ITV’s sale of Friends Reunited has been given the provisional thumbs-up by the UK’s Competition Commission after early fears that its acquisition by the owner of several online genealogy sites might threaten customers of family history services.
In these heady days of Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary Friends Reunited was when it was launched almost ten years ago.
Since then, its gradual fade from prominence has been well charted. The service was bought by ITV in 2005 for £175m when it was described as ‘the sweet spot’ of the internet. Since then, it has faired less well, with ITV announcing its sale for only £25m during 2009 to Brightsolid, owners of FindMyPast.co.uk and 1911Census.co.uk.
Brightsolid spotted that the acquisition of Friends Reunited and its sub-brand GenesReunited.com would enable it to face off to major competition in this sector from the likes of Ancestry.co.uk. However, the sale was referred to the Competition Commision in November 2009 by the Office of Fair Trading.
In its provisional finding The Competition Commission considers that the merger could be to the benefit of amateur family historians as the merged company will be better equipped to compete directly with Ancestry.co.uk, leading to more innovation and improvements in the market.
Chairman of the Inquiry Group and CC Deputy Chairman, Laura Carstensen, said:
“The increasing interest people have in tracing their family history means that this is a rapidly growing market with an estimated 2 million people accessing a number of genealogy websites every month. The Internet is now by far the preferred way to trace family history: for example, the ratio of online to onsite delivery of The National Archives was about 200:1 over the last year. So we’ve looked closely at how the merger might affect competition in this market and the interests of this growing number of customers.”
The Commission’s final report is due in April, but judging by its provisional findings, the Friends Reunited story is not yet over.