Last night Bebo parent company AOL announced it will close the social network if it can’t find a buyer by May, saying increased competition had left the company unable to continue funding the site (nma.co.uk 7 April 2010).
Bebo is one of the pioneers of ad-funded online video in the UK, hosting web dramas including Sofia’s Diary and Gap Year that provided multiple branding opportunities.
UK digital industry experts said the potential closure represents a missed opportunity by AOL, adding that Bebo’s strengths include being able to deliver a hard-to-reach audience and providing bespoke ad opportunities not offered by other youth sites.
Ian MacArthur, creative director and head of brand marketing at the NSPCC, a brand which has carried out campaigns on Bebo, said AOL had mismanaged the platform.
“Children and young people flock towards spaces that give them ideas and freedoms, and they’re happy to see you fail fast provided it’s really fast,” he said. “Big companies sometimes join the acquisition race out of fear and are then not structured to change their business behaviour in driving that acquisition forward at the pace its audience requires.”
Last year Samsung ran a campaign on Bebo which included an online video show called Beat. Ed Turner, head of media at i-level, which developed the campaign, said, “There are lots of social spaces where you can reach a youth audience but in terms of high-end social content, there will be a gap.”
Despite Bebo’s championing by the industry, audience figures have fallen sharply over the past two years. According to figures from Nielsen Online, Bebo’s audience has fallen from 4.6m UK users in February 2008 to just 1.8m in February this year. ComScore figures show a 60% drop in visits over the past year, from just over 9.5m users in February 2009 to 3.8m in February 2010.
Justin Taylor, managing partner at media agency MEC Interaction, said, “Taking aside its dwindling user figures, Bebo’s transition into the AOL portfolio was never smooth and at best confusing for agencies. This in turn led to reduced selling, especially considering some of Bebo’s more bespoke features. We’ve had some great successes with Bebo, especially with the Teen Road Safety integration on Sofia’s Diary.”
This story first appeared on newmediaage.co.uk