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ICANN gives the nod to Donuts-Rightside merger

ICANN has given its consent to the acquisition of Rightside by rival new gTLD registry Donuts, according to the companies.

The nod means that one barrier to the $213 million deal has been lifted.

Rightside, which is listed on Nasdaq, still needs the majority of its shareholders to agree to the deal and to satisfy other customary closing conditions.

ICANN approval does not mean the organization has passed any judgment about whether the deal is pro-competition or anything like that, it just means it’s checked that the buyer has the funds and the nous to run the TLDs in question and is compliant with various policies.

All new gTLD Registry Agreements given ICANN the right to consent — or not — to the contract being assigned to a third party.

The acquisition was announced last month at the end of a turbulent year or so for Rightside.

GoDaddy launches security service after Sucuri acquisition

GoDaddy has revealed the first fruits of its March acquisition of web security service provider Sucuri.

It’s GoDaddy Website Security, what appears to be a budget version of the services Sucuri already offers on a standalone basis.

For $6.99 per month ($83.88/year), the service monitors your web site for malware and removes it upon request. It also keeps tabs on major blacklists to make sure you’re not being blocked by Google, Norton or McAfee.

This low-end offering gets you a 12-hour response time for the cleanup component. You can up that to 30 minutes by taking out the $299.99 per year plan.

The more expensive plan also includes DDoS protection, a malware firewall and integration with a content delivery network for performance.

There’s also an intermediate, $19.99-per-month ($239.88/year) plan that includes the extra features but keeps the response time at 12 hours.

An SSL certificate is included in the two more-expensive packages.

The pricing and feature set looks to compare reasonably well with Sucuri’s standalone products, which start at $16.66 a month and offer response times as fast as four hours.

As somebody who has suffered from three major security problems on GoDaddy over the last decade or so, and found GoDaddy’s response abysmal on all three occasions (despite my generally positive views of its customer service), the new service is a somewhat tempting proposition.

Donuts to pay $213 million for Rightside

Donuts is to acquire Rightside for $213 million, the companies have just announced.

The $10.60 per share cash offer represents a 12% premium over Rightside’s average closing share price over the last 30 days. Rightside’s 52-week high is over $12.

Just one year ago, Donuts offered $70 million for Rightside’s portfolio of gTLDs, but was shot down.

Rightside also turned down a $5 million offer for four gTLDs from XYZ.com in April 2016.

The $213 million offer is funded at least partly by Silicon Valley Bank, which is providing a credit facility to Donuts.

Assuming the deal closes — which will require the holders of more than half its shares to agree to the price — it will make Rightside a private company once more, as a wholly owned Donuts subsidiary.

The two gTLD registries are already partners, with Rightside providing domain registry services for Donuts’ roughly 200 new gTLDs.

There was talk of a split last year, with Donuts apparent endorsement of Google’s Nomulus platform, but the two companies reaffirmed their relationship earlier this year.

Rightside itself has a portfolio of 40 gTLDs, but it’s faced criticism from shareholders over the last year or so over their relatively poor performance.

Activist investor J Carlo Cannell, who owns almost 9% of Rightside, has been pressuring the company’s board to take radical action for the last 15 months.

Earlier this year, Rightside got out of the once-core wholesale registrar game by selling eNom to rival Tucows for $83.5 million.

Web.com in takeover talks – report

Web.com is in talks to be acquired by private equity firms, according to a report.

Reuters reported last night that the registrar said the talks were “early stage” and that there was no guarantee of a deal.

Web.com is of course home to Network Solutions, Register.com and is involved in secondary market plays SnapNames and NameJet.

The company had 2016 revenue of $710 million and a market capitalization prior to the report of $1.1 billion. Its shares surged on the news.

Key-Systems buys reseller EDC

Key-Systems has acquired one of its resellers, European Domain Centre.

The acquiring registrar did not disclose the terms of the deal, but said EDC will help boost its own BrandShelter corporate registrar business.

EDC says it has clients including AirBnB, Campari, Lycamobile, iStockPhoto and BusinessWire.

The company was founded in 2003 by Nikolaj Borge and Christopher Hofman Laursen and is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Its selling point has been its willingness to offer offer its customers the broadest range of gTLD and ccTLD options.

It’s been a customer of RRPproxy, Key-Systems’ reseller network, since 2008.

