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Bebo Launches Video Chat

Social network leverages family-friendly Vchatter technology to regain ground in the teen market.
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One-time teen social media darling Bebo hopes Tuesday's rollout of a video-chat feature will resurrect its standing among young users who do not want to be on the same site as their parents and teachers.

Called bChat, the new capability will allow users to communicate with each other via webcam, and will enable users to introduce fellow accountholders who share interests. It is a branded version of Vchatter -- the service available on Facebook and as a standalone solution -- and part of Bebo's plan to become more real-time and interactive.

Like ChatRoulette, it includes a random chat feature that connects new users to each other. But this family-friendly version makes it easy to report abuse and simplifies random screening by moderators, according to The Next Web.

Criterion Capital Partners acquired Bebo from AOL for less than $10 million earlier this year. AOL lost a lot of money on the deal, having purchased the company in 2008 for $850 million from British co-founders Michael Birch and his wife Xochi, who opened its doors in 2005.

Today, although Bebo has 117 million registered members, less than 12 million are active, according to reports. Although it is now based in San Francisco and has an international membership, between 30% and 40% of its base is in the United Kingdom.

The company, which has a headcount of 20 and is growing, already has made the site profitable, according to TechCrunch. Through new tools like video chat, original content and social games, Bebo can once again become a popular social network, CEO Adam Levin told The Telegraph.

"I think we can coexist really well with Facebook as Bebo is a platform now focused on self-expression. Not everyone wants to be on a platform where their Mum and Dad are members," he said. "It's all about reactivating the registered users, who will then tell new users to come and check out new tools and content we are putting on the site."

Bebo's revenue is based on display advertising and keeping a percentage of virtual credits users purchase for some games. Like MySpace, Bebo is trying to reinvent itself in the age of Facebook.

"We have launched a new games section with new virtual credits and are also investing massively in original content and have installed video feeds of all types of entertainment material across the site," Levin told The Telegraph.