By Sarah Donoghue 

Virgin Media is one of the biggest telecommunications companies across the UK and Ireland, however, without the Vietnam war and a lost necklace the media mogul would not exist. The Virgin Group is the parent organisation of 46 companies. The companies span multiple industries, including entertainment, technology, travel and many more. They are also an official sponsor of the 2024 Student Media Awards. The company is a household name, you would be hard pressed to find someone one has never bought anything from any of the virgin companies. But how did this iconic company come to be? 

Virgin Media was set up by Richard Branson in 2007, but at this time Branson was already a successful business and media company owner. The path to Virgin Media began in 1967 when Richard Branson set up a newspaper called Student. In the 1960s, the Vietnam war was causing devastation in East Asia. This resulted in outcries for the war to end among many young people across the world. Many young people were campaigning for the end of the Vietnam War. However, they did not have a newspaper or magazine to act as a platform for their campaigning. Richard Branson saw a gap in the market and took it. At the age of 15, he set up a magazine for students, called Student. But he didn’t have any money.  

Thankfully, his mother found a lost necklace. A few months before, his mother had found a lost necklace which she turned in to the police station. After a few months of it not being claimed, the police returned the necklace to his mother and said she was free to sell it. With a few 100 euro that she got from selling the necklace, he started his company. Branson used the phone booth in his school to call up advertisers from across the country, to try fund his new magazine. He didn’t have much success, but he got enough advertising to get his magazine off the ground, and from there it snowballed. This is where the Virgin Media story begins. 

His next business venture was in selling records, in 1970. He recalls standing outside music venues around England and handing out leaflets to concert goers for discounted records. He would take orders from customers, and they would pay upfront. Then he would use that money to go buy records, take a cut for himself, then send the records off to people. Bronson Create credits his success in these ventures to his creativity, saying he had to be very inventive to start a business on very little money. He would also advertise his new business in Student. This was the birth of the Virgin brand. His record company was called Virgin Mail Order.  

Just one year later, in 1971, Branson had opened his own record shop. The record shop was a roaring success, and by the next year, he was expanding. Branson decided to expand into music production. He opened a recording studio called The Manor. This was the first Virgin Records recording studio. The recording studio gave way to a record label which would end up signing the Sex Pistols, Janet Jackson, the Spice Girls, The Rolling Stones and many more iconic household names. Virgin Music Publishing was soon expanding to the US in 1986.  

The 80s was a big decade for the Virgin Group. They dabbled in gaming by setting up Virgin Games, they took to the skies by launching the airline Virgin Atlantic, and they capitalised on the holiday industry by setting up travel agency Virgin Holidays, all in the first 5 years of the decade. They also took on the AIDS crisis by launching a low-cost condom brand aimed at young people called Mates Condoms. At the end of the decade, they even dipped their toe into the hot air balloon industry.  

The company continued in the same vein during the 90s. Their biggest accomplishment during this time was Virgin Radio and Virgin Books; they were going back to their media roots. But they also launched Virgin cinemas, cola, vodka, cosmetics and a type of bank account. Virgin Mobile, one of their most successful ventures, also debuted in 1999. 

It is almost impossible to name all their accomplishments during the early 2000s; so, I’m not even going to try, they seemed to be expanding neverendingly. The most important accomplishment, that relates to Virgin Media specifically, happened in 2006. Virgin Media, and NTL Telewest all merged to create what we know as Virgin Media.  

Virgin Media has been steadily trucking along ever since. The Virgin Group has been continuing to set up endless companies and. Branson has been dedicating his time to more and more business ventures, which is a surprise to no one. In 2015, Virgin Media took over UPC in order to expand to Ireland. Since then, Virgin media has been at the forefront of media in Ireland and the UK, as well as providing constant innovation and philanthropy through the Virgin Groups other projects. 

We are pleased to announce that Virgin Media will be partnering with us once again to sponsor categories for SMEDIAS 2024!