Bebo boss to head new unit

LONDON — AOL’s recent $850 million acquisition of social networking site Bebo will form the centerpiece of a newly created People Networks business unit led by Bebo topper Joanna Shields.

She will serve as executive vice president of AOL and prexy of People Networks, combining Bebo, instant messaging tools AIM, ICQ and AOL’s other community platforms, reporting to AOL president and chief operating officer Ron Grant.

AOL hopes that this integrated approach will help increase Bebo’s presence in the U.S. market and close the gap with competitors MySapce and Facebook.

AOL chairman and CEO Randy Falco said: “AOL is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the exploding social media space by delivering a more personal experience for consumers and a better way for advertisers to engage them.”

Bebo, which claims 24 million unique users each month, has differentiated itself in markets like the U.K. by investing in online dramas “Kate Modern,” “Sophia’s Diary” and “Gap Year,” a co-production with Endemol U.K., which bows later this week.

These will now be distributed across several AOL channels while Bebo will integrate AOL music and other entertainment content.

No job cuts are expected and Bebo will continue to operate from offices in London, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin.

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