Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

New gTLD pioneer MMX to wind up

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2022, Domain Registries

MMX, the new gTLD registry also known as Minds + Machines, has decided to close down and de-list.

The company said today that it plans to return its remaining cash to investors through a tender offer and then cancel its remaining shares, which are listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market.

The cancellation plan is subject to shareholder approval at a February 7 general meeting, but the tender does not require approval.

MMX will buy back shares to the tune of £19 million ($26 million) at 10.4 pence per share, a premium of 26.1% on yesterday’s closing price and 24.8% on the last month’s average price.

It follows an $80 million tender offer completed in October.

MMX sold off its major assets — 22 new gTLD registry contracts — to GoDaddy last year in a $120 million deal, and has wound down its legacy registrar businesses.

Now, all that remains is a transition services agreement with GoDaddy, which will soon end.

There had been talk of using the AIM listing as a reverse-takeover vehicle for an operating business seeking quick access to the public markets, but it appears that’s no longer on the table.

If everything goes according to plan, MMX will cease to exist as a public company on February 22. Shareholders have until January 28 to accept the tender offer.

It seems the remaining shareholders will be losing out — if the tender offer is fully subscribed, they’ll only get to sell one share for every 1.485 shares they currently own.

.org back-end deal will come up for re-bid, PIR says as it acquires four new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2021, Domain Registries

The industry’s most lucrative back-end registry services contract will be rebid, Public Interest Registry said today.

The deal, which sees PIR pay Afilias $18.3 million a year to run .org, according to tax records, will see a request for proposals issued in the back half of 2023, according to PIR.

Given that’s two years away, it’s strange timing for the announcement, which came at the bottom of a press release and blog post announcing that the company is acquiring four new gTLDs, three of which belong to Afilias’ new owner, Donuts.

PIR said Donuts is to transfer control of .charity, .foundation and .gives, which will be “reintroduced” to the market. .foundation currently has about 20,000 registered domains; the other two have a few thousand each.

It’s also acquiring the unlaunched gTLD .giving from a company called Giving Ltd.

All four are on-message for PIR’s not-for-profit portfolio, which also includes the barely-used .ngo and .ong for non-governmental organizations.

Those two gTLDs are getting decoupled, allowing registrants to register one without having to buy the other, PIR also said today.

The last time the PIR back-end contract came up for renewal, in 2015, Afilias was also the incumbent but increased competition — it was up against 20 rivals — meant that its slice of .org revenue was cut in half.

CentralNic makes another registrar acquisition

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2021, Domain Registrars

CentralNic said today it has bought another registrar, Chile-based NameAction, in a $1 million deal.

NameAction has been around since the late 1990s and specializes in ccTLDs in the Latin American region, including offering local presence services for foreign registrants.

It sells gTLD domains too, acting primarily in the brand protection space, but does not appear to be ICANN-accredited in its own right.

CentralNic said the deal will immediately add $2 million to its top line and $200,000 to profits.

CEO Ben Crawford said in a press release that the deal is small but of strategic importance, giving the company a beachhead from which to expand into Latin America.

It’s the fourth acquisition announcement from CentralNic, which describes itself as an industry consolidator, this year.

CentralNic takes over a dead dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2021, Domain Registries

CentralNic has become the latest company to pounce on a dot-brand gTLD that was on its way to the dustbin of history.

The ICANN contract for .case was transferred to a London company called Helium TLDs, a CentralNic subsidiary, last week.

That company was previously called FANS TLD, and was the vehicle CentralNic used to acquire .fans from Asiamix Digital in 2018 before later passing it on to Hong Kong-based ZDNS International.

I believe something similar is happening here.

.case was a dot-brand owned, but never used, by CNH Industrial, which Wikipedia tells me is an American-Dutch-British-Italian company that makes about $28 billion a year making and selling agricultural and construction machinery. Diggers and forklifts and such.

CNH also managed .caseih, .newholland, and .iveco for some of its other brands, but these contracts were terminated earlier in the year.

The company had also asked ICANN to cancel its .case agreement, but that seems to have attracted acquisitive registry operators, and the termination request was withdrawn as I noted in September.

While terminating a dot-brand can often be seen as a lack of confidence in the dot-brand concept, selling off the gTLD to a third party rules out reapplying for the same string in future and can be seen as an even deeper disdain.

Now, .case is in CentralNic’s hands. I believe it’s the first dot-brand the company has taken over.

Rival registries including Donuts, XYZ and ShortDot have also swept up unwanted dot-brand gTLDs, stripped them of their restrictions, and repurposed them as general-purpose or niche spaces.

GoDaddy says it turned around Neustar, and .biz numbers seem to confirm that

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2021, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy is pleased with how its new registry division is doing, with CEO Aman Bhutani claiming last night that it’s managed to turn around the fortunes of Neustar, which became part of GoDaddy Registry a year ago.

Reporting a strong third quarter of domains revenue growth, Bhutani highlighted the secondary market and the registry as drivers. In prepared remarks, he said:

On Registry, we are continuing to prove our ability to acquire, integrate, and accelerate. A great example is the cohort performance within GoDaddy Registry. When we acquired Neustar’s registry assets in Q3 last year, its new cohorts were shrinking, with new unit registrations down 4% year over year. We are now one year into the acquisition, and we’re pleased to report that within that first year, we have been able to accelerate new business significantly. We are now seeing new unit registrations increase nearly 20% year over year — all organically.

If you’re wondering what a “cohort” is, it appears to refer to GoDaddy’s way of, for analysis purposes, slicing up its customers, how much they spend and how profitable they are, into tranches according to the years in which they became customers.

