AOL grabs Social Networking Website Bebo for $850 million

The AOL Time Warner group has purchased Social Networking Website Bebo for $850 million earlier today in a surprise move that leaves only a handful of players left in the field.

Bebo has been rumoured to be looking for a quick exit since the fourth quarter of last year as the credit crunch made it more difficult for a billion-dollar purchase to go through.

The three-year old company was created by Briton Michael Birch and has partnerships with a number of media outlets.

Yahoo and Google have both been cited as potential purchasers but failed to make the move.

Bebo has a global audience of 40 million members worldwide and has a large presence in UK and many English speaking countries outside US where it ranks third behind Myspace and Facebook.

However Nielsen Online puts Bebo's membership at a mere 7.1m.

News.com reports that AOL had already partnered with Bebo on AOL's popular AIM messaging client but no one imagined that AOL would put $850 million cash on the table for the company.

During the Conference call, AOL stated that Bebo will focus its European expansion on five new countries and will work on localisation and also added that the combined number of unduplicated visitors reached 80 million, ahead of Facebook's 65 million.

AOL is betting big on this last piece of the puzzle as it announced the launch of more than 20 websites in 2008 together with the deployment of Platform-A, its $1 billion online advertising branch.