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Afilias bought .io for $70 million

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2018, Domain Registries

Did you know Afilias owns .io? I didn’t, but it paid $70 million for the popular alternative TLD 18 months ago.

A recently published financial statement in Ireland shows that the company spent $70.17 million cash — a 10x revenue multiple — for 100% of Internet Computer Bureau Ltd in April 2017.

ICB runs .io, .ac and .sh, the ccTLDs for the British Indian Ocean Territories (.io), Ascension Island (.ac), and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan Da Cunha (.sh).

Afilias has never publicly announced the deal, and I haven’t seen it reported elsewhere, so I thought it was worth blogging up here.

At the time, the deal was characterized to registrars as a back-end contract win.

But it seems that Afilias actually purchased the back-end provider, then migrated (not as smoothly as it usually does) the TLDs over to its own infrastructure.

That would have opened up .io to all the registrars already plugged in to Afilias’ TLDs, potentially greatly increasing its reach.

But it’s probably not just the back-end Afilias has acquired.

Would a registry service provider spend 10 times annual revenue on a ccTLD back-end contractor, unless it had a damn good reason to believe that it would be able to at least recoup its investment, either through a long-term contract or some other mechanism?

It’s quite possible Afilias actually bought the .io ccTLD Manager.

The ccTLD Manager listed by ICANN in the IANA database is “IO Top Level Domain Registry”, but “c/o Sure (Diego Garcia) Limited”. That changed a week or so ago from “IO Top Level Domain Registry, Cable & Wireless”

Sure is the arm of telecommunications firm Cable & Wireless that provides internet access to remote islands in various parts of the world.

I don’t know what “IO Top Level Domain Registry” is.

Afilias tells me confidentiality arrangements are in place.

.io has proven popular as a TLD for technology startup companies that couldn’t get the .com they wanted.

Across its small portfolio, ICB was a $6.9 million business last year, but .io, with a reported 270,000 domains, must account for the large majority of that.

Due to the timing of the deal, ICB contributed $5.3 million to Afilias’ top line and was the main reason its revenue grew last year, its 2017 accounts reveal.

In 2017, Afilias saw revenue grow from $106.7 million to $113.6 million. Profit before tax was down slightly, from $38.6 million to $36 million

Again, that was due largely to ICB, which contributed $1.4 million of red ink to the bottom line.

Afilias is a private company, by the way, which is why these numbers all refer to 2017. It’s the final full year of it being based in Ireland, before its move to the US for tax reasons.

The disclosure also reveals that Afilias took a 45% stake in Dot Global, manager of the .global gTLD registry, in December 2017.

Dot Global had revenue of $1.9 million and a $320,000 loss last year, the report states.

doMEn, the Montenegro ccTLD (.me) operator in which Afilias has a 36.85% share, made a profit of $2.59 million on revenue of $7.39 million, it says. Both of those numbers were down slightly on 2016.

Afilias also says in the filing that it expects revenue to be down in 2018, due to the renegotiation of back-end contracts. I gather the contract with Public Interest Registry, which reportedly could cost about $10 million a year, is the main problem.

Given the accounts were signed off in May this year, it seems that this decline is expected despite the lucrative .au ccTLD contract, which Afilias signed at the end of 2017.

Is auDA’s new marketing windfall working?

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2018, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD .au appears to be growing at a faster rate after registry auDA cut its wholesale prices and devoted millions of dollars to marketing.

While the numbers are by no means conclusive, in the three months after the new business model came into effect .au grew almost twice as much as in the comparable year-ago period.

At the end of June, auDA switch its back-end registry from Neustar to Afilias.

It cut its wholesale price by 10% and said it would invest AUD 8 million ($5.7 million) over four years into a marketing and innovation fund.

The fund offers financial incentives to registrars and resellers that promote .au domains.

Growing .au’s market share is one of the defined objectives of the program, and stats collected by DI show it might be working.

In the three months between June 28 (two days before the transition to Afilias) and September 28, the number of reported .au domains went up from 3,153,432 to 3,163,998, an increase of 10,566 domains.

In the immediately prior three months, registered domains actually declined by 1,150.

In the same period June-September period of 2017, domains were up by 5,734, about half the level of this year.

So is the new regime succeeding in growing numbers more rapidly? Maybe. It’s probably too early to tell for sure.

Any increase in DUM could be offset by declines from domain investors, if a proposed policy change about who is allowed to register domains comes into effect.