As it’s been using the Key-Systems IANA number all this time, it’s not possible to get an accurate figure for its domains under management from ICANN reports.

XYZ acquires .storage, its 10th gTLD

XYZ.com said today that it has acquired the half-launched new gTLD .storage from its original owner.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but CEO Daniel Negari said in a blog post that it has been funded using some of the “excess of cash flow” from sales of .xyz domains.

The original .storage registry was Extra Space Storage, which rents out physical storage units in the US.

It started its protracted launch period a little over a year ago but had not planned to go to general availability until July this year.

Having apparently passed through its sunrise period and a special landrush for the storage industry, which ended in January, it has fewer than 800 domains in its zone file.

It looks like XYZ will be essentially relaunching the gTLD from scratch, with a new sunrise period penciled in for November and an early access period and GA slated for December.

Pre-launch pricing is around the $80 mark at the few registrars I checked today, and it looks like that will remain under the new management.

That’s despite XYZ talking today about .storage as a “premium” vertically-focused TLD along the lines of its $3,000 .cars or $750 .theatre.

The company said that it will not hold back reserved names at higher, premium pricing. Even nice-looking domains such as cloud.storage will be available at the base fee, it said.

The new acquisition becomes the 10th that XYZ has a hand in running, if you count the three car-related gTLDs it manages in a joint venture with Uniregistry. The others are .security, .rent, .protection, .theatre, and .college.

Activist investor says eNom was sold too cheap

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2017, Domain Registries

J Carlo Cannell, the activist investor who has been circling Rightside for the last year or so, was unimpressed with the company’s recent sale of eNom to Tucows.

In a letter published as a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week, Cannell announced that he has started up a support group for fellow “concerned” investors.

In the distinctly loveless Valentine’s Day missive, Cannell called for Rightside to be acquired, go private or issue a big dividend to investors, and said he intends to campaign to have the board of directors replaced.

On the eNom sale, Cannell wrote that the $76.7 million deal “marks a step in the right direction” for the company, but that he was “not satisfied” with the price or the $4 million legal fees accrued. He wrote:

Conversations with management suggest that the Company took only two months to evaluate and close the transaction. Perhaps if they had been more patient and diligent, shareholders would have enjoyed more than the 0.5x 2016 revenues which they received in this “shotgun sale”.

This price was a fraction of Tucows’ own valuation of 2.6x 2016 estimated revenue. For the two trading sessions following the eNom transaction, NAME traded up 10% while TCX was up 32%, suggesting that investors believe it was a better deal for TCX shareholders than NAME shareholders.

The deal was described at the time by Tucows’ CEO Elliot Noss as an “individual opportunistic transaction”.

Noss later told analysts that the eNom business was floundering, “a flat, potentially even slightly negative-growth business”.

Cannell said last week he has formed Save NAME Group, named after Rightside’s ticker symbol, as a means to exert pressure on the board.

He said it is currently “difficult to justify” the company remaining publicly listed, and that the “sale of the entire company” or a “special and substantial dividend” could help appease shareholders.

He said Rightside agreed last August to let him name a new director, but has dragged its feet approving his suggestion, adding:

SNG intends to become more active and vocal in its efforts to force change at NAME. SNG has compiled a slate of qualified candidates. The names and identity of these candidates shall be disclosed periodically together with other neutral and reliable facts to support the contention of SNG that some or all of the board of NAME needs to be replaced.

Cannell, who owns about 9% of Rightside, first emerged as a critic of the company a year ago.

At that time, he called for the company to ditch its “garbage” new gTLD registries in favor of a focus on its higher-margin eNom business.

He was supported by Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling, then also a Rightside investor in addition to a competitor.

Tucows says eNom may be shrinking as Melbourne IT drives 2016 growth

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2017, Domain Registrars

Tucows yesterday reported an 11% increase in revenue for 2016, driven partly by an acquisition, but warned that its more recent acquisition, eNom, may be shrinking.

The company reported revenue for 2016 of $189.8 million, up from $171 million in 2015. Net income was up 41% at $16 million.

For the fourth quarter, revenue was up 9% year-on-year at $48.8 million. Net income was down 9% at $2.8 million.

In a conference call, executives linked some of the growth to the April 2016 acquisition of Melbourne IT’s reseller business, which added 1.6 million domains to Tucows’ DUM.

While Tucows also operates its Ting mobile phone service, the majority of its revenue still comes from domains and related services.

