Monday 17 June 2019

Rupert Murdoch pays €18m for Mark Little company tracking social media

Ex-RTE presenter nets €6m in 'good news story'

Mark Little
Mark Little

Sarah McCabe and Nick Webb

FORMER RTE presenter Mark Little is celebrating after selling his social media company to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for €18m.

The former 'Prime Time' anchor and RTE Washington correspondent had a celebratory lunch yesterday with other investors following the sale of Storyful, which is believed to have netted Little about €6m.

While he is now a rich man, he admitted that he had a few narrow escapes and came close to closing the firm. "(The company) nearly went bust a couple of times; we've seen what it would look like to fail," he told the Irish Independent yesterday.

Other early investors include serial technology backer Ray Nolan, who sold his Hostelworld business for €220m, and 'Dragon's Den' star Sean O'Sullivan's investment firm SOS Ventures. State investment outfit Enterprise Ireland and venture capital group ACT also invested in the business.

The former television presenter left RTE in 2009 to create Storyful.

Rupert Murdoch tweeted: "Much excitement about @Storyful. Wonderful company doing big things in digital content and video, will be a great asset to @newscorp."

Little said Storyful was the first news agency of the "social media age".

He explained: "We discover and verify the most valuable content on the social web."

The team of journalists and software engineers behind Storyful trawl social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

They authenticate news stories before packaging them to sell on to other media organisations as a type of newswire service.

The firm also finds video clips made by the public and then verifies them before selling them on to media organisations around the world.

Clients include the BBC, Reuters, ABC News, Bloomberg, the 'Wall Street Journal' and the 'New York Times'.

User-generated videos verified by Storyful have generated 750m views for its partners this year so far.

The company, which has 32 staff, will keep its headquarters in Dublin following the sale. Little will remain as chief executive and the management team -- including executive editor David Clinch -- will continue to oversee the company's operations, though a News Corp executive will also join the senior team.

Storyful's management only began considering a sale six months ago. "We realised we had a choice," Little said. "We could go it alone -- we made a profit last month, we were starting to pick up good clients -- but it would have been slow and incremental, difficult and risky.

"So we wanted to find a partner who could help us turn from a small Irish scrappy start-up to a global force, as quickly as we could. This is the right time for a digital journalism outlet and if we had waited six months or a year somebody else would have come along to compete against us."

Storyful is the latest of a series of highly promising Irish start-ups and technology groups to be acquired by major overseas buyers, with IBM spending close to €100m on The Now Factory, soon after dropping €120m on Curam.

News Corp's backing will allow it to expand in the US and Asia, as well as hire more people and invest in technology, Little said.

He described the deal as "a perfect marriage" of companies, adding that News Corp was "going through a transformation at the moment" and that he loved the people who worked there. "We are dealing with a massive company but it felt like a start-up," he said.

Irish Independent

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