Niall Harbison sells out of Lovin Media in deal that values it at €3m

Emmet O’Neill takes control of group, which is eyeing expansion at home and abroad

Emmett O’Neill was already Lovin’s largest investor with more than 50 per cent. Photograph: Fennell Photography

Emmett O’Neill was already Lovin’s largest investor with more than 50 per cent. Photograph: Fennell Photography

 

Niall Harbison, the founder of digital publisher Lovin Media Group, has sold his remaining one-third stake in a deal that values the group at up to €3 million.

Mr Harbison has sold his last tranche of shares to businessman Emmett O’Neill, who was already Lovin’s largest investor with more than 50 per cent.

Mr O’Neill first invested in Lovin in 2014. Following the purchase of Mr Harbison’s stake, Mr O’Neill’s investment group, Kouchin Holdings, now controls about 85 per cent of the group, which is best known for its Lovin’ Dublin lifestyle and culture-focused news site.

The remainder of the group’s shares are held by former rugby star Jamie Heaslip, who owns about 9 per cent, according to the group’s returns, as well as a smattering of tiny stakes held by former group executives.

Greg Lynch, an associate of Mr O’Neill’s at Kouchin, last week joined the board of the Lovin group, on the same day Mr Harbison resigned.

Jamie Crawford, a former Spin 103 radio executive who was appointed as Lovin’s chief executive in March, says the group is now focused on expanding its footprint abroad, as well as potential acquisitions in the Irish digital media.

“Emmet is definitely there for the long term,” said Mr Crawford. “We’re looking at a number of different expansion opportunities abroad. Ireland is our biggest market, and we’re also interested in acquisitions here.”

Stable of sites

The group’s stable includes two Irish sites, lovin.ie and lovindublin.com, as well as sites for areas such as Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Berlin, Manchester, Malta and the Turks and Caicos islands. Its sites get 10 million page views per month.

In addition to its Dublin office, which employs about 20 staff, Lovin also has about six staff in Manchester and more than 15 in the Middle East.

Mr Crawford said the site was also planning the launch of two new podcasts for the Irish market in coming weeks – one focused on lifestyle issues and one around “the culture of sport”.

Despite Mr Harbison founding the group in 2011, Mr Crawford said he was less involved in its day-to-day running over the past year and was based instead in Manchester, overseeing the launch there.

Through Kouchin, Mr O’Neill owns a string of small-to-medium property, tourism and media businesses. He is best known in Irish business, however, as the former chief executive of Topaz fuel retailer, which was owned by his uncle Denis O’Brien until its sale more than two years ago.

In addition to his involvement in tourism resort developments with Mr O’Brien in Spain and Portugal, Mr O’Neill is also known for the successful rollout of the Smiles Dental chain, which he sold for €36 million in 2014.