In the fourth quarter, revenue was $30 million for this segment. Of that, $23.1 million came from domains sold via its wholesale network and $3.8 million came from Hover, its retail channel.

CEO Elliot Noss noted that the acquisition of the eNom wholesale registrar business from Rightside last month made Tucows easily the second-largest registrar after GoDaddy, but made eNom sound like a neglected business.

“The eNom business is a flat, potentially even slightly negative-growth business in terms of gross margin dollars,” he told analysts.

eNom’s channel skews more towards European and North American web hosting companies, which are a growth challenge, he said. He added:

We acquired a mature retail business and associated customers which for the past few years has been more about maintaining and servicing eNom’s existing customers as opposed to growth. It has not been actively promoted and as a result has a flat to declining trajectory. It’s something we don’t intend to change in the short-term, but as we look under the hood and get a better sense of the platform as we will with all of the operations, the long-term plan might be different.

The acquisition was “overwhelmingly about generating scale and realizing cost efficiencies”, Noss said.

Tucows paid $83.5 million for eNom, which has about $155 million in annual revenue and is expected to generate about $20 million in EBITDA per year after efficiencies are realized.

Rightside sells eNom to Tucows for $83.5m

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2017, Domain Registrars

Tucows is to become “the second largest registrar in the world” by acquiring eNom from Rightside, paying $83.5 million.

The deal will give Tucows another 14.5 million domains under management and 28,000 resellers, giving it a total of 29 million DUM and 40,000 resellers.

That DUM number, which appears to include ccTLDs, makes Tucows the undisputed volume leader in the reseller world and the second-largest registrar overall.

GoDaddy, the DUM leader, had about 55 million domains just in gTLDs at the last count.

Tucows CEO Elliot Noss told analysts that the deal, along with the April 2016 acquisition of Melbourne IT’s reseller business, were “individual opportunistic transactions”.

He said that Tucows will take its time integrating the two companies, but expects to realize cost savings (presumably read: job losses as duplicate administrative positions are eliminated) over 24 months.

The reseller APIs will not change, and Tucows will not migrate names over to its own existing ICANN accreditations. This could help with reseller retention.

For Rightside, the company said the spin-off will allow it to focus on vertical integration between its gTLD registry business and its consumer-facing registrar, Name.com.

Rightside had come in for a certain amount of high-profile investor criticism for its dogged focus on new gTLDs at the expense of its eNom and Name.com businesses.

Activist investor J Carlo Cannell, supported by fellow investor and Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling, a year ago accused Rightside of putting too much emphasis on “garbage” new gTLDs instead of its more profitable registrar businesses.

Since then, Rightside has rebuffed separate offers for some or all of its gTLDs by rivals Donuts and XYZ.com.

Last June, it also announced plans to modernize eNom, which Cannell and others had accused of looking stale compared to its competitors.

NCC sells Open Registry at huge discount

Kevin Murphy, January 6, 2017, Domain Registries

NCC Group has followed through on its promise to divest parts of its domain business, selling the Open Registry collection of companies at a huge discount to the original purchase price.

KeyDrive and a mysterious entity called Terrain.com SA have together acquired the companies for €3.75 million ($3.97 million).

That’s compared to the minimum of £7.9 million ($12 million) NCC originally paid just two years ago.

NCC said in a statement that the sold companies are:

  • Open Registry SA, a registry back-end provider with a handful of new gTLD clients.
  • ClearingHouse for Intellectual Property SA, aka CHIP, which provides software and billing support for the Trademark Clearinghouse.
  • Nexperteam CVBA, a tiny registrar.
  • Sensirius CVBA, the original Open Registry company, a new gTLD consultancy.

Missing from that list is Artemis, the new gTLD registry for .trust, which NCC separately acquired from Deutsche Post for an undisclosed sum in February 2014.

NCC is also keeping hold of its data escrow business, which is widely used by gTLD registries to comply with ICANN rules.

It’s not clear how the sold companies are being divided up between the two buyers.

KeyDrive is the Luxembourg-based holding company for the registrars Key-Systems and Moniker and other domain firms.

Terrain.com appears to belong to EuroDNS chair Xavier Buck, who was chair of Open Registry until NCC bought it, but the domain itself doesn’t seem to resolve right now.

NCC said that €2 million will be paid up front and €1.75 million will be deferred for 18 months.