Liam Harrington, CEO of Unilad, is still only 24 and presides over a media brand with 17 million fans on Facebook, a rise of 6 million in six months. Unilad is aimed at Generation Y (18-35-year-olds), serving them short and usually funny video clips. Much of this is gentle banter, a respite from the fearful headlines of the current news cycle. It features youth fads like Pokemon Go and Zorb ball and pictures of eccentric pets. Sometimes the Unilad joke is about generational change, such as a viral hit video showing an elderly man reciting lyrics by grime rapper Stormzy outside a telephone box.
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Not just for the lads This content is not only being watched by lads. Harrington claims an astonishing 2.7 billion video views for July, up one billion on the previous month. This would take it beyond BuzzFeed’s Tasty recipe brand to be the world’s most-viewed Facebook video publisher, according to Tubular Insights rankings. Half of Unilad’s audience is female and many of the brand’s most-engaged followers are women. Since launching, Unilad in its current format in April 2014, Harrington and co-founder Sam Bentley, 25, have grown the staff to 60 in offices in London and Manchester – without outside investment. Now they are planning bases in New York and Melbourne to capitalise on Unilad’s international appeal (it already has more fans in the US than in the UK). Despite the breadth of appeal, Harrington is adamant that Unilad’s growth is based on laser-targeting of youth. The average age of Unilad’s team is 24. “Because we are for Generation Y, by Generation Y, we are creating the content that they want to see.
The British Isles has a talent for this style of digital media. Rival site The LAD Bible has grown in parallel with Unilad and has 15 million followers on Facebook. Joe, a site that originates from Ireland and uses the slogan “For Men Not Lads”, has shown its ambition by hiring Tony Barrett, former leading football writer for The Times. Beating tabloids at their own game Tabloid newspapers try to mimic the voices of these sites, which are stealing away their natural audience. “There’s a lot of old school media creating video pages on Facebook to try and up their reach,”” says Harrington. “But I think they’re late to the party.” “Gen Y feels like they don’t have a voice and now they’re getting a chance to have one.” The creators of most Unilad films are a young army with mobile phones who shoot and provide clips for free, knowing Unilad can help them go viral. These filmmakers are “so used to coming to us” that red top websites are playing catch-up in sourcing hit content. “Someone like The Sun will have to come to us,” says Harrington. “We are now the provider – and there’s a bit of role reversal from when it would have been us asking The Sun for a story or pictures.” Unilad encourages video makers in making more films and building their own profiles on social media. In this sense, sites like Unilad and The LAD Bible are building a new generation of video journalists and filmmakers. Harrington says the “more business-savvy” and prolific content creators are demanding £150 a clip.
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