Media Lifeline: Friends Reunited

As other social networking sites boom, one of the early leading players has seen its fortunes wane.

December 2005: After being launched in 1999 by a husband-and-wife team from their house in North London, Friends Reunited, with a customer base of 15 million subscribers by 2005, is snapped up by Charles Allen's ITV for an initial £120 million.

October 2007: One of the attractions of the Friends Reunited business model had been its success in developing subscription revenues - but the arrival of free social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace changes the rules utterly, and Friends Reunited's audience begins leaving in droves. In response, the ITV executive chairman, Michael Grade, announces that it too will offer free access. But its early initiative has been lost.

May 2008: Or has it? Now Grade gives the go-ahead for a revamp, with new features aimed at the site's over-35 audience but with an emphasis on Facebook-style networking. Hurrell Moseley Dawson & Grimmer is appointed to oversee a £10 million marketing push.

August 2009: It's not enough to reignite ITV's passion for the operation, however - and as the network unveils terrible half-year results, due to the worst decline ever seen in the UK television advertising market, it also announces that it is selling Friends Reunited. The buyer, for the princely sum of £25 million, is Brightsolid Limited, a division of the Dundee-based Beano publisher, DC Thomson.

November 2009: And DC Thomson gives every indication that it's prepared to come out fighting as it announces a new marketing initiative. Created by Addiction London with media buying courtesy of Manning Gottlieb OMD, the push, including a television campaign, focuses on a "get in touch" message. But a spanner is thrown in the works when the Brightsolid deal is referred to the Competition Commission.

Fast forward ...

May 2012: But now DC Thomson, having decided to focus more of its efforts on Genes Reunited, accepts an undisclosed offer for all three Friends Reunited sites from the rival genealogy site Its new owner now seeks an agency partner for a major push over the summer months, with a focus on direct mail plus advertising in regional newspapers and six-sheet posters in the vicinity of provincial public libraries.


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