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Tucows splurges $30 million on Ascio

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2019, Domain Registrars

Tucows has spent almost $30 million on rival channel-focused registrar Ascio Technologies.

The company announced this morning that the $29.44 million deal will add about 1.8 million domains to its portfolio of managed names, along with an extra 500 resellers.

Ascio was generating $4 million of annual EBITDA before the deal closed, Tucows said in a press release, adding:

The Ascio reseller base fits squarely with Tucows’ core customer profile — ISPs, web hosting companies and website builders serving quality businesses that reward outstanding customer service with long-term loyalty.

Ascio has been owned by CSC Digital Brand Services since 2016, when it was acquired as part of a bundle of registrars in the NetNames group.

As a channel play, it was not really a fit with CSC’s core brand-protection market. It is of course a fit with Tucows, which owns OpenSRS.

The deal, which closed yesterday, has reduced choice in the space, which may not sit well with some resellers.

Ironic eight-figure deal marks more Euro-registrar consolidation

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Registrars

Slovakian registrar WebSupport, which is run by a local politician, has been acquired in a reported eight-figure deal.

The acquirer is Loopia, a Swedish registrar backed by Danish private equity firm Axcel.

The deal seems to have closed around the same time as Loopia’s acquisition of .SE Direkt from Swedish registry IIS, though news only broke today.

WebSupport reportedly hosts around 173,000 domains, though it’s not clear whether it acts as registrar for all. It’s not ICANN-accredited, but it does resell domains in a wide range of gTLDs.

It reportedly has annual revenue approaching €4 million and sold for “a two-digit figure in millions of euros”.

According to Vladimir Vano, Slovakian comms chief at CentralNic, which acquired .sk registry SK-NIC last year, WebSupport is the largest .sk registrar.

There’s a certain irony with WebSupport being sold into foreign hands.

The co-founder and majority owner of the company is Michel Truban, an entrepreneur-turned-politician who was closely associated with a campaign to have UK-based CentralNic’s acquisition of .sk blocked.

It was alleged (and denied) at the time that the campaign was party-political, though its main concern appeared to be that CentralNic would bastardize .sk into some kind of horrible domain hack.

Today, Truban wrote on his blog “I’m selling WebSupport and I’m going into politics”. In 2017, he co-founded the liberal Progressive Slovakia party.

He said the money from the deal would free him from inappropriate influence by “oligarchs and patrons”.

Google Translate says Truban wrote: “I had an offer that was about a million euros higher, but I declined it. Because it was from people with bad history and at the same time I wanted WS to get an international story.”

CentralNic expects flat profit as revenue almost doubles

Kevin Murphy, February 4, 2019, Domain Registries

London-listed domain firm CentralNic today gave investors a sneak preview of its 2018 financial performance.

The company expects its profits at the adjusted EBITDA level to be up only slightly — from £6.6 million ($8.62 million) to £6.7 million ($8.75) — compared to 2017.

But revenue is expected to soar from £24.3 million ($31.7 million) to £42.5 million ($55.5 million), largely due to the impact of its merger with KeyDrive, which completed in August.

KeyDrive was the holding company for brands including the registrars Key-Systems, Moniker and BrandShelter, and the registry providers OpenRegistry and KSRegistry.

The Luxembourgish firm reversed into AIM-listed CentralNic in a deal, described as “transformative” for CentralNic, valued at up to $55 million.

Most of the company’s revenue now comes from the registrar part of the business, though the registry division is the more profitable.

CentralNic said today that “subscription products” are now roughly 90% of total revenue.

The company expects to save £1 million ($1.3 million) this year by migrating its old registrars over to the KeyDrive platform and migrating its new registries onto the CentralNic platform.

It has also appointed KeyDrive’s former CFO as CentralNic CFO, replacing Don Baladasan. Michael Riedl has also joined the board of directors, while Baladasan remains on the board as group managing director.

Full, audited financial results will be announced in May.

XYZ reveals .monster gTLD launch dates

Kevin Murphy, February 4, 2019, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has quietly unveiled its launch plan for its recently acquired gTLD, .monster.

General availability, with no eligibility requirements, is due to begin April 1.

The 30-day sunrise period is due to begin in just a couple of weeks — February 18.

.monster was acquired late last year from recruitment web site Monster.com, which had intended to operate it as a dot-brand, for an undisclosed sum.

Before the acquisition closed, Monster and ICANN amended the registry contract to cut the special dot-brand terms that would have removed the need for a sunrise period and would have prevented the domain being sold to regular registrants.

XYZ also intends to run a week-long Early Access Period — where premium prices apply — starting March 21.

I quite like the idea of .monster as an open gTLD.

While it’s certainly not going to perform as well volume-wise as .xyz, say, I can see it fitting nicely into the “quirky” niche occupied currently but the likes of Donuts’ .guru and .ninja — not really viable as standalone TLDs, but decent enough as part of a portfolio.

The company is pitching the TLD as “a domain for creative thinkers, masters of their craft, and modern-day renegades.”

.SE sells off $3.2 million registrar biz

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2019, Domain Registries

Swedish ccTLD registry IIS has sold off its registrar business, .SE Direkt, to a local registrar for an undisclosed sum.

The buyer is Loopia, a web hosting company focused on the Swedish market. It will take over in a couple of weeks.

IIS said that starting February 12, lasting a few days, its customers’ domains will be transferred to Loopia. No disruption is expected.

.SE Direkt had 121,836 .se domains under management and 87,852 customers at the last count. Its 2018 revenue was expected to be around $3.2 million.

Loopia has around 225,000 customers. It does not appear to be ICANN-accredited, but you don’t need to be to sell ccTLD names.

