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Looks like .music is finally on its way

The hard-fought battle for .music appears to be over.

I’m not yet in a position to tell you which of the eight applicants for the new gTLD has been successful, but I can tell you some of those who were not.

Two applicants have this week withdrawn their bids, an almost certain sign that the contention set has been privately settled.

The first applicant to ditch its bid was dot Music Ltd, an application vehicle of Domain Venture Partners (we used to call this outfit Famous Four Media, but that’s changed).

The other is .music LLC, also known as Far Further.

We can almost certainly expect all but one of the remaining applicants to withdraw their applications over the coming days.

Applicants typically sign NDAs when they settle contention privately, usually via an auction.

Far Further was one of two unsuccessful “community” applicants for .music. It had the backing of dozens of music trade groups, including the influential Recording Industry Association of America. Even Radiohead’s guitarist chipped in with his support.

Evidently, none of these groups were prepared to fund Far Further to the extent it could win the .music contention set.

The .music contention set has been held up by the continuing protestations of the other community applicant, DotMusic Limited, the company run by long-time .music cheerleader Constantinos Roussos.

After DotMusic lost its Community Priority Evaluation in 2016, on the basis that the “community” was pretty much illusory under ICANN rules, it started to complain that the process was unfair.

The applicant immediately filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN.

.music then found itself one of several proposed gTLDs frozen while ICANN conducted an outside review of alleged irregularities in the CPE process.

That review found no impropriety in early 2018, a verdict DotMusic’s lawyer dismissed as a “whitewash”.

It has since stalled the process several times with requests for information under ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy, and more RfRs when those requests were denied.

But this series of appeals finally came to an end March 14, when ICANN’s board of directors finally ruled against DotMusic’s 2016 RfR.

That appears to have opened up the .music set for private resolution.

So who won? I don’t know yet, but the remaining applicants are: DotMusic itself, Google, Amazon, MMX, Donuts and Radix.

There are certainly two very deep-pocketed companies on that list. Could we be looking at Google or Amazon as the new proprietors of .music?

If either of those companies has won, prospective registrants might find they have a long wait before they can pick up a .music domain. Neither of these giants has a track record of rushing its new gTLDs to market.

If the victor is a conventional gTLD registry, we’d very probably be looking at a launch in 2019.

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.blog tops 200,000 regs due to WordPress partnership

Knock Knock Whois There, the WordPress-affiliated .blog registry, said today that it has topped 200,000 names for the first time.

The milestone comes after about 28 months of general availability, during which growth has been slow but stable.

The company said it has a respectable renewal rate of 72.74%, which is only a couple of points behind .com.

KKWT’s relationship with its parent company, Automattic, owner of WordPress.com and an accredited registrar in its own right, has been crucial to .blog’s growth.

According to registry transaction reports, two-thirds of all .blog domains are sold via Automattic, which had over 128,000 .blog domains under management at the end of 2018.

Tucows is a distant second, with about 10,000 names.

Automattic promotes .blog prominently on its registrar site, selling for $18.95 a year.

But it’s still sold more .com domains, over half a million so far, at the slightly cheaper price of $15 per year.

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.london disaster leads to mixed 2018 for MMX

New gTLD registry MMX, aka Minds + Machines, suffered a huge net loss in 2018, largely due to its disastrous .london contract, even while its operating fundamentals improved.

For the year, MMX reported a net loss of $12.6 million, compared to a 2017 profits of $3.8 million, on revenue up 5% to $15.1 million.

The loss was almost entirely attributable to charges related to an “onerous contract” with one of its partners.

MMX has never disclosed the identity of this partner, but the only outfit that fits the profile is London & Partners, the agency with which MMX partnered to launch .london several years ago.

The registry, expecting big things from the geo-TLD, promised to pay L&P millions over the term of the contract, which expires in 2021.

But it’s been a bit of a damp squib compared to former management’s expectations, peaking at about 86,000 regs last year and shrinking ever since.