The numbers above have two caveats: 1) they’re based on the running total published more or less live on auDA’s web site, so should be considered ball-park as they may have been collected at different times during the day, and 2) it’s possible that Afilias and Neustar report numbers from their back-ends differently, which might mean comparisons of numbers reported before and after the transition are unfair.

Afilias gets Guinness record for .au migration

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has got its recent takeover of .au recognized by Guinness as an official world record.

The company was given the title of “Largest Migration of an Internet Top-Level Domain in a Single Transition” at an event in New York today, according to a company press release.

It relates to its migration of .au from former registry provider Neustar to its own back-end a few months ago.

Australia’s .au ccTLD had about 3.1 million names under management at the time, about 400,000 names more than the previous record — the 2003 .org transition Afilias also handled.

I understand there’s a licensing fee due to Guinness for this kind of (let’s face it) shameless-but-effective PR stunt, but no guarantee the record will actually be printed in future editions of the annual Guinness Book of World Records.

I hope the fresh salt in Neustar’s wounds isn’t stinging too badly this evening.

Afilias finally admits it’s American

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has changed its corporate structure and is now officially based in the United States.

A new holding company, Afilias Inc, has been created in Delaware. It now owns Afilias Plc, the Ireland-based company that has been until now the parent of the Afilias family.

Being “based” in Ireland and doing business primarily in the US was always partly a tax thing, and the company admitted in a press release yesterday that “recent favorable US tax changes” are one of the reasons it’s relocating to the States.

Trump’s tax changes last year reportedly saw corporation tax reduced from 35% to 21%, a steep cut but still a heck of a lot higher than Ireland’s aggressively business-friendly regime.

Other reasons for shift, CEO Hal Lubsen said in a press release, are: “More of the company’s shares are now owned by Americans, and our executive group is increasingly becoming American.”

The company also noted that its biggest partners — Public Interest Registry and GoDaddy — are American.

Afilias’s global HQ is now its office in Horsham, Pennsylvania. It also has offices in Canada, Australia, India and China.

The company told registrars that it does not expect the restructuring to have any impact on its operations.

auDA car crash continues as director quits over foreign members

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2018, Domain Policy

auDA director Tim Connell has quit the board over its decision to admit almost a thousand new members from the industry side of the house.

Connell, the only remaining elected “Demand class” director, said he believes auDA will now be controlled by registrars and the new back-end registry, Afilias.

In his resignation letter (pdf), Connell said: “I fear this potentially hands control of auDA over to industry and could ultimately create the situation where the independent governing body is no longer independent.”

The new member influx, which saw the ranks swell from about 320 to over 1,300 in the space of a few weeks, was largely due to three large registrars and the back-end encouraging their staff to sign up for membership.

One registrar, CrazyDomains owner Dreamscape Networks, now apparently employs almost 40% of auDA’s members.

auDA, which seems to have nudged the companies towards this membership drive, is under pressure from the Australian government to grow and diversify its membership.

Chief critic Josh Rowe, himself a former director, has calculated, based on a non-public member list, that most of the new members are based outside of Australia, a fact alluded to by Connell in his letter.

Rowe and his fellow “Grumpies” used last month’s extraordinary auDA meeting to demand that the new membership applications be rejected on the grounds that the new members are not a part of the Australian internet community that auDA is constitutionally bound to serve.

But auDA chair Chris Leptos responded that they are members of the community by virtue of their employment.

Connell’s primary concern appears to be that the swollen member base is now heavily tilted in favor of the supply-side of the community.

He noted that an AUD 12 million marketing fund distributed to registrars in the wake of the migration to cheaper back-end Afilias could be seen as an attempt to bribe the industry to side with the auDA party line.

Grumpies have accused auDA of “cartel-like” behavior in this regard.

At the special meeting two weeks ago, motions to fire three directors including Leptos (over unrelated disagreements) were rejected due to near-unanimous opposition from the Supply-class members, despite an overall majority of voters supporting their removal.

The new members were not eligible to vote at that meeting, so the Supply-class was considerably smaller.

At the same meeting, Connell revealed that his Demand-class directorship had recently come into question due to the fact that he acted as an affiliate of a registrar.

He said he’d rectified that situation, and Leptos seemed happy with that the situation had been resolved.

Despite this, Connell says in his letter that he no longer feels that information he receives as a director is “accurate or complete”, suggesting continued tensions on the board.

For all these reasons, he said he was resigning immediately.

In a statement, auDA thanked Connell for his service and said a replacement will be sought within three months.

I’ve actually lost count of how many auDA directors have quit recently. I’ve reported on at least five, including the last chair, since I started covering the unrest there a little over a year ago.