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Web.com acquires another of the original five registrars

Consolidation in the domain industry continues apace, with Web.com bringing one of the remaining original five competitive registrars into its stable for AUD 12.2 million ($8.3 million) in cash.

It’s acquiring an Australian company called Webcentral Group, which until last month was known as ARQ Group and before that as Melbourne IT.

Webcentral also runs the retail registrars Netregistry and, in New Zealand, Domainz. It has about 330,000 customers, though not all are registrants.

Web.com says the deal gives it a deeper footprint in the Aussie, Kiwi and Southeast Asian markets.

My records show that Webcentral had about 130,000 domains under management at the end of March on its Melbourne IT tag, down by about 6,000 year over year. That’s not counting regs in ccTLDs such as .au.

Netregistry had another 113,000 gTLD domains, down from 129,000 a year earlier.

After the deal closes, Web.com will own the three oldest active registrars as measured by IANA ID — Network Solutions, Register.com and now Melbourne IT. The latter two were among the first five to go live after ICANN introduced competition at the registrar level in 1999.

For Webcentral, the deal marks the conclusion of a three-stage sell-off that started over a year ago when it sold its TPP Wholesale business to UK consolidator CentralNic.

Then, this February, it announced the sale of its enterprise unit to private equity for AUD 36 million ($25 million). It had been publicly looking for a buyer for its remaining SMB registrar business for many months.

The root cause of the sell-offs appears to be the company’s crippling debt.

Webcentral had expected to be hit unfavorably by the coronavirus pandemic, but that was largely due to its exposure to the digital marketing market, via its WME brand, rather than dwindling domain sales.

GoDaddy blamed the same problem for its recently announced layoffs.

Webcentral is currently listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. Web.com itself fell into private equity hands in a $2 billion deal in 2018.

CentralNic grabs more of the reseller market with $16.5 million acquisition

CentralNic is living up to its self-described role as an industry “consolidator” with the acquisition of Australian domain wholesaler TPP Wholesale.

The company, assuming it manages to find the financial backing, will pay AUD 24 million ($16.5 million) for the business, currently a unit of ARQ Group (formerly known as Melbourne IT).

TPP has 14,000 resellers and 840,000 domains under management, including 19% of all .com.au registrations, according to CentralNic.

The company reckons the unit had revenue of AUD 17 million ($11.7 million) and EBITDA of AUD 3.9 million ($2.7 million) in 2018, which makes the purchase look like a bit of a bargain when compared to its acquisition of Instra a few years ago.

Two companies “capture” auDA

Membership votes of the Australian ccTLD registry auDA could now essentially be captured by just two companies, potentially including new back-end provider Afilias, according to data from a disgruntled former director.

According to Josh Rowe’s analysis of auDA’s newly swollen members list, 39.2% of auDA’s members are now employees of CrazyDomains owner Dreamscape Networks, after Dreamscape signed up a whopping 527 staffers.

Assuming bloc-voting, Dreamscape would need support from only one of either Afilias (with 12.4% of members) or the registrar Arq Group (formerly Melbourne IT, with 15%) to obtain a simple majority in any member vote, judging by Rowe’s figures.

His analysis, sent out to supporters and forwarded to DI this week, was based on auDA’s official member list, which includes full contact information for each member. He had to crowdfund a couple hundred bucks to obtain the list from auDA.

Rowe told ITWire that in most cases the new members listed their employer’s address as their own.

The names-only list published on auDA’s web site currently stands at 1,345 people by my count, about a thousand more than it contained just a few days ago.

Rowe’s tally chimes roughly with my previous estimate that about 150 Afilias employees had joined auDA. Rowe makes it 166.

auDA had previously publicly thanked the three aforementioned companies, along with the registrar Ventra IP, for helping with the membership drive, which auDA says will help it diversify its membership as per the instructions of the Australian government.

The new members will not have the ability to vote in the auDA extraordinary general meeting, which is due to take place at midnight UTC tonight (1000 Friday morning in Melbourne). Their memberships should be active by the time the annual general meeting rolls around in a few months, however.

Tonight’s meeting will see the 300-odd older members vote on whether to fire auDA’s three independent directors. A fourth motion, to express no confidence in CEO Cameron Boardman, was removed from the agenda by the auDA board.

auDA was forced to called the meeting after Rowe and his allies, dismayed by what they see as policy and transparency missteps, managed to rally the support of more than the threshold 5% of the member base.

That was fewer than 20 people under the smaller membership (though Rowe’s petition obtained 22 signatures). Now it would be around 67 people.

This presumably means that Rowe’s allies — the so-called “Grumpies” — have lost their ability to shake things up in the auDA boardroom in future.

However, it presumably also means that if DreamScape, Afilias or Arq wanted to cause trouble, they could strong-arm their employees into supporting whatever flag they wanted to wave.