MMX says the estimated gap between the minimum revenue guarantee payable to L&P and the expected revenue is expected to bring in before 2021, is $7.2 million.

It’s recorded this as a charge on its income statement accordingly, along with another $4.2 million impairment charge related to the same contract.

The company recorded a $7.7 million accounting charge related to this contract in 2016, too.

The company says that to date it has lost about $13.7 million on the deal.

These charges, along with a few other smaller one-off expenses, were enough to push the company into the black for 2018.

But other key performance indicators showed more promise, helped along by the acquisition last year of porn-themed registry operator ICM Register, best-known for .xxx.

Notably, renewal revenue almost doubled, up 97% to $9.4 million.

Domains under management was up 37% to 1.81 million.

Operating EBITDA was $3.6 million, up 12.5%.

Looking ahead, MMX said billings for the first quarter are expected to be up 246%, due to the first impact of the ICM acquisition.

It also said it closed $500,000 of sales in .law in China in March. That would work out to over 5,000 domains, based on the retail price of about $100 a year, but those domains have yet to show up in the .law zone file, which only grew by about 200 domains last month.

MMX said it is planning to launch “a high-value defensive registration product” for corporate registrars by the third quarter.

If I had to guess, I’d say that is probably a clone of Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List service, which offers trademark owners deep discounts when they defensively block strings across the whole Donuts gTLD portfolio.

It’s a model copied by other registries, including recently Uniregistry.

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ICANN waves goodbye to Adobe Connect over security, pricing

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has decided to dump its longstanding web conferencing service provider, Adobe Connect, in favor of rival Zoom.

The organization reckons it could save as much as $100,000 a year, and mitigate some security fears, by making the switch.

Adobe has been the standard remote participation tool for not only ICANN’s public meetings, but also its policy-development working groups, for at least seven or eight years.

It enables video, audio, screen-sharing, public and private chat, voting and so on. ICANN says that Zoom has “nearly all of the same features”.

But some of ICANN’s more secretive bodies — including the Security and Stability Advisory Committee and Board Operations — have been using Zoom for a little over a year, after an SSAC member discovered a vulnerability in Adobe that allowed potentially sensitive information to be stolen.

A clincher appears to be Zoom’s voice over IP functionality, which ICANN says will enable it to drop Premiere Global Services Inc (PGi), its current, $500,000-a-year teleconferencing provider, which participants use if they dial in from on the road.

“Based on feedback, Zoom’s voice connectivity and overall experience seem to be superior to equivalent Adobe Connect experiences,” ICANN said.

As somebody who has lurked on more than his fair share of Adobe Connect rooms, I’ve noticed that people losing their voice connection is a very common occurrence, which can delay and break the flow of discussions, though it’s not usually clear where the blame lies.

According to a Zoom feature list (pdf) provided by ICANN, Zoom currently lacks many features on its web client, but updates are expected to bring the feature set in line with the mobile apps and PC/Mac executables by the end of the year.

ICANN expects to use Zoom exclusively by ICANN 65, in Marrakech this June. In the meantime, it will provide training to community members.

The cynic in me wants to say “expect teething troubles”, but the ICANN meetings team runs a pretty tight ship. The switch might be surprisingly smooth.

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Donuts raises prices on most TLDs by up to 9%

Portfolio registry Donuts is to jack up prices on most of its 241 gTLDs by up to 9% later this year.

Base-rate price increases of between 6% and 9% will his 220 TLDs, while 16 will remain at their current pricing.

The increases, which do not affect registry-reserved “premium” domains, will likely mean an increase of a few dollars in most cases.

(UPDATE: Donuts says the average price increase is about $1.75.)

Five gTLDs will see their prices reduced. Donuts said .group will see a 35% price reduction. It currently sells for about $30 a year at GoDaddy.

The prices were announced to registrars yesterday and, due to ICANN rules, will not come into effect until October 1.

Registrants are able to lock in their current pricing for up to 10 years by renewing before that deadline.

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