The history of the companies that now make up UBM stretches back almost two hundred years. UBM businesses still publish many other titles that were launched in the 19th century, including Building magazine, launched in 1843 by Joseph Hansom, as well as Chemist & Druggist.
The company was founded in 1918 as United Newspapers by David Lloyd George to acquire the Daily Chronicle and Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper. In 1929, the company merged with Provincial Newspapers, an owner of regional papers in the north; the next year, it sold its national papers. The company continued for decades as a regional newspaper publisher, making acquisitions such as Yorkshire Post Newspapers in 1969.
It acquired PR Newswire in 1982. In 1985, it bought Express Newspapers and continued to publish the Daily Express for some 15 years. Also in 1985, it bought US trade magazine and book publisher Miller Freeman. It changed its name to United News & Media in 1995, sold its regional papers in 1998, and bought CMP Media, a technology-focused trade media company, in 1999 for $920 million. In 2000, it sold the Daily Express to Richard Desmond, sold most of Miller Freeman to VNU and Reed Elsevier and adopted the name of United Business Media. United Business Media acquired the trade publisher Aprovia UK (owner of The Builder) in 2003 and the medical publishing company MediMedia in 2004.
MAI was part of a consortium which bid for the ITV south and south east area, which formed Meridian Broadcasting in 1991. MAI began to expand following the successful launch of Meridian: in 1994 the company bought Anglia Television, the ITV franchise for the east of England, and the following year became a major shareholder in the consortium that won the franchise for Channel 5. In 1996, MAI merged with United Newspapers (via an agreed takeover by United) to form United News & Media (UNM). The resulting company owned the Daily Express newspaper, Meridian, Anglia, and a large shareholding (through the Yorkshire Post) in Yorkshire Tyne Tees Television, the owners of Yorkshire Television and Tyne Tees Television. The stake in Yorkshire Tyne Tees Television was sold to Granada, allowing them to take control of the two franchises in 1997. United News and Media later agreed to buy Scottish Television's 20% stake in HTV and on 28 June 1997, HTV was taken over fully by UNM for £370 million.
In 1999, plans emerged of a merger between UNM and rival Carlton, however these talks failed when it appeared that Meridian would have to be sold off as a condition of the deal. As a result, the television assets of UNM were sold to Granada, however due to regulations stating that the company could not control that large an audience share, the broadcasting arm of HTV was sold to Carlton in exchange for Central's 20% stake in Meridian.