AOL scoops up social media provider Bebo

The Time Warner division said it would acquire social media network Bebo, which is highly popular outside of the US, for about $850 million in cash.

That international draw appears to be much of the reason why AOL looked to Bebo, and it should play a large part in the company's overall international expansion strategy. In addition, the link-up between AOL's AIM and ICQ properties and Bebo will help it draw in more users.

With about 40 million members worldwide, Bebo is the leading social network in Ireland and New Zealand, one of the top in the UK, and #3 in the US. Users view an average of 78 pages per day, according to the company's statistics.

About 100 are employed by Bebo across the UK and US, and it appears most if not all would keep their jobs. Current president Joanna Shields would continue to run to the company, however she now would report to AOL COO Ron Grant.

"This acquisition supports our key objectives, accelerating the growth, engagement and monetization of one of the world's most engaged online communities," Grant said of the acquisition.

Bebo had been rumored to be up for sale for as much as $1 billion, however a buyer was not known. In the same token however, AOL has also been the target of buyout speculation itself, following comments earlier this week from Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes.

Update ribbon (small)

11:20 am March 13, 2008 - Bebo has been a target of acquisition rumors in the past: Last year it was rumored to be in talks with Yahoo for the same $1 billion price tag. However, at the time, Bebo's CEO called the talk "complete fabrication."

Google and MySpace were also said to be in the running as potential suitors, although it's not clear how much further talks with either company had gone, if at all.

The question now remains as to whether or not Bebo will survive an acquisition by AOL. Several companies who have found themselves acquired have ended up disappearing or take a backseat to other AOL projects.

ICQ is probably the first example of this. Before it was acquired by AOL in 1998, its instant messaging client enjoyed widespread usage worldwide. However, AIM was obviously the company's top instant messaging priority. Since then, the ICQ network has seen a steady decline in regular users as a result.

Other companies, like Spinner -- probably the first popular streaming audio network -- and Nullsoft -- makers of the once-popular Winamp MP3 software -- have seen similar fates: either folded into AOL's own services, or have their products essentially forgotten about.

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