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Unruly’s rise to fame

BGF News 10.06.2015

The brilliant Sarah Wood, co-founder of Unruly, describes the company’s journey from start-up to acquisition by NewsCorp.

When we first launched Unruly in 2006, the idea of ‘viral videos’ was just taking off, and we were immediately struck by how far and how fast a video could spread online, and the impact that video content could have on viewers.

The three of us – me, Scott and Matt – were living in East London at the time, so we set up in a small shared office in the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane. There was no running water and the coffee table was a plank of wood balanced on traffic cones, but hey the rent was cheap, the best coffee in Brick Lane was just downstairs and we were ready to break new ground.

There was a lot of excitement about the social web – or “web 2.0”, as it was known in 2006 – and how it was going to revolutionise and democratise media and communications. With so much content being uploaded by users it was already difficult to find the hottest videos fast, so we built a blog-scanning engine to do just that, creating the Unruly Viral Video Chart to track and rank the most shared videos on the social web.

Ranking videos by shares rather than views – a far more accurate reflection of what people are actually talking about – this dataset has become the world’s biggest database of video sharing activity and was even described by as “the Billboard 100 of its generation,” which we thought was pretty darned cool at the time.

When brands and ad agencies started calling us to ask how they could get their ads into the chart, we saw an opportunity to help them distribute contagious content online at speed and scale using paid media placements and so the idea for Unruly Activate™ was born.

Launched in 2007, Unruly Activate, has delivered 10,000+ video campaigns for 84% of Ad Age 100 brands. We’ve been privileged to work on some of the most inspiring ad campaigns of the last decade, including Evian’s Roller Babies, T-Mobile’s “Life’s For Sharing” and Dove’s world record-breaking “Real Beauty Sketches”. Brands that work with us have a clear competitive advantage because they are able to earn consumer attention and advocacy by creating shareable content and amplifying it at the speed and scale of social.

The Viral Video Chart, meanwhile, has been developed and built out to become Unruly Analytics™, a cloud-based dashboard that houses 15 billion customizable data points and is used by brands to provide real-time video intelligence and benchmark their performance against competitor sets.

Over time, the technology has evolved further and faster than we ever imagined: supporting new video platforms, predicting video virality, pioneering mobile formats, introducing programmatic buying, guaranteeing viewability, and evolving targeting capabilities. But our mission has remained constant: to deliver the most awesome social video campaigns on the planet. This means using paid media to distribute ads online, helping brands create ads that people want to watch and share and distributing them in ad formats that put the user in control.

We’ve won a fair few tech and innovation awards over the years and our drive to innovate remains as strong as ever. We were the first to track video sharing, the first to predict video virality, the first to launch a programmatic platform trading on viewable video impressions.

In September 2015, we were delighted to announce today that Unruly is to be acquired by News Corp, in a deal that brings together Unruly’s cutting-edge video ad technology with the premium media titles and global brands of News Corp’s diverse portfolio.

The announcement marks a tremendous milestone for the company and an exciting new chapter for the whole Unruly team that has gone from three founders to 200 Unrulies across 15 offices worldwide.

Since 2012, we’ve had three super-supportive investors who have enabled us to power-up our technology, build out our global footprint and help us succeed on a global stage. Big thanks to Amadeus (Richard Anton), Endeit (Martijn Hamann) and BGF (Marion Bernard)!

But in the words of the Double Rainbow dude, “What does this mean?” for Unruly. Well, 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.

This blog post is already way too long, so time for me to wrap up – the journey so far has been epic, the best is yet to come and a huge thank you to everyone in the team who travels with us and makes us proud to be Unruly.