Bebo seeks its own market niche

Visiting CEO says social-networking site can complement Facebook.

ADAM LEVIN 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bebo CEO Adam Levin says his social-networking site can complement, rather than compete with, Facebook. There is space for Bebo to carve a niche for itself in the market, he said while visiting Israel last week.
“Facebook has obviously won this whole platform game,” Levin said. “It wants to be this open platform and really engage the user within this walled-in community, which is fine; they’ve done an amazing job. What we want to be is this added layer on top of Facebook, where you can express yourself in much different ways.”
Levin’s San Francisco-based private equity firm Criterion Capital Partners purchased Bebo from AOL in June 2010 for just a fraction of the $850 million AOL paid for it two years earlier.
He said Bebo had begun to attract back former users by focusing on what made the site popular following its establishment in 2005.
“Our site is much more customizable [than Facebook],” Levin said.
“We have a younger demographic – a large portion of users are between the ages of 16 and 24, more than 75 percent.”
“Bebo users are really hard-core users,” he said. “They may have a Facebook account, but they much prefer the Bebo experience, and they [only] migrated to Facebook because of the neglect of AOL.”
For example, Levin said, Bebo allows users to create a customized page using any of more than 10,000 templates, called skins. He also cited the return of “webisodics,” online television series, several of which are being brought back exclusively to the social-networking site.
“We don’t want to compete with Facebook,” he said. “We can create a niche community of millions of people around the world that like to create and express themselves in other ways – because not everybody wants that blue collegiate design.”
Levin said Bebo had experienced steady growth since last year’s acquisition, going against the trend among most social-networking sites that have been unable to reverse downtrends in activity.
Bebo has 121 million registered users, according to company statistics, more than 50 million of whom have visited the platform in the last year. Users visit the site, on average, eight times a month. About 18% of page views come from mobile devices, the fastest growing sector in the industry, the company said.
Although the site is accessible in multiple languages, Levin said most of the growth had come from English- speaking countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, as well as other locations with large Englishspeaking audiences such as Israel.
Levin first visited Israel as a child and has come back frequently over the past five years. He spoke of his great love for the country and said he was exploring new ways to use local expertise.
“There’s so much ingenuity in Israel that there’s development and technology that can be utilized,” he said. “Our core engineering team is in San Francisco, but I’ve met with several different companies while out here that can make the Bebo experience better.”