AOL, Time Warner, Bebo Deny A Sale Is In The Offing

imageWe, too, heard the rumor, toward the end of last year, that AOL (NYSE: TWX) was considering off-loading Bebo, less than a year after paying a hefty $850 million for the social network. But, after checking with multiple sources, our queries weren’t able to substantiate the claim. Now TechCrunch has gone with the story, claiming AOL reckons Bebo has underperformed; officially, the players involved are still denying the report.

Speaking to my colleague Staci Kramer, a Time Warner spokesman emphatically denied a possible sale, while AOL spokesman Matt Frankel said: “It’s not true.” Sarah Gavin, communications director for Bebo and the AOL People Networks division, which had been formed out of the acquisition, told me: “There’s absolutely no truth in it, it’s ridiculous.”

She pointed out that AOL-Bebo launched their Social Inbox aggregator feature in December, not October as stated by TechCrunch, saying it was just the first step in what will be many collaborations between the pair: “We’re very clear about the work that had gone in to that and about our general vision for things — there is more to come, this coming month and February, and we’re feeling very excited about it.”

There’s no denying $850 million was a lot to pay for Bebo, which had good traction with youngsters in the UK, Ireland and Australasia but was used less elsewhere.

More after the jump

Even Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes admitted AOL “may have overpaid.” One of the things that seemed to have impressed AOL most was Bebo’s well-regarded president Joanna Shields, who’s now trying to spread the social media know-how throughout Bebo’s new owner. Though Shields touted Bebo’s “engagement marketing” at the time, it’s also true that expectations for social network ad spend are being scaled back — eMarketer revised its 2009 U.S. forecast for the whole sector down 28 percent to $1.3 billion, not that much more than AOL paid for Bebo alone.

More history on AOL-Bebo at our Bebo channel