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At the head of the game, however, is Yoo Media Dating, which announced last week that it had added Dateline and Club Sirius, two of the best-known brands in the British marketplace, to its already bursting portfolio of five other dating businesses.The group's expansion was rewarded by a revamped sales forecast, completed by independent financial analysts, that estimated its profits rising from £7.9m to £10.9m, with even healthier amounts predicted over the next two years.'There is massive money to be made in this industry, because people are looking for love on these sites, not just a date,' said David Docherty, chief executive of Yoo Media, pointing to sites such as Gorgeous Lifestyle Plus, which charge £1,000 a year for membership.'People might talk about membership to these sites laughingly, but they are actually taking it very seriously,' he added.Eversham and Bassi did not meet under the strict gaze of a chaperone, however.Instead, in a plotline that would no doubt have made Cartland shudder, they fell in love in the frenzied haste of a speed-dating evening.The rise in the popularity of the web-based dating industry in the past year alone is astonishing: there are 44 million links to dating agencies on the web today, compared to 13.1 million in March 2003; 3.95 million personal advertisements, compared to less than one million in 2003; and almost 7.5 million dating services, compared to 2.8 million a year ago.Of those who are looking for love on the internet, Meskill found that 84 per cent surf the sites five or more times each week, spending £320 million between them - a rise of almost 50 per cent since 2002.
'The increase in their popularity has been phenomenal; people are prepared to pay whatever it takes and jump through whatever hoops the agencies put up for them.
Its largest shareholder is Peter Wilkinson, the man behind Freeserve.
Mr Swingewood owns 14 per cent of DITG shares, valued at £2m, and Mr Wilkinson owns 46 per cent, valued at £6.65m.
Now, one in five single adults in Britain happily admits to using some sort of dating service, enabling agencies to boast of memberships larger than the population of some small countries: Dating Direct.com, for example, has a membership of more than 1.5 million.
'This was an industry that you would have been embarrassed to be part of five years ago, but now everyone and their grandmother is taking part,' said Judith Meskill, senior editor of Weblogs Inc who has carried out research into the evolving status of dating services across the world.