Is Bebo A Bargain? Or Is Facebook Overpriced?

Did AOL (TWX) get a bargain for Bebo? The company paid $850 million for a site with 40 million members, or $21.25 a pop. Some comps:

  • News Corp (NWS)/MySpace deal, July 2005: $580 million. Reports at the time pegged MySpace’s membership in the 18 million to 22 million range, meaning NWS paid between $26 and $32 per member.
  • Hi-Media/Fotolog, August 2007: $90 million, or $9 for each of the network’s 10 million members.
  • Microsoft (MSFT)/Facebook, October 2007: MSFT invests $240 million at a valuation of $15 billion, or $300 for each of the network’s 50 million members.

Caveats for all three comparisons: The MySpace deal, of course, was a flat-out steal for News Corp. in hindsight: Even though the social site’s growth may be flagging, a conservative valuation would put the site somewhere in the $5 billion range. Fotolog’s users are primarily in South America and southern Europe, so its audience went for a steep discount compared to US users. And no one actually believes Facebook is worth $15 billion. But even if you knock a third off that number, Facebook’s users would still be worth $200 a pop.

Bebo’s base is primarily in the UK, where the Web ad market is robust but not quite as advanced as the one in the U.S. We’re told British social network users are worth perhaps 70% of their American peers.

But that still means AOL bought a robust social network at a steep discount to Facebook’s purported value. So either Randy Falco got a steal, or investors have reassessed just how difficult it is to monetise social networks — and Facebook is going to have an even harder time justifying last fall’s $15 billion price tag.

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