Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

NameSilo says it’s growing too fast to be acquired

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2021, Domain Registrars

NameSilo Technologies has called off talks to sell its registrar, also called NameSilo, saying the company is growing too fast to exit right now.

The Canadian company grew its domains under management by 578,000 between April 2020 and April this year, when it stood at 3.9 million domains. It says it has since crossed 4.3 million.

The prospective deal, with Dutch acquisition vehicle WGH Holdings was announced last December.

But NameSilo’s CEO Paul Andreola said in a press release:

We believe that the value of Namesilo has grown significantly since the discussions with the prospective buyer began and feel that there is more value to be unlocked over the near to medium term for shareholders.

At the same time, the company reported revenue of $8.4 million for the second quarter, up $900,000 on the same period last year, with adjusted EBITDA of $435,344.

Bookings were up to $9.9 million from $7.6 million.

It was the company’s debt that first spurred acquisition talks. NameSilo says that debt has been reduced from $4.7 million to $3.85 million since March.

MMX drops two registrars

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registrars

MMX has dumped two registrar contracts with ICANN, as the company’s asset-sale to GoDaddy nears completion.

ICANN records show that Minds and Machines LLC and Minds and Machines Registrar UK Limited both entered “terminated” status over the last few days, meaning they’re no longer accredited to sell gTLD domains.

But they weren’t doing any selling of domains anyway. The UK company had 108 domains under management and the US on had none at the last count.

The US accreditation was the one used primarily by the company under its original business model of a “triple-play” registry/registrar/back-end, when it was still going by Minds + Machines, which was abandoned five years ago.

The registrar peaked at about 50,000 names, which were then transferred over to Uniregistry. The back-end business was also abandoned, with Nominet taking over technical management of most of its gTLDs.

MMX is currently in the process of getting out of its sole remaining third business, that of gTLD registry.

GoDaddy has already taken over most of its 27 gTLDs under a $120 million deal announced earlier this year. Four TLDs remain, and will be transferred subject to approval from government partners.

GoDaddy and MMX delay closure of $120 million gTLD deal

GoDaddy and MMX have extended the deadline for final closure of their $120 million gTLD acquisition deal by a couple weeks.

MMX said this week the delay is to give them more time to seek approvals from business partners in the four gTLDs that have not already made the move, believed to be .bayern, .boston, .miami and .nrw.

These are all geographic strings that require local government sign-off to complete the transfers.

The deadline had been August 7. It’s now August 23.

GoDaddy Registry has already taken control of 23 of MMX’s gTLDS.

MMX gets nod to sell 22 gTLDs to GoDaddy

New gTLD registry MMX expects to shortly offload most of its portfolio of strings to GoDaddy Registry after receiving ICANN approvals.

The company said today that its transfer requests for four of its gTLD contracts have received full ICANN approval.

Another 18 have received conditional ICANN approval, and MMX believes it has met these unspecified conditions.

Another five of its stable that are not fully owned and operated still require the nod from its partners.

MMX said in April that it planned to sell its entire portfolio to GoDaddy, after which it is expected the company will be wound down.

The company did not break down which transfer have received full approval, conditional approval, or are still waiting for approval.

It gTLDs are: .cooking, .fishing, .horse, .miami, .rodeo, .vodka, .beer, .luxe, .surf, .nrw, .work, .budapest, .casa, .abogado, .wedding, .yoga, .fashion, .garden, .fit, .vip, .dds, .xxx, .porn, .adult, .sex, .boston, .london and .bayern.

ICANN throws out another challenge to the Donuts-Afilias deal

Kevin Murphy, May 12, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN is set to reject a plea for it to reconsider its decision to allow Donuts to buy Afilias last December.

Its Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee recently threw out a Request for Reconsideration filed by Dot Hotel and Domain Venture Partners, part of a multi-pronged assault on the outcome of the .hotel gTLD contention set.

The RfR was “summarily dismissed”, an infrequently used way of disposing of such requests without considering their merits. BAMC concluded that the requestors had failed to sufficiently state how they’d been harmed by ICANN’s decision, and therefore lacked standing.

The requestors, both applicants for .hotel, had said that they were harmed by the fact that Donuts now owns two applications for .hotel — its own open, commercial one and Afilias’ successful community-based one.

It also said that ICANN’s seemingly deliberate opacity when it came to approving the deal broke its bylaws and sowed confusion and risk in the registry industry.

At some point before the December 17 board meeting that approved the acquisition, ICANN staff briefed the board on its decision to approve the deal, but no formal resolution was passed.

By exploiting this loophole, it’s not clear whether the board actually voted on the deal, and ICANN was not obliged by its bylaws to publish a rationale for the decision.

