AOL Completes Acquisition Of Global Social Media Network Bebo
AOL announced that it has completed its acquisition of Bebo, a global social media network that will form the centerpiece of AOL’s newly created People Networks business unit. Bebo’s CEO Joanna Shields will serve as Executive Vice President of AOL and President of People Networks, which combines Bebo, AIM, ICQ and AOL’s other community platforms and reaches about 80 million users worldwide.* Shields will report to AOL President and COO Ron Grant.
“With the addition of Bebo and the creation of People Networks, AOL is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the exploding social media space by delivering a more personal experience for consumers and a better way for advertisers to engage them,” said Randy Falco, Chairman and CEO of AOL. “AOL is now fully focused on growing our business in three key areas – our advertising network, publishing and people networks – by delivering relevant content and advertising across the Web, and we’re making great progress in each area.”
In March, AOL’s publishing network hit an all-time high in both unique visitors and page views, the sixth consecutive month of growth, according to comScore Media Metrix, which also ranked AOL’s Platform-A the leading online display advertising network, with a reach of 91% of the domestic online audience.
Ron Grant added that: “Unlike other social networks, which have had a difficult time monetizing their sites without jeopardizing the user experience, Bebo created an environment that enables advertisers, brands and media companies to engage in meaningful, relevant conversations with its users. Combining Bebo with our other social media applications, our content sites, and Platform-A gives us an unmatched opportunity to create value for these highly engaged audiences.”
“Bebo has succeeded by providing its users with the best platform for entertainment, self-expression and community,” said Joanna Shields. “People Networks expands this vision by extending our reach, bringing instant communication tools to our users and providing them with the ability to share their passions with people like them.” Integrating People Networks
One of the first initiatives for People Networks will be to integrate AOL’s other community applications and tools, including IM, chat and mail functionality into Bebo. It will also let users merge AIM and Bebo profiles so they can use common screen names without re-registering. AIM is the leading instant messaging network in the U.S., with more than 30 million users. ICQ has 28 million active users worldwide.
In addition, People Networks will integrate other recent AOL acquisitions, including widget technology company Goowy Media and social search question and answer service Yedda. Integration plans also include the cross-distribution of AOL and Bebo content and applications to expand the scale of the combined networks. For example, AOL will promote Bebo’s successful original programming – including the award-winning “KateModern,” “Sofia’s Diary” and “The Gap Year” -- across several AOL channels. Also, Bebo is integrating AOL music and entertainment content.
“This combination is about more than just putting products together, it’s about bringing together the extraordinary management teams from both Bebo and AOL,” said Shields. “When you combine Bebo, AIM and ICQ, and AOL’s other community products, we not only have an unmatched offering for consumers, we have the best leaders in the business to drive our success going forward.”
For the past 18 months, Shields served as Bebo’s President, responsible for all global commercial aspects of the business. Prior to joining Bebo, Shields was Managing Director for Google Europe, Russia, Middle East & Africa, responsible for building and scaling the company’s advertising syndication network and establishing content partnerships. She has more than 20 years of senior management experience at leading technology and Internet companies.
Integrating Marketing Opportunities
People Networks will build on Bebo’s success in creating rich social media experiences that successfully integrate marketing opportunities.
Bebo pioneered the practice of “Engagement Marketing” in social networks, enabling brands to build lasting personal relationships with Bebo’s community of more than 42 million members. Today, hundreds of brands and organizations, including Apple and Nike, among others, use Bebo as a platform to establish ongoing conversations with consumers.
In addition, Bebo has led the way in blending original online entertainment and social networking in a way that lets brands integrate their messages into compelling storylines. Bebo’s productions include KateModern, the most successful serialized program on the Web, Sofia’s Diary and the upcoming The Gap Year.
Bebo’s Open Media platform lets media companies distribute their content to Bebo’s users and retain 100% of their ad revenues. Open Media launched in November 2007 with CBS, MTV Networks, BBC, Turner, ESPN and others, and now has more than 400 partners providing tens of thousands of videos to Bebo’s extensive video archive.
Bebo’s Open Application Platform was the first platform that enabled developers to easily port their applications from Facebook to Bebo, reducing the investment required for developers to extend their reach and enriching the user experience for Bebo’s members. Since publicly opening up the platform in January 2008, more than 6,500 applications were launched on Bebo.
To enhance AOL’s ability to monetize Bebo and its other social networks, the company recently announced plans to introduce a “content screening” tool. Based on the same technology AOL uses with its award-winning parental controls, this tool will help advertisers overcome concerns about advertising on social networking sites with user-generated content by awarding these pages a quality score and placing ads only on pages that surpass a quality threshold. AOL plans to launch its content screening tool in the third quarter.
Founded in 2005, Bebo quickly became one of the leading social networks in the UK. It is ranked No. 1 in Ireland and New Zealand, and No. 3 in the U.S. in terms of engagement. Bebo’s worldwide users spend an average of 30 minutes a day on the site. Bebo has approximately 100 employees operating in offices in the UK, San Francisco and Austin, TX. It will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL.
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