So GoDaddy’s saying here that Neustar’s number of new customers was going down, and it was selling 4% fewer new domains, at the time of the acquisition last year, but that that trend has now been reversed, with new regs up 20%.

The numbers are not really possible to verify. Neustar’s main three TLDs for volume purposes were .us, .co and .biz, and of those only .biz is contractually obliged to publish its zone file and registry numbers.

But look at .biz!

.biz zone graph

That’s .biz’s daily zone file numbers for the last two years, with the August 2020 acquisition highlighted by a subtle arrow. It’s only added about 50,000 net names since the deal, but it’s reversing an otherwise negative trend.

Monthly transaction reports show .biz had been on a general downward, if spiky, line since its early 2014 peak of 2.7 million names. It’s now at about 1.4 million.

When asked how the company achieved such a feat, Bhutani credited “execution” and left it at that. Perhaps this means something to financial analysts.

When asked by an analyst whether GoDaddy was giving its own TLDs preferential treatment, promoting its owned strings on the registrar in order to better compete with .com at the registry, Bhutani denied such frowned-upon behavior:

We don’t do that. All TLDs work on our registrar side in terms of their merit. It’s about value to the customer — whatever works best irrespective of whether we own the registry side or not. That’s what we’ll sell in front of the customer.

The company reported domains revenue up 17% at $453.2 million for the third quarter, with overall revenue up 14% at $964 million compared to year-ago numbers. Net income was up to $97.7 million from $65.1 million a year ago.

GoDaddy expects domains revenue to grow in the low double digits percent-wise in the current quarter.

Tucows buys UNR’s registry business as Schilling bows out

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2021, Domain Registries

Tucows has acquired UNR’s registry business, the latest in the piecemeal sale of the old Uniregistry by founder Frank Schilling.

The Canadian registrar said it is taking on the technology platform as well as 10 UNR staffers.

Not many details of the deal, not even the purchase price, have been revealed.

“While I am slowly getting out of the industry, it’s important to me to know that my businesses are being left in the best hands,” Schilling said in a brief Tucows press release.

The deal gives Tucows a registry component to match rival GoDaddy, which acquired Neustar’s registry business last year, and makes the company the latest to throw itself into the vertically integrated domain space.

GoDaddy acquired Uniregistry’s registrar business last year also.

The UNR registry was originally Internet Systems Consortium’s but was acquired by UNR towards the beginning of the current new gTLD cycle.

It’s not currently clear which TLDs, if any, continue to run on the UNR platform. The company auctioned off 20 gTLDs in May, making $40 million, but did not disclose the buyers and none of the ICANN contracts have yet changed hands.

Certain ICANN approvals are needed before the deal closes, Tucows said.

Neither company answered DI’s questions about which TLDs are making the move, but Tucows VP Dave Woroch told us:

We are purchasing their registry platform and technology/intellectual property. In addition to servicing a number of registry operators, this platform will be applicable or beneficial to our broader registrar business, and we are looking at how we can implement some of that technology into our registrar platform. Along with this purchase of the registry platform, we have the unique opportunity to bring on a very experienced team of software engineers with specific expertise, and that will benefit our domain business at a time when it has been particularly challenging to add talent…

Tucows will be actively marketing itself as a backend registry provider, both for gTLDs and ccTLDs, and if there is another round of new gTLDs, we would fully expect to participate there as well.

CentralNic spends $6.5 million on traffic network

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2021, Domain Registries

CentralNic this morning said it has paid $6.5 million to acquire “a publishing network of revenue generating websites”.

The company, which is seeing an increasingly large chunk of its revenue coming from domain monetization, said the network generates $2 million in annual revenue and $1.5 million in earnings.

The seller is White & Case, a 120-year-old international law firm, not exactly the kind of company you’d expect to own a bunch of random monetized domains.

Neither the size of the network nor the means of monetization were disclosed.

CentralNic said the network was already a customer for roughly half of its sites, so the acquisition will add about $1 million to revenue and $1.5 million to earnings, reducing annual cost of revenue by about $500,000.

While the company is best know for selling domain names, following recent acquisitions revenue from its fast-growing “online marketing” segment outpaced its traditional revenue sources, bringing in $96.4 million in the first half compared to $78.3 million in it two domain-related segments.

Nothing but losses ahead for MMX

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2021, Domain Registries

Former new gTLD registry MMX has delivered its latest set of financial results and warned that, without any operating business, it will be loss-making for the foreseeable future.

The company today reported a first-half loss of $783,000, compared to a loss of $1.25 million in the year-ago period.

That’s calculated from its ongoing operations, which since the $120 million sale of its registry business to GoDaddy comprises no revenue-generating activities but substantial costs keeping the company running and maintaining its listing on the AIM stock market.

Profit from discontinued operations was $3.38 million, compared to $2.68 million.

It still has small “RSP” business, providing non-technical back-office management services to a few former gTLD partners, but this will be wound down or sold off.

CEO Tony Farrow said in a statement:

We are now in the process of delivering the transition services agreed with GoDaddy Registry and disposing of, or otherwise winding down, our RSP Business. Whilst the transition services are being provided on a cost recovery basis, the Company’s ongoing administrative and other public company costs will result in operating losses for the Group going forward.

When the winding down of existing businesses is done, MMX will look for acquisition opportunities or act as a vessel for a reverse takeover.

It’s currently returning $80 million of its GoDaddy cash to investors with a buyback, but this is not enough to clear all of its shares.

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.