But BAMC, acting on the advice of ICANN’s lawyers, decided (pdf) that the statements of alleged harm were too vague or seemed to rely on potential future harms.

DVP and Dot Hotel are also party to a lawsuit and an Independent Review Process case against ICANN related to .hotel.

A Documentary Information Disclosure Request related to the Afilias acquisition was also thrown out in March.

BAMC’s dismissal will be rubber-stamped by ICANN’s full board at a later date.

China could block GoDaddy’s $120 million MMX swoop

GoDaddy’s proposed $120 million acquisition of essentially all the meaningful assets of portfolio gTLD player MMX will be subject to Chinese government approval, it emerged this morning.

Following GoDaddy’s bare-bones press release announcing the deal last night, this morning MMX added a whole bunch of flesh, including a list of closing conditions, in its statement to shareholders.

GoDaddy is proposing to buy essentially MMX’s entire operating business — the 28 gTLD registry agreements with ICANN, including the four porn-related strings belonging to subsidiary ICM Registry.

Not only do MMX shareholders have to approve the deal — and holders of 64% of the shares have already promised they will — but ICANN approval will be required for the registry contracts to be reassigned.

This may prove a hurdle or delay if third parties raise competition concerns, but ICANN’s pretty opaque approval process generally doesn’t frown too much on industry consolidation.

Another known unknown is China.

MMX told shareholders that it needs: “Approval of Chinese authorities for the change of control of MMX China (including change of control in respect of relevant licenses held by MMX China permitting it to distribute TLDs in China).”

The reason for this is quite straightforward: in volume terms, quite a lot of MMX’s business has been in China in recent years. Popular sellers such as .vip, with over 800,000 names today, have been driven primarily by Chinese investors.

A local presence (in this case MMX China) and approval from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is required to legally sell a TLD to Chinese registrants via Chinese registrars.

I’ve no particular reason to believe MIIT will withhold its approval for MMX China to move into GoDaddy’s ownership, but a failure to get the nod from China appears to be a deal-breaker.

MMX’s statement to the markets this morning also provided some clarity on what exactly it is that GoDaddy is proposing to buy.

The gTLDs to be acquired are: .vip,.nrw, .casa, .vodka, .xxx, .fit, .miami, .fishing, .porn, .beer, .surf, .boston, .adult, .yoga, .garden, .abogado, .work, .fashion, .horse, .rodeo, .sex, .wedding, .luxe, .dds, .law, .bayern, .cooking, and .country.

It seems that when Tony Farrow took over as MMX CEO last year, after his predecessor left due to an accounting snafu, he had the portfolio audited and came to the conclusion that it could expect only pretty crappy growth over the coming years.

It had banked on selling expensive defensive trademark blocks in its four porn-themed gTLDs to big brands to make up the shortfall, but then GoDaddy approached in December brandishing its rather large checkbook.

MMX reckons the deal values the company at a 92% premium over its closing share price Tuesday, and 87% and 78% premiums over its 20-day and 90-day average selling price.

.bayern, .nrw and the four porn gTLDs belong to subsidiaries that GoDaddy will acquire outright, but GoDaddy is not proposing to buy MMX itself.

Rather, MMX will likely stay alive and publicly traded long enough to redistribute its cash windfall to investors and sell or wind down about a dozen non-operating subsidiaries.

It has a transition services agreement to manage certain business functions of the registry until January next year, which sounds a bit like what fellow GoDaddy acquisition .CLUB Domains explained to me last night.

After that, London’s Alternative Investment Market rules will treat MMX as a “cash shell”, and it will either have to acquire an operating business from somewhere or make itself the subject of a reverse takeover by a company looking for a quick way to the public markets.

.CLUB CEO on selling to GoDaddy, Clubhouse, and .club’s “twerking moment”

.CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell says he’s planning to continue to promote the .club gTLD long after its acquisition by GoDaddy Registry, announced earlier today, closes.

The deal was one of several announced last night by GoDaddy, the highlight being the $120 million purchase of MMX’s portfolio of 28 gTLD contracts.

While the price of the .club deal was not disclosed, Campbell confirmed that it’s a contract reassignment rather than a purchase of the company. He’s not expecting any ICANN regulatory friction, pointing out that .club is relatively small fry in the grand scheme of things.

But .club is arguably one of the success stories of the new gTLD program.

It currently stands at over a million domains under management, recently boosted by the launch of the third-party audio conferencing app Clubhouse, which has driven demand.

“I think Clubhouse was the twerking moment for .club,” Campbell said. “It’s the moment everyone realized — holy shit this is the best domain on the market to start a community, to start a club.”

“Our volume of premium domains went up 700% in January,” he said. “We exploded.”

