AOL sells Bebo for scrap - and a $275 million tax break

By David Goldman, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- AOL sold social network Bebo to a private investment group for an undisclosed sum on Thursday, after buying it for $850 million just two years ago.

The online media company unloaded almost all of Bebo's assets to a Criterion Capital Partners affiliate. AOL deemed its remaining Bebo stock "worthless," but it will get a nice break from writing off its failed investment: AOL said it expects to record a tax benefit of $275 million to $325 million in the second quarter.

Though the companies did not comment on the value of the sale, The Wall Street Journal reported that it was "a small fraction" of what AOL paid to buy Bebo.

That drew a snarky reply from a man with intimate knowledge of overvalued acquisitions. AOL founder Steve Case tweeted his thoughts on the deal: "AOL buying Bebo for $850 million and then selling 2 years later for $10 million doesn't seem like a winning strategy."

This isn't the way AOL figured the deal would end. AOL had high hopes for Bebo as it tried to go toe-to-toe with social networking giants like Facebook and MySpace.

"We will be a social media powerhouse," said then-AOL CEO Randy Falco on a conference call with analysts in March 2008. "This deal is a game-changer."

The social network took off in the United Kingdom, but failed to gain any significant traction in the United States. Bebo had just 5 million U.S. visitors last month, compared to more than 130 million visits to Facebook, according to online traffic tracker comScore.

That failure to gain any momentum prompted AOL to cut its losses with Bebo. In April, the company announced it would either sell Bebo or simply close it down. AOL said that maintaining the site "would require significant investment in order to compete" with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

AOL, which was spun off by CNNMoney.com and Fortune parent company Time Warner in December, is in the midst of a turnaround effort from CEO and former Google executive Tim Armstrong. The company is trying to build up its content network and grow its ad revenue to compete with bigger online media companies like Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500).

Shares of AOL (AOL) fell slightly in morning trading on Thursday. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 18,132.70 -81.72 -0.45%
Nasdaq 4,963.53 -24.36 -0.49%
S&P 500 2,104.50 -6.24 -0.30%
Treasuries 2.00 -0.01 -0.69%
Data as of 2:26am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Apple Inc 128.46 -1.96 -1.50%
Microsoft Corp 43.85 -0.20 -0.47%
Facebook Inc 78.97 -1.44 -1.79%
Cisco Systems Inc 29.51 -0.40 -1.34%
Intel Corp 33.25 -0.40 -1.19%
Data as of Feb 27
Sponsors

Sections

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett released his 50th annual letter to shareholders. The Oracle of Omaha thinks the next 50 years will be great and knows who will replace him. More

Potential presidential candidate says that improvement in unemployment rate is due to millions of jobless not being counted. More

With the death of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Star Trek's Spock, we remember his character's legacy: The technology we use every day. More

A social media frenzy about the color of a dress is bringing fame and fortune for one small British fashion company. More

The top 5 consumer complaints have to do with identity theft, debt collectors, imposters, telephone companies and banks. More