. publishing fold, following her 2011 resignation amid the phone hacking scandal.
News Corp added that Unruly will “continue to work with its existing roster of global advertisers and publishers”, as well as collaborating with its businesses around the world — although you have to wonder whether rival media companies will be entirely comfortable buying audience maximizing ad services once the business selling those services is owned by (and working directly for) News Corp.
Post-acquisition, Brooks said News Corp would be working with Unruly’s tech team to create “new premium video inventory” for its News UK mastheads and other businesses, as well as working on cross-platform ad content for brands. Unruly products will be offered to News Corp business units’ ad and agency partners “in the coming months”, with the company anticipating a “significant” bump in the quantity of “premium video and mobile inventory” it can offer.
Unruly’s video ad tech products include a ‘virality’ predicting tech that measures social shares and can also “inform” on changes needed to boost views, likes and shares; a mobile-first video ad format that dynamically adapts to news feed formats and auto plays as soon as the ad-unit is in view on the page; in-page video ads that appear within the body of article pages, on both desktop and mobile; and skippable in-stream programmatic video ads.
Its revenues have grown to nearly $50m in its most recent financial year, according to investor BGF.
Despite the loud cheerleading from Unruly investors, it’s worth noting that today is the day Apple updates its mobile OS to iOS 9 which includes native content-blocking tools — opening the gates to a raft of third party ad-blocking opportunities. So the mobile arms race against proliferating ad tech is about to get a whole lot more interesting…