Did AOL buy Bebo to tempt Yahoo into a merger?

No one can make sense of AOL's $850 million Bebo buy, not even Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who is dropping hints that his company overpaid for the social network. AOL CEO Randy Falco and COO Ron Grant, shown here in a deliciously awkward moment with Bebo president Joanna Shields, negotiated the deal in secret, to the disbelief of their underlings. But there's one strategic way in which the Bebo buy makes sense.

Bewkes has been trying, on and off, to swap AOL and a fistful of cash for a 20 percent stake in Yahoo, which would help CEO Jerry Yang fend off both Microsoft and Carl Icahn. Yahoo executives aren't particularly interested in having AOL's aging Internet assets dumped on them to manage — but they were eager to buy Bebo, particularly Yahoo Europe head Toby Coppel. Yahoo has a deal to sell ads on Bebo in Europe, a deal that most expect AOL to do away with after it expires. Buying Bebo serves to makes AOL more attractive to Yahoo — and if that gets AOL off Time Warner's back, then it may be $850 million well spent.