Unruly operates a matchmaking business model in the online advertising industry. Unruly signs up website publishers to its marketplace to make ad inventory available to advertisers. Unruly uses programmatic Real-Time Bidding (RTB) to match publishers with the advertisers that are willing to pay the most for the eCPMs (effective cost per thousand impressions, or total earning / total impressions in thousands). The RTB process ensures that both publishers and advertisers get the content and placement that delivers the highest ROI. The process is entirely automated and happens within milliseconds, making the transactions efficient and lowering costs. In separate work-for-hire and product business models that operate alongside the matchmaking business model, Unruly provides bespoke services and standardized tools, respectively, to help advertisers create “viral” content that is specifically tailored for web and mobile users.


Scott Button, Sarah Wood, and Matt Cooke founded Unruly in 2006 having met years earlier as classmates at university. In 2014 Unruly posted record revenues of $43m (£27.4m), representing 23% year-over-year growth. The Company’s most recent round of funding of $25m (£16m) was in January 2012, backed by Amadeus Capital Partners, Van den Ende & Deitmers, and Business Growth Fund. Other supply-side platforms include Altitude Digital, OpenX, Pubmatic, Rubicon Project, and Sonobi. In September 2015, Unruly was acquired by News Corp, and was valued at £114 million.


Unruly connects two types of customers: advertisers in need of reaching a large audience with their content and website publishers that want to attract large audiences to their websites and platforms.

Learn more about the Matchmaking Business Model

You identify two or more customer groups and brings them together in your marketplace.

Engagement  — Value Creation Proposition

Unruly believes that video content cannot simply be replicated from TV advertising for online audiences, and therefore uses data analytics and beta testing to provides brands with best practices on how to create content that will be shared, clicked, liked, and promoted most heavily. For publishers it is mainly about accessing a wider range of advertisers by placing inventory on the exchange. The alternative for publishers is managing the selling process internally on a private network (difficult to set up) or each transaction individually (easy for large placements e.g. events and sports, but very hard for small, high volume, online placements).

Unruly attracts advertisers to its platform through two methods. One is the supply of ad inventory from publishers, which determines the number and kind of advertisers that will be drawn to Unruly’s exchange. The bigger and more recognizable the publishers that Unruly can sign on to provide ad inventory to the exchange the more success Unruly will have in attracting advertisers. The other half of the engagement for Unruly is providing advertisers the tools to first determine how to create viral content, second, where to place it, and third, the technology to automatically format the content so that it appears in native format no matter where on the web or mobile platforms the ad ends up being placed. Without engagement on both sides of the aisle Unruly would have a difficult time attracting either publishers or advertisers to its exchange, since the value creation proposition would be hard to determine.

Delivery — Value Chain

For publishers, there is UnrulyX and Unruly Activate, supply side platforms that focus on mobile newsfeeds and content streams (UnrulyX) and the Open Web (Unruly Activate) that aim to place viral content in native format so users (the advertisers’ target) have the best possible experience and are more likely to share what they see. By making inventory available through Unruly publishers are widening their access to viral content that will drive traffic to their websites or mobile platforms.

Advertisers can use Unruly’s data analytics platforms to deliver curated content to the exchange, with technology such as Unruly ShareRank, Unruly Custom Audience, Unruly Analytics and Unruly’s Viral Video Chart. ShareRank, Analytics, and the Viral Video Chart allows advertisers to see what tools are most effective for creating viral content, while Custom Audience is built on top of these platforms to give advertisers access to the type of content that elicits strong emotional responses from viewers and target ad purchasing with that information.

Monetisation — Value Capture
Advertisers pay the accepted bid price, which is filtered through Unruly and passed on to the publisher. Unruly, being the gatekeeper for the process, takes a fee from the auction process.



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Disclaimer — Written by Douglas Markey and edited by James Knuckles under the direction of Prof Charles Baden-Fuller, Cass Business School. This case is designed to illustrate a business model category. It leverages public sources and is written to further management understanding, and it is not meant to suggest individuals made either correct or incorrect decisions. © 2016 Published 23 April 2016