Thursday 21 November 2019

Online lad-mags to consolidate

When you strip away the branding, the content that Unilad and LADbible are creating is very similar to any news outlet that’s trying to court as large an audience as possible. Stock Image
When you strip away the branding, the content that Unilad and LADbible are creating is very similar to any news outlet that’s trying to court as large an audience as possible. Stock Image
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Unilad was the fourth-largest publisher on Facebook, with 39 million likes on the social media platform. It had more than 150 employees. Last year its two co-founders were nominated in Forbes' 30 Under 30. It was a big deal. And then suddenly it wasn't.

First came Unilad Exposed, a website that alleged misconduct, fraud and drug use at the company. One of the co-founders stepped down following the allegations and a small number of staff faced disciplinary proceedings. Mind you, Unilad insisted that many of the claims made against it were false allegations and contained substantial inaccuracies.

Then in July, the UK's Revenue and Customs issued a winding-up petition against Unilad's parent company, Bentley Harrington. The company had debts of £6.5m (€7.4m), £1.5m of which was owed to UK tax authorities. Administration followed. So did a bidding frenzy for Unilad's assets - most valuable of which was its reach on social media. The Daily Mail reportedly bid £20m, other bidders included online media group Jungle Creations, social media agencies Goat and Social Chain and social publisher The Hook. The winning bid was from LADbible, with an offer totalling about £12.5m. LADbible is Unilad's more reserved and more financially sound little brother. It had revenues of £15m last year, plus pre-tax profits of £3.7m. It has worked with a range of charities to raise awareness of mental health. That said, it's a good fit. It shares a co-founder with Unilad. And they're pretty similar in terms of size too; while Unilad was the number one publisher on Facebook with 33 million likes, shares and comments last month, LADbible wasn't too far behind with 29 million.

I think it's fair to say that LADbible was pleased with its acquisition. "As of today, LADbible Group and Unilad Group are now united under the same roof. This transforms the media landscape worldwide," a press release read. "Bringing these brands together makes us the largest social video publisher ever, and a youth media brand to be reckoned with, having over 120 million followers across our social channels. In August alone, our combined videos were viewed 4.5 billion times."

Consolidation amongst social publishers is intriguing, especially given their reliance on the social platforms' algorithms for ongoing visibility. For example, Facebook tinkered with its algorithm in January to promote more posts from friends and family and less generic messages from brands. Many news outlets feared the worst, but actually there was little effect. There was certainly no effect to Unilad and LADbible's levels of social engagement. However, the levels of engagement with their video content did take a hit, proving that any pivot to video was ill-informed.

But scale is what matters online, and regardless of the over-reliance on Facebook, LADbible should now be in a good place to monetise its massive, young male audience, whether through display advertising, native advertising, sponsorship or licensing of user-generated content.

LADbible and its ilk have often seemed like a new age Nuts, a digital lad-mag for millennials. Just as the internet unbundled print news products and magazines, it has unbundled how content for young men is created, distributed and monetised. You won't find many bikini-clad chicks on the pages of Unilad and LADbible, if a young male audience wants that sort of thing on the web, they're probably going elsewhere. Instead there's a mix of general human interest stories ('Prince Harry And Meghan Markle's Baby Won't Be Given A Royal Title') light-hearted ribbing ('Everybody's Laughing At How Conor McGregor Throws An American Football') and of course, clickbaity headlines ('Stephen Hawking Had One Last Warning About The End Of Humanity Before He Died').

Young males with disposable income have seemed out of reach for many brands. We're told they don't watch terrestrial TV, don't listen to the radio. They certainly don't read newspapers. But interestingly, when you strip away the branding, the content that Unilad and LADbible are creating is very similar to any news outlet that's trying to court as large an audience as possible - whether that's online or in print. Maybe LADbible is less like a lad-mag and more like a traditional red top, albeit one that's been unbundled for a digital age, and put back together to appeal to an audience that's informed and entertained by news feeds, not newspapers. The distribution's different, but the principles remain the same.

Sunday Indo Business

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