I understand a “twerking moment” to be a nodal point in a business’s performance so sensational that one feels obliged to stand up at one’s desk and “twerk“. I’d rather not think about it too much, to be honest.

Campbell said the volume decline .club was experiencing prior to Clubhouse launching — its zone file shrank by 200,000 names in 2020 — is misleading as a metric of measuring growth.

“We’ve always been growing,” he said. “What we’ve been doing the last few years is raising prices for the first year, so our quality of registrations is higher now than it’s ever been. Volume’s a joke… what we’re talking about is real registrations, real users. It’s all about usage.”

He was ambivalent on whether the GoDaddy deal would have happened without the Clubhouse boost.

“.club was growing very fast with real usage,” he said. “Clubhouse had nothing to do with this — in my opinion — but who knows, you’d have to ask GoDaddy.”

It seems .CLUB Domains the company will wind up eventually, but Campbell said it will continue to promote the TLD even after the deal closes in a few months.

“I will never stop supporting .club, this is part of my DNA,” Campbell said. Pressed, he said that the company will continue to operate until at least the end of the year.

But why sell his baby? Campbell said “.club was never for sale”, so it appears GoDaddy reached out to .CLUB first. But Campbell sees GoDaddy as a safe pair of hands.

“The people that run GoDaddy Registry are Nicolai [Bezsonoff], and Lori Anne [Wardi], who were the co-founders of .co and they’ve done a good job of promoting .co and I really believe that can promote .club in a similar way,” Campbell said.

GoDaddy buys 30 new gTLDs for over $120 million

GoDaddy Registry has just announced it is acquiring 28 new gTLDs from rival MMX, along with the TLDs .club and .design.

The MMX deal is worth at least $120 million; the value of the other two deals was not disclosed.

GoDaddy is also taking over the back-ends for .rugby and .basketball, which had been contracted to MMX, and said it has won the back-end deal for the dot-brand, .ally.

It’s the most significant pieces of registry consolidation since Donuts and Afilias hooked up in December.

GoDaddy Registry will wind up being the contract holder or back-end for over 240 TLDs, with over 14 million domains under management, the company said.

It’s not entirely clear which gTLDs GoDaddy is acquiring right now, but it appears to be all of those listed on the MMX web site.

It’s currently listed by IANA as the sponsor for 21 gTLDs: .cooking, .fishing, .horse, .miami, .rodeo, .vodka, .beer, .luxe, .surf, .nrw, .work, .budapest, .casa, .abogado, .wedding, .yoga, .fashion, .garden, .fit, .vip and .dds.

MMX subsidiary ICM Registry runs .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex, not an easy fit with the family-friendly image GoDaddy has attempted to cultivate in recent years.

MMX also manages geographic gTLDs .boston, .london and .bayern on behalf of their respective local governments.

The company hinted in January that it was considering selling off some of its under-performing registries, after a crappy 2020 that saw it forced to restate revenues, lay off staff and can its top executives.

MMX, which is publicly traded in London, has yet to make a statement on the deal but we should no doubt expect something in the morning before the markets open.

The deal appears to be bad news for Nominet, which runs the back-end for most MMX gTLDs. GoDaddy will very likely migrate them over to its own platform eventually.

MMX aside, GoDaddy is also buying .club from .CLUB Domains, according to its press release.

.CLUB is a bit of a rarity — a single-string new gTLD registry that done really rather well for itself without tarnishing its brand by becoming synonymous with cheap domains and spam.

.design, the other GoDaddy acquisition today, is run by Top Level Design, which also runs .ink, .wiki and .gay.

.design has over 120,000 domains in its zone file today, while .club has over 1 million. Both have been on a growth trajectory recently.

GoDaddy also said as part of the same announcement that it has signed Ally Financial’s dot-brand business for .ally, but as Ally was already a client of Neustar (which GoDaddy owns) I’m not entirely sure what it’s getting excited about.

XYZ adds .tickets to its gTLD stable

XYZ.com has taken over the ICANN registry agreement for the gTLD .tickets, according to records.

It looks to be the registry’s 23rd TLD, the latest of XYZ’s acquisitions of unused or floundering new gTLDs.

In the case of .tickets, it’s picking up a low-volume, high-price TLD with some rather onerous registration restrictions.

The TLD was originally set up by UK-based Accent Media to provide a space where people going to music, theater and sporting events, for examples, could buy tickets in the assurance that the sellers were legit.

Would-be .tickets registrants have a five-day waiting period before their domains go live, while the registry manually verifies their identities from paper records such as passports or driving licenses.

That high-friction reg process is one reason the shelf price for a .tickets domain is well over $500 a year.

It’s also a reason why very few .tickets domains have been sold. The registry peaked at fewer than 1,200 names in its zone file in 2018 and has been on the decline ever since.