It might actually be good news for departing .SE Direkt customers. Loopia sells .se domains for SEK 149 ($16.50), whereas .SE Direkt’s list price is SEK 270 ($29).

IIS said the sale was finalized following a review of competing bids following its October announcement that the unit was up for sale.

The .SE Direkt business has been on the decline for the best part of a decade, apparently deliberately. It was created as part of .se’s transition to a two-tier registry-registrar model in 2009.

IIS had expected to divest the business earlier, but customers did not jump ship as fast as expected.

Bad.monster? Two more gTLDs have been acquired

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2018, Domain Registries

Two more new gTLDs have changed hands, DI has learned.

XYZ.com has picked up former dot-brand .monster from recruitment web site Monster.com, while newbie registry Intercap Holdings has acquired .dealer from Dealer.com.

Both ICANN contracts were reassigned last month.

Neither acquiring company has announced their purchases or published their launch plans yet.

That said, XYZ has already registered a few intriguing domains: bad.monster, good.monster, my.monster and go.monster.

It appears that go.monster — slogan: “It’s Alive!” — will be the registry’s launch site. It’s the only one I could get to resolve.

It’s the second example I can think of of a dot-brand gTLD being acquired by a registry that intends to run it as a generic.

In 2016, Top Level Spectrum acquired .observer from the newspaper of the same name.

Most dot-brands that don’t want their TLDs any more choose to retire them. That number is up to 45 now.

.dealer wasn’t technically a dot-brand — it had no Spec 13 in its contract — but its 2012 application certainly made it look like a dot-brand, with most of the domains reserved for Dealer.com and its affiliates. It looked defensive.

Shayam Rostam, chief registry officer of ICH, told me the plan for .dealer is to primarily target car dealers (also its former owner’s market) but that it will be unrestricted and open to all comers.

Intercap wants to get its January launch of .inc out of the way before turning its attention to .dealer, so we’re probably looking at mid-late 2019 for a launch, Rostam said.

It also needs to do some housekeeping such as moving the TLD to Uniregistry’s back-end.

What do y’all think about these TLDs? Could .monster be the next .guru? Could .dealer find a home in the burgeoning legal cannabis market? Comment below!

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.

$3.2 million-a-year registrar up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2018, Domain Registrars

Swedish ccTLD registry IIS is to sell off its registrar business, .SE Direkt, which is expected to bring in some $3.2 million in revenue this year.

The foundation said today that .SE Direkt has 121,836 .se domains under management and 87,852 customers, 66,819 of which are corporate.

That represents about 7% of the total .se market by domains.

IIS created the registrar in 2009 as part of its transition to a competitive two-tier sales model.

The registry explained in a note to press:

The idea was that it would work as a transition solution and that domain name holders would gradually transfer to other registrars. The number of customers has not fallen at the expected rate, but after 10 years it is on a level where IIS believes that the time is right to no longer continue with the registrar operations.

The buyer, which will have to be or become an IIS-accredited .se registrar, will get the customer base, domain database and two-year brand license, but none of the staff or other assets of the unit.

.SE Direkt sells .se names for 270 SEK ($30.27) per year.

Its revenue for 2017 was SEK 29.8 million ($3.3 million) and is expected to decline to SEK 28.3 million ($3.2 million) in 2018. The buyer would take over from the start of 2019.

There’s obviously a risk here that revenue is on a downward trajectory due to IIS’s aforementioned strategy of deliberately shedding customers.

Some effort to reverse this trend may be required by whoever takes over.

Stats on churn, usage, transfers and so on can be found in this IIS RFP (pdf).

IIS said that bids from interested parties must be submitted by October 17 and the foundation expects to select the winner by November 1.

Com Laude acquires Scottish rival

Kevin Murphy, September 11, 2018, Domain Registrars

Brand protection registrar Com Laude has picked up smaller competitor Demys for an undisclosed sum.

Demys, based in Edinburgh, is an ICANN-accredited registrar that specializes in the UK automotive, retail/leisure, media and consumer goods sectors.

It also acts as the registry manager and exclusive registrar for .bentley, the lightly-used dot-brand of luxury car-maker Bentley Motors.

It had around 12,000 gTLD domains under management at the last count, about 7,200 of which were in .com.

It’s about an eighth the size of Com Laude in terms of gTLD domains under management.

Demys has a very light footprint in new gTLDs, with local geo .scot — where it is the largest corporate registrar and fifth-largest registrar overall — being a notable exception.

London-based Com Laude said it was also interested in the company for its brand monitoring services and dispute resolution work.

Two of Demys’ top guys act as arbitrators for UDRP and .uk’s Dispute Resolution Service.

CentralNic acquired yet another company

Kevin Murphy, September 7, 2018, Domain Registrars

Acquisitive registry/registrar CentralNic has picked up another company, paying up to €2.56 million ($2.95 million) for a small Delaware-based registrar.

It will pay €1.5 million up-front for GlobeHosting, with the rest coming in two annual installments.

GlobeHosting may have a US corporate address, but it plays primarily in the Romanian and Brazilian markets.

It’s not ICANN-accredited. Instead, it acts as a Tucows reseller for gTLD domains (though I imagine that arrangement’s days are numbered).

The company had revenue of €849,000 for the 12 months to July 31 2018 and EBITDA of €419,000, CentralNic said.

The timing is arguably opportunistic. Earlier this year, Romanian registry ICI Bucharest (or ROtld) introduced an annual domain registration renewal fee for the first time (for real).

It recently started deleting names that do not pay the fee, a modest €6 per year.

CentralNic said that GlobeHosting, which appears to be notable player in the .ro market, is “expected to benefit” from this change.