LadBible moves closer to acquiring fellow viral publisher Unilad

Guardian Web |

LadBible has moved closer to taking control of rival Unilad after administrators handling the fire sale of the collapsed viral Facebook publisher informed bidders they were out of the running.

Unilad’s administrator, Leonard Curtis, has been informing about six formal bidders that an agreement has been reached to enter an exclusivity period with one party.

A spokesman for LadBible would not confirm whether it was still involved in the process. If the company is successful it will have been chosen despite not having submitted the highest bid.

LadBible is thought to have submitted an offer totalling about £12.5m – £7.5m plus a £5m credit for the Unilad debt that was owed to its founder, Alex Partridge, which it acquired after the administrator was appointed last Thursday.

This put LadBible in a commanding position. The highest bid, thought to be in the region of £20m, is understood to have been rejected in part because it was considered more financially complex and unlikely to be finalised quickly enough for Unilad to keep running smoothly. Leonard Curtis did not return a request for comment on the bidding process.

The shotgun administration, giving potential buyers just days to submit bids, has been heavily criticised by a number of the bidders. One is known to have appointed a law firm to take advice on the process.

Bidders that have been publicly named include Manchester-based Social Chain, the smaller-scale Facebook publisher The Hook, social media agency Goat and Unilad’s existing financial backer Linton Capital – whose managing partner, David Sefton, is Unilad’s interim chief executive – in conjunction with the online media group Jungle Creations.

One bidder said the bizarre nature of the fight for Unilad meant the battle was not over yet, adding: “Until I see an official statement confirming a deal is done, anything could still happen”.

A report has named Unilad as the top Facebook publisher for September. According to the analytics company NewsWhip, Unilad.co.uk achieved 32.5m likes, shares and comments on its content during the month, ahead of Ladbible.com (28.9m) and Foxnews.com (27.8m).

Last week, Unilad went into administration putting hundreds of jobs at risk after its parent company, Bentley Harrington, revealed debts of more than £6m – including £1.5m to HMRC.

The company, which began life as a student “banter” page, is one of the world’s biggest publishers of viral content. Hundreds of employees are based at its headquarters in Manchester and it has secondary offices in Shoreditch in London, and New York.

Many viral publishers have struggled to translate their enormous reach into a profitable business model, owing to the high cost of making bespoke native ads. Sources in the advertising industry suggested many agencies had cut back their dealings with Unilad before Thursday.

Unilad’s co-chief executive Sam Bentley left the company in June after unspecific allegations of historical misconduct against it, with Unilad saying other staff had been disciplined as a result of an internal investigation.

Unilad shares a founder with LadBible but is now entirely separate from its fellow Manchester-based business. Last week, financial filings at Companies House showed LadBible’s revenues rose by a quarter to £15m last year, as pre-tax profits almost doubled to £3.7m.

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