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Co-founder Nevett leaves Donuts

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts executive vice president of corporate affairs Jon Nevett has left the company, Donuts said yesterday.

He’s the last of the four co-founders of the new gTLD portfolio owner to step aside from their original roles over the last couple of years.

There’s no word on whether he’s got a new gig lined up, but given the recent acquisition of Donuts by Abry Partners, which gave the founders the opportunity to dispose of their shares, Nevett presumably will be in no rush.

Donuts said in a statement that Nevett, who led policy at the company, will continue to act as an advisor.

He follows Dan Schindler and Richard Tindal as co-founders who have since left the company.

Founding CEO Paul Stahura stepped into the executive chair role a couple of years ago to make way for Bruce Jaffe, who led the firm through its merger with Rightside and subsequent sale to Abry.

Jaffe himself will leave next month to allow former ICANN bigwig Akram Atallah into the hot seat. Former ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade is one of Abry’s lead overseers of Donuts.

Donuts loses to ICANN in $135 million .web auction appeal

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts has lost a legal appeal against ICANN in its fight to prevent Verisign running the .web gTLD.

A California court ruled yesterday that a lower court was correct when it ruled almost two years ago that Donuts had signed away its right to sue ICANN, like all gTLD applicants.

The judges ruled that the lower District Court had “properly dismissed” Donuts’ complaint, and that the covenant not to sue in the Applicant Guidebook is not “unconscionable”.

Key in their thinking was the fact that ICANN has an Independent Review Process in place that Donuts could use to continue its fight against the .web outcome.

The lawsuit was filed by Donuts subsidiary Ruby Glen in July 2016, shortly before .web was due to go to an ICANN-managed last-resort auction.

Donuts and many others believed at the time that one applicant, Nu Dot Co, was being secretly bankrolled by a player with much deeper pockets, and it wanted the auction postponed and ICANN to reveal the identity of this backer.

Donuts lost its request for a restraining order.

The auction went ahead, and NDC won with a bid of $135 million, which subsequently was confirmed to have been covertly funded by Verisign.

Donuts then quickly amended its complaint to include claims of negligence, breach of contract and other violations, as it sought $22.5 million from ICANN.

That’s roughly how much it would have received as a losing bidder had the .web contention set been settled privately and NDC still submitted a $135 million bid.

As it stands, ICANN has the $135 million.

That complaint was also rejected, with the District Court disagreeing with earlier precedent in the .africa case and saying that the covenant not to sue is enforceable.

The Appeals Court has now agreed, so unless Donuts has other legal appeals open to it, the .web fight will be settled using ICANN mechanisms.

The ruling does not mean ICANN can go ahead and delegate .web to Verisign.

The .web contention set is currently “on-hold” because Afilias, the second-place bidder in the auction, has since June been in a so-called Cooperative Engagement Process with ICANN.

CEP is a semi-formal negotiation-phase precursor to a full-blown IRP filing, which now seems much more likely to go ahead following the court’s ruling.

The appeals court ruling has not yet been published by ICANN, but it can be viewed here (pdf).

The court heard arguments from Donuts and ICANN lawyers on October 9, the same day that DI revealed that ICANN Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah had been hired by Donuts as its new CEO.

A recording of the 32-minute hearing can be viewed on YouTube here or embedded below.

Google abandons its .kid gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2018, Domain Registries

Google has retreated from the interminable three-way battle for the .kids/.kid gTLDs.

The company this week withdrew its application for .kid, leaving the fight for .kids a two-horse race between Amazon and the not-for-profit DotKids Foundation.

Google’s application was intertwined with the two .kids applications due to a String Confusion Objection, which it won, drawing its bid into contention with DotKids and Amazon.

The contention set was, and arguably still is, due to be settled by an ICANN last-resort auction, but has been repeatedly postponed due to appeals to ICANN by DotKids, which doesn’t think it has the financial clout to beat its rivals.

Most recently, the auction was put on ice again after DotKids asked for ICANN money, then filed a Request for Reconsideration when ICANN refused.

Google’s .kid application had proposed an area for “kid-friendly content”. Registrants would have been vetted in advance of their domains going live to ensure they were established providers of such content.

ICANN number two Atallah is new CEO of Donuts

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2018, Domain Registries

Akram Atallah, head of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, has quit and joined Donuts as its new CEO, DI has learned.

According to multiple sources, Atallah’s last day at ICANN was yesterday.

While neither company has announced the move yet, I gather that ICANN staff were informed by CEO Goran Marby today.

The news comes just a month after private equity firm Abry Partners, which counts former ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade among its partners, acquired Donuts for an undisclosed sum.

While the revolving door between industry and ICANN is pretty much continuous, Atallah is probably the highest-profile example since Kurt Pritz in 2012 and Peter Dengate Thrush in 2011.

