How The 24-Year-Olds Behind UNILAD Reach Billions With Viral Online Videos
- Ver Original
- Agosto 10º, 2016
With a global online reach of one billion people each week (for scale, Facebook has 1.7 billion total users), comes a realization that you can only grow so much bigger. That’s the case for viral online news and video publisher UNILAD.
Sam Bentley and Liam Harrington, both 24, are the charismatic creators behind UNILAD and their goal is to become the biggest Facebook video publisher ever. Right now they’re number two, just behind Buzzfeed. The news website’s popular cooking channel Tasty beat them with 3.2 billion video views last month. “We had 2.7 billion video views during the same time so we’re both thinking ‘That’s unbelievable,’ but also that if we didn’t beat that figure next month, we’d be disappointed,” says Harrington.
On Facebook, UNILAD has over 17 million fans and it’s the most engaged page globally, with soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo’s coming in at number two. Its website draws an added 30 million unique visitors each month. With their massive online reach, comes a responsibility for Bentley and Harrington to communicate a clear and positive brand message. That said, it’s not unusual for the page to share gendered content concurrent with how you’d imagine a “lad” or “bro” culture manifests in the UK and U.S. Recent examples include posts about a woman’s naked photo shoot and a video of a man complaining about his girlfriend’s makeup ritual.
The pair says they face pressure to “sit on the fence” with sensitive topics and decline to post items about half of the time due to potential backlash. They say they’ve made it a priority to moderate comments for bullying and online trolls and post content that could not be construed as body-shaming, racist, sexist or offensive to their audience. As for where the content comes from, a large amount is aggregated from around the web with credit, posted in the caption or comments, to the original source while other pieces are created in house by staff videographers.
Between their commitment to responsible social sharing and their reach, advertisers have flocked to UNILAD in droves. Their production has been self-funded from the start, and the business, taken over in 2014 under their leadership, is profitable. It’s been attracting more and more capital from advertisers, especially those interested in their hold on the coveted millennial demographic.
“We’re working with a lot of entertainment clients at the moment,” says Harrington. “We have that desirable Gen Y audience.” Approaching digital advertising on their platform has been a balancing act because they want the branded content to feel like a natural extension of their own brand, making some companies or products a more obvious fit than others. The movie “Deadpool” they say, would be an easier sell than a beauty brand like L’Oreal.
Navigating these waters has involved many sit down meetings with clients and clear communication about what content UNILAD is willing to share with its fan base. “We figure Gen Y doesn’t mind being advertised to as long as it’s done in a way that they can engage and interact with. What we usually do for a film trailer, like ‘Dirty Grandpa,’ is we’d create a piece of content around it that’s engaging and funny and then in the last 30 seconds of the video, there’s the trailer.” With such a large online reach, UNILAD’s rates get pricey, with original, branded content going for £40,000 or $52,000 dollars for a short video with the potential to go viral. With that kind of money coming in, and a growing U.S. audience which now outnumbers U.K. fans, UNILAD is looking to cross the pond to set up shop, they say “probably somewhere in Brooklyn.” That would put the office near some of the other online publishers they’ve been watching including Vice and Buzzfeed. Their total employees number 60, who work in London and Manchester offices, and they will add more, mainly salespeople, once they find a space in the U.S.
As they continue to grow, they’ve had to cope with ongoing issues and litigation arising from the company’s founding.
The original founder of “Unilad,” Alex Partridge, who launched it as a Facebook group in 2010, reportedly filed paperwork in a high court in London in March claiming a breach of partnership with the platform’s current management. The page under Partridge’s leadership had faced criticism for misogynistic content in the past. In a January interview, Harrington told the Guardian that UNILAD as it exists today has “no shared association at all” with the original page.
That point was underscored in a statement from UNILAD (Bentley Harrington Ltd) at the time of publication: “We would re-iterate that there is no shared association at all between the original brand and our current business model. For the avoidance of doubt, we consider that the claims made are vexatious, factually incorrect, and defamatory. The Company has at all times acted in accordance with its obligations and looks forward to continuing the evolution of Unilad.co.uk as a force for change. Our priority is protecting the new Unilad and its new direction.” Also adding that it’s the policy of the company not to generally comment on legal matters.
The brand’s initial reputation and the new legal challenge has made it all the more important for its current leadership to promote a positive message along with a strong push to share content that makes an impact.
Although the page is known for funny viral videos and trending news, the pair is experimenting with sharing content related to social causes, such as issues related to the refugee crisis. After posting an original video as a call to action for an abused husky named Sasha, they report that fans raised over £20,000 to support the dog’s recovery.
They know fans love the page for its funny videos. But views are views, they don’t affect change without action. “2.7 billion video views is a big number, but it’s just a number,” says Bentley.
Now they want their views to matter. “We’re used to seeing the funny videos get 100 million views in a week,” says Harrington. “One day we’d like to be able to find the right formula to get a piece of content that addresses the topical issues that are personal to us to get the same amount of views.” The duo noted that as they’ve been increasingly introducing content addressing social issues, they’ve seen interest rise proportionally. This acceptance has helped them feel more comfortable sharing content on issues close to their hearts, like autism, homelessness and suicide. They hope that Mary Poppins’ “spoonful of sugar along with the medicine” approach to sharing social good issues will get their audience to pay attention and act.
“Once we become the biggest Facebook publisher in history, which we will do, it becomes about where do we go from there,” says Bentley, on UNILAD’s goals. “Then it’s just maintaining that and becoming stupidly big.”