It had 769 names in its zone at the end of March this year.

Registry reports show that the majority of its names are registered via brand-protection registrars and are likely unused. Searches for active .tickets sites return fewer than 100 results.

XYZ might be able to turn this around by smoothing out the reg friction and lowering the price.

But even just 1,000 names at $500 a year could be considered a nice little earner as part of a portfolio with low overheads from economies of scale. XYZ already runs even higher-priced, lower-volume zones such as .cars and .auto.

EFF rages as Ethos closes Donuts buy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks the acquisition of Donuts by “secretive” private equity group Ethos Capital represents a risk to free speech.

The deal, which sees Ethos buy a controlling stake from fellow PE firm Abry Partners, closed earlier this week, having apparently received no official objection from ICANN.

But the EFF now wants ICANN to force Donuts to change its gTLD registry contracts to make it harder for the company to engage in what it calls “censorship-for-profit”.

The group’s senior staff attorney, Mitch Stoltz, raised the issued at the Public Forum session of last week’s ICANN 70 virtual public meeting, and expanded upon his thinking in a blog post this week. He wrote:

Donuts already has questionable practices when it comes to safeguarding its users’ speech rights. Its contracts with ICANN contain unusual provisions that give Donuts an unreviewable and effectively unlimited right to suspend domain names—causing websites and other internet services to disappear.

He pointed to Donuts’ trusted notifier program with the Motion Picture Association, which streamlines the takedown of domains used for pirating movies, as an example of a registry’s power to censor.

Donuts runs gTLDs including ones with social benefit meanings that the EFF is particularly concerned about, such as .charity, .community, .fund, .healthcare, .news, and .university.

Stoltz also makes reference to the Domain Protected Marks List, a Donuts service that enables trademark owners to block their marks, and variants, across its entire portfolio of 240+ gTLDs.

In effect, this lets trademark holders “own” words and prevent others from using them as domain names, even in top-level domains that have nothing to do with the products or services for which a trademark is used. It’s a legal entitlement that isn’t part of any country’s trademark law, and it was considered and rejected by ICANN’s multistakeholder policy-making community.

The DPML is not unique to Donuts. Competitors such as UNR and MMX have similar services on the market for their gTLDs.

When Stoltz raised the EFF’s concerns at last week’s ICANN meeting, CEO Göran Marby basically shrugged them off, saying he didn’t understand why one PE firm buying an asset off another PE firm was such a big deal.

I have to say I agree with him.

Ethos came under a lot of scrutiny last year when it tried to buy .org manager Public Interest Registry, turning it into a for-profit entity, generating cash for Ethos’ still-undisclosed backers.

(This week, Ethos disclosed in a press release that its investors include massive hedge funds The Baupost Group and Neuberger Berman “among others”, which appears to be the first time these names have been mentioned in connection with the company).

But a pretty good case could be made that .org is a unique case, that has had a non-profit motive baked into its DNA for decades. That does not apply to Donuts, which was a profit-making venture from the outset.

It’s not entirely clear why the EFF is suddenly concerned that Donuts will start exercise its contractual right-to-suspend more frequently under Ethos than under Abry. Stoltz wrote:

As we learned last year during the fight for .ORG, Ethos expects to deliver high returns to its investors while preserving its ability to change the rules for domain name registrants, potentially in harmful ways. Ethos refused meaningful dialogue with domain name users, instead proposing an illusion of public oversight and promoting it with a slick public relations campaign. And private equity investors have a sordid record of buying up vital institutions like hospitals, burdening them with debt, and leaving them financially shaky or even insolvent.

Even with the acquisition passing through ICANN easily, the EFF wants Donuts to change its contracts to make it more difficult for the company to suspend domain names on a whim.

I believe the language causing the controversy comes from anti-abuse policies in the Public Interest Commitments found in almost all Donuts’ contracts with ICANN, which state in part:

Registry Operator reserves the right, at its sole discretion and at any time and without limitation, to deny, suspend, cancel, or transfer any registration or transaction, or place any domain name(s) on registry lock, hold, or similar status as it determines necessary for any of the following reasons:

a. to protect the integrity and stability of the registry;

b. to comply with any applicable laws, government rules or requirements, requests of law enforcement, or any dispute resolution process;

c. to comply with the terms of this Registry Agreement and the Registry Operator’s Anti-Abuse Policy;

d. registrant fails to keep Whois information accurate and up-to-date;

d. domain name use violates the Registry Operator’s acceptable use policies, or a third party’s rights or acceptable use policies, including but not limited to the infringement of any copyright or trademark; or

e. as needed during resolution of a dispute.

As a voluntary PIC, this language is unique to Donuts, though other registries have similar provisions in their registry agreements.