As head of ICANN GDD, he was responsible for all things gTLD. Before the creation of the role, he was COO.

He was also interim president and CEO of the organization on two occasions, keeping the seat warm prior to the arrival of Chehade and Marby,

Atallah and Chehade also worked together in their pre-ICANN days in the software industry.

Donuts is of course the largest new gTLD registry in terms of TLDs, with 241 in its stable.

I’ve no word yet on where Bruce Jaffe, Donuts’ current CEO, is going, but I’ll update this post when I do.

Jaffe joined Donuts as chief a little over a year ago, replacing founder Paul Stahura.

Presumably, Jaffe was the turnaround guy and with Donuts’ acquisition secured the new owners figured it was time to hire an ops guy.

UPDATE 2022 UTC: Donuts just issued a press release in which it said that Jaffe will remain a senior adviser during the transition. It also said that Atallah starts in his new job November 12.

UPDATE October 10: ICANN said in a statement overnight that VP of DNS industry engagement Cyrus Namazi will head GDD on an interim basis, with support from CTO David Conrad.

Nominet to donate over $260,000 to Children In Need

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2018, Domain Registries

UK ccTLD registry Nominet said today that it will donate £1 ($1.31) for every domain registered to the charity Children In Need.

The initiative, which runs from today until November 19, is being backed up with a £200,000 ($261,000) minimum donation commitment.

Every paid-for domain in .co.uk, .uk, .me.uk and .org.uk will count.

The .uk space typically has been doing about 125,000 to 130,000 new regs per month recently, across all subdomains and direct .uk, so we’re looking at a potentially substantial donation here.

The money raised will help fund technology-related youth projects across the UK, Nominet said.

Judging by today’s press release, non-profit Nominet is calling itself a “profit with a purpose” company nowadays.

Children In Need is a charity run by the BBC. It broadcasts a fundraising telethon every year, typically raising tens of millions of pounds.

This year’s show is being broadcast November 16.

CentralNic buys .fans for peanuts

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2018, Domain Registries

CentralNic has acquired the flailing new gTLD .fans for an undisclosed sum.

The value of the deal was low enough that publicly traded CentralNic was not obliged to disclose the purchase to the market, CEO Ben Crawford confirmed.

The ICANN contract seems to have changed hands — transferred to a CentralNic subsidiary call Fans TLD Ltd — back in August.

We revealed back in May that CentralNic was acting as a caretaker for .fans, and sister TLD .fan, after original registry Asiamix Digital failed to make enough money to keep the business going.

.fan, which Asiamix bought from Donuts but never launched, was sold back to Donuts in June.

Donuts took .fan to sunrise last week and plans to take it to general availability in December.

.fans domains, meanwhile, have been in registrar storefronts since 2015, but the current tally of registered domains is barely above 1,600.

Domains are still selling for around the $100 mark, roughly double the expected retail price of .fan.

Is auDA’s new marketing windfall working?

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2018, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD .au appears to be growing at a faster rate after registry auDA cut its wholesale prices and devoted millions of dollars to marketing.

While the numbers are by no means conclusive, in the three months after the new business model came into effect .au grew almost twice as much as in the comparable year-ago period.

At the end of June, auDA switch its back-end registry from Neustar to Afilias.

It cut its wholesale price by 10% and said it would invest AUD 8 million ($5.7 million) over four years into a marketing and innovation fund.

The fund offers financial incentives to registrars and resellers that promote .au domains.

Growing .au’s market share is one of the defined objectives of the program, and stats collected by DI show it might be working.

In the three months between June 28 (two days before the transition to Afilias) and September 28, the number of reported .au domains went up from 3,153,432 to 3,163,998, an increase of 10,566 domains.

In the immediately prior three months, registered domains actually declined by 1,150.

In the same period June-September period of 2017, domains were up by 5,734, about half the level of this year.

So is the new regime succeeding in growing numbers more rapidly? Maybe. It’s probably too early to tell for sure.

Any increase in DUM could be offset by declines from domain investors, if a proposed policy change about who is allowed to register domains comes into effect.

The numbers above have two caveats: 1) they’re based on the running total published more or less live on auDA’s web site, so should be considered ball-park as they may have been collected at different times during the day, and 2) it’s possible that Afilias and Neustar report numbers from their back-ends differently, which might mean comparisons of numbers reported before and after the transition are unfair.

Brazil dancing around four million reg milestone

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2018, Domain Registries

The Brazilian ccTLD, .br, last week topped four million registrations for the first time, then promptly dropped back below the milestone.

The TLD was at 4,000,260 domains on Monday September 24, prompting a press release from Nic.br, dropping back below four mill the next day, then hit 4,002,574 this Monday.

The TLD stands at 3,996,604 today, according to statistics Nic.br publishes on its web site.

It’s taken about six years to grow from three million names. The leap from two million to three million took about two and a half years.

