Uniregistry and Donuts have settled at least five new gTLD contention sets this week, raising the question of whether Uniregistry has reversed its objection to private auctions.
I think it has.
In five of the six head-to-head contention sets between the two companies, Donuts has won the rights to .furniture, .auction and .gratis, and Uniregistry has won .audio and .juegos.
The losing company has already withdrawn their applications in all five cases.
I gather that a deal was made, but Uniregistry won’t say whether it was via a private auction or not and I’ve not yet had a reply to a request for comment from Donuts.
But Uniregistry, which has previously spoken out against the private auction concept — saying it raises antitrust concerns — declined to confirm or deny whether these five contests were resolved by auction.
“We’re grateful to have found a way through the impasse and resolved the contention,” was all Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling would say.
Applicant Auction’s project director Sheel Mohnot confirmed that a new gTLD auction took place this week but said he could not disclose the participants or the strings.
To the best of my knowledge, that’s a new line — the auctioneer has always kept quiet about sales prices in the past, but has always revealed which companies were involved.
So has Uniregistry changed its mind about the legality of private new gTLD auctions? My guess is: “Yes.”
The only remaining string where the two companies are competing in a two-horse race is .shopping, according to the DI PRO database, but that’s subject to some weird string similarity nonsense and probably not suitable for a private auction yet.
Top Level Domain Holdings has raised £21 million with an institutional investor share placement to help it win some new gTLD contention set auctions.
Its total war chest following the $33.6 million-ish placement will be about $63 million, albeit with $15 million of that earmarked for a single, as-yet-unspecified auction.
The company is currently in 43 contention sets, most of which it apparently wants to resolve via private auction. TLDH said in a statement:
The Company believes private auctions provide a significant opportunity for the Company both to increase the number of high-value gTLDs within its portfolio and to generate cash from those gTLDs which it chooses to relinquish. Under the private auction process, the winning bid is divided equally and paid to the losing applicants net of the auctioneer’s fees.
As part of TLDH’s transition from a revenue-free penny stock to a trading company, it’s going to change its name to Minds + Machines Limited, via a reverse takeover of its subsidiary of the same name.
The company said the move will help with “stakeholder communications and branding”.
Finally, TLDH said that founding director Guy Elliott is to leave its board of directors and be replaced by new non-executive director Elliot Noss. Noss is of course CEO of rival registry/registrar Tucows.
Donuts has a clear path to being awarded the .church, .life and .loans new gTLDs, following a private auction managed by Innovative Auctions this week.
Life Covenant Church and CompassRose.life have already withdrawn their applications for .church and .life respectively, and others are expected to follow soon.
Life Covenant Church, which does business at LifeChurch.tv, was described as the largest multi-site church in the US last year, with 46,000 regular attendees across 15 locations.
A lucrative business, no doubt. But apparently not lucrative enough to beat Donuts.
In the three-way contention set for .life, Donuts beat CompassRose.life, which seems to be affiliated with a Canadian housing developer and Xiamen 35.com Technology.
In .loans, which still faces Governmental Advisory Committee advice, Donuts beat fellow portfolio applicant Radix.
The losing applicants will all receive pay-offs from Donuts as a result of losing the auctions.
Innovative has now helped resolve 21 contention sets.
ICANN has cut the anticipated length of its “last resort” new gTLD auctions in half, last night publishing a schedule that would take 10 months and end in early 2015.
The draft schedule and auction rules, put together by selected auctioneer Power Auctions, would see 10 monthly batches of auctions, with 20 contention sets resolved per month.
The revised rules, which are open for public comment, read:
It is anticipated that Auctions will be conducted once per month to resolve 20 Contention Sets per Auction, with the intention to complete all Auctions within one (1) year from the date of the first Auction.
It’s still anticipated that auctions will begin in March 2014.
That’s a lot better for applicants than the original plan, which was to limit each applicant to only five auctions per month. Due to Donuts’ large portfolio, that would have stretched the process out to April 2016.
An accompanying schedule (pdf) published last night actually batches up 201 of the remaining contested gTLDs into 10 buckets, so most applicants now know where they stand.
It’s good news for applicants that have high priority numbers but are in contention sets with applicants with low priority numbers — they’ll get bumped to the front of the queue.
For example, dot Buy Limited drew 1,883 in the prioritization lottery, but will be in the first monthly auction because it’s up against Amazon, with priority number 128, for .buy.
There’s still no news about how ICANN will handle indirect contention, however.
While the schedule has placed the likes of .unicom and .unicorn — which were found similar by evaluation panels — in the same auction, it does not yet reflect the results of objections that should (in theory) place different strings in the same contention set.
April 2016. That’s the likely date of the final new gTLD contention set auction under the rules currently anticipated by ICANN.
As you might imagine, many applicants are not happy about this.
In a series of presentations over the last couple of weeks, ICANN has laid out how it sees its “last resort” auctions playing out.
Preliminary timetables have been sketched out, from which three data points are noteworthy:
- Auctions will start in “early March” 2014.
- There will be one “auction event” every four weeks.
- Applicants can bid on a maximum of five gTLDs per auction.
Currently, the applicant in the most contention sets is Donuts, as you might have guessed given the size of its portfolio. By my reckoning it’s currently contesting 141 gTLD strings.
With a March 1 date for the first auction, and taking into account the aforementioned timing restrictions, it would be April 23, 2016 before the final Donuts contention set is resolved.
That’s four years after the application window closed.
Google would be in auctions until January 2015. TLDH, Uniregistry and Amazon’s contested strings would be tied up until at least October next year.
This is obviously terrible news for applicants competing with portfolio applicants where the contention set has quite a high position in ICANN’s prioritization queue.
A year or two is a long time to wait — burning through your funding and not taking in any revenue — if you’re a single-string applicant on a tight budget. Every dollar spent waiting is a dollar less to spend at auction.
According to ICANN, applicants will be able to waive the five-gTLDs-per-month maximum.
But that only seems to help the larger portfolio applicants, which will be seeing revenue from launched, uncontested gTLDs and could take the opportunity to starve out their smaller rivals.
Auctions themselves are shaping up to be a controversial subject in general, with several community members taking the mic at the ICANN 48 Public Forum last week to call for ICANN to change the process.
A few people pointed the ICANN board to the recent withdrawal of DotGreen — a popular but evidently poorly funded community effort — from the new gTLD program as a harbinger of things to come.
“By not allowing applicants to be in more than five auctions simultaneously it means those applicants, particularly portfolio applicants, are not going to be able to move through their contention sets,” Google policy manager Sarah Falvey said at the Forum.
“It drags in all the single applicants, because they’re stuck on that exact same time schedule and can’t move their applications through as well,” she said, adding that ICANN should create a new process that sets the time limit for auctions at about six months.
“People could be waiting two years to delegate through no fault of their own,” she said.
Later responding to Afilias director Jonathan Robinson, who backed up Falvey’s call for an accelerated schedule, ICANN president of generic domains Akram Atallah said that the rules are not yet set in stone.
The five-a-day rule was created to give applicants the ability to plan payments better, he said, and ICANN is still soliciting input on how the system could be improved.