Brazil operates on a three-level structure, with dozens of second-level domain options available to registrants.

The large majority of registered names — 3,645,073 — are in the .com.br space.

MMX waving goodbye to .london? Boss puts focus on renewal profits, China

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2018, Domain Registries

MMX’s revenue from domain renewals could cover all of its expenses within the next 24 months, if everything goes to plan, according to CEO Toby Hall.

Hall was speaking to DI this evening after the company reported its first-half financial results, which saw revenue up 22% to $6.4 million and a net loss of $14.7 million, which compared to a loss of $526,000 a year earlier.

MMX’s huge loss for the period was largely — to the tune of $11.8 million — attributable to the restructuring of an “onerous” contract with one of its gTLD partners.

Hall refuses point blank to name that partner, but for reasons I discussed last year, I believe it is .london sponsor London & Partners, which is affiliated with the office of the Mayor of London.

When L&P selected MMX to be its registry partner for .london back in 2012, I understand a key reason was MMX’s promise to pay L&P a fixed annual fee and commit to a certain amount of marketing spend.

But two years ago, after it became clear that .london sales were coming in waaaay below previous management’s expectations, MMX renegotiated the deal.

Under the new deal, instead of committing to spend $10.8 million on marketing the TLD itself, MMX agreed to give half that amount to L&P for L&P to do its own marketing.

It appears that L&P has already spunked much of that cash ineffectively, or, as MMX put it:

a significant portion of that marketing budget has been spent by the partner with minimal impact on revenues in the current year and no expectation of any material uplift in future periods

MMX seems to have basically written off the .london deal as a bad call, and now that MMX is no longer in the registry back-end or registrar businesses, it seems unlikely that the .london partnership will be extended when it expires in three years.

Again, Hall would not confirm this bad contract was for .london — I’m making an informed guess — but the alternatives are limited. The only other TLDs MMX runs in partnership currently are .review and .country, and not even 2012 MMX management would have bet the farm on those turkeys.

Another $2.1 million of the company’s H1 net loss is for “bad debt provisions” relating the possibility that certain US-based registrar partners may not pay their dues, but this provision is apparently related to a new accounting standard rather than known deadbeats threatening to withhold payments.

If you throw aside all of this accountancy and look at the “operating EBITDA” line, profit was up 176% to $661,000 compared to H1 2017.

While the loss may have cast a cloud over the first half, Hall is upbeat about MMX’s prospects, and it’s all about the renewals.

“Renewal revenue will be more than all the costs of business within 24 months,” he said. To get there, it needs to cross the $12 million mark.

He told DI tonight that “an increasing percentage of our business is based on renewals… just on renewal revenue alone we’ll be over $10 million this year”.

Renewal revenue was $4.7 million in 2017 and $2.4 million in 2016, he said. In the first half, it was was up 40% to $3.4 million.

MMX’s acquisition of porn domain specialist ICM Registry, which has renewal fees of over $60 per year, will certainly help the company towards its 2018 goal in the second half. ICM only contributed two weeks of revenue — $250,000 — in H1.

Remarkably, and somewhat counter-intuitively, the company is also seeing renewal strength in China.

Its .vip gTLD, which sells almost exclusively in China, saw extremely respectable renewals of 76% in the first half, which runs against the conventional wisdom that China is a volatile market

Hall said that .vip renewals run in the $5 to $10 range, so apparently TLD volume is not being propped up by cheap wholesale renewal fees. The TLD accounts for about 30% of MMX’s renewal revenue, Hall said.

About 60% of .vip’s domains under management are with Chinese registrar Alibaba. The biggest non-Chinese registrar is GoDaddy, with about 3% of the namespace.

More exposure to China, and specifically Alibaba, is expected to come soon due to MMX’s repurposing of the 2012-logic gTLD .luxe, which is being integrated into the Ethereum blockchain.

MMX said last week that some six million (mostly Chinese) users of the imToken Ethereum wallet will in November get the ability to register .luxe domains via imToken and easily integrate them with their Ethereum assets.

The announcement was made at the Alibaba Cloud Computing Conference in China last week, so you can probably guess imToken’s registrar of choice.

Afilias gets Guinness record for .au migration

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has got its recent takeover of .au recognized by Guinness as an official world record.

The company was given the title of “Largest Migration of an Internet Top-Level Domain in a Single Transition” at an event in New York today, according to a company press release.

It relates to its migration of .au from former registry provider Neustar to its own back-end a few months ago.

Australia’s .au ccTLD had about 3.1 million names under management at the time, about 400,000 names more than the previous record — the 2003 .org transition Afilias also handled.

I understand there’s a licensing fee due to Guinness for this kind of (let’s face it) shameless-but-effective PR stunt, but no guarantee the record will actually be printed in future editions of the annual Guinness Book of World Records.

I hope the fresh salt in Neustar’s wounds isn’t stinging too badly this evening.