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CentralNic extends XYZ deal until 2032

Kevin Murphy, September 7, 2017, Domain Registries

CentralNic and XYZ.com have extended their registry services pact for the next fifteen years, according to CentralNic.

Announcing its first-half 2017 financial results today, CentralNic said the back-end contract has been extended until 2032.

It’s an unusually long duration for a registry services contract, which are usually much more likely to run about five years.

It even lasts 10 years beyond the expiration of XYZ.com’s own ICANN contracts (though renewal of these is a near-certainty).

The deal covers all .xyz domains, as well as all of the other TLDs in XYZ.com’s portfolio. That currently includes the likes of .rent, .storage and .college.

CentralNic said it “will receive a fixed fee based on the volume of .xyz registrations and subscriptions managed” under the new deal.

In a statement to the markets, CEO Ben Crawford said the relationship “has been updated to normalise the Company’s revenues and profits going forward.”

I believe the previous contract contained a per-domain component, which exposed CentralNic’s revenue to .xyz’s erratic pricing-influenced growth trajectory.

.xyz’s zone file has shrunk by a whopping four million domains since this time last year, causing it to lose the crown of highest-volume new gTLD, due to it offering free or almost free domains that expired without renewing after a year.

However, CentralNic disclosed that the proportion of its own wholesale transaction volumes that were renewals (rather than adds and transfers, I assume) was 18% in the first half, up from 2% in the same 2016 period.

For the six months ended June 30, the company had overall revenue of £10.6 million ($13.9 million), up 18.5% year over year.

Its net loss after tax was £619,000 ($810,000), down from £1.3 million. At the EBITDA level, profit was £1.4 million ($1.8 million) compared to $900,000 in H1 2016.

While I still stubbornly think of CentralNic as primarily a registry play, in fact the company now gets about three quarters of its revenue today from its retail registrar division, which contributed just shy of £8 million to the total in H1.

Instra, the Australian registrar it acquired at the end of 2015, contributed £5.83 million.

The wholesale division, registry back-end services — contributed £1.82 million to revenue and £450,000 to EBITDA in the half.

That’s despite CentralNic being the back-end for six of the top 20 new gTLDs by volume — .website, .space, .tech, .site, .online, and .xyz

If we tally up the number of domains in only those six TLDs, we get to about 4.2 million, per their zone files.

The company’s third reporting unit, Enterprise, contributed £800,000 ($1 million) in the half, of which £360,000 ($471,000) came from premium domain sales.

CentralNic promises $30 million .sk will only ever mean “Slovakia”

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2017, Domain Registries

CentralNic has committed that it will not repurpose Slovakian ccTLD .sk to mean anything other than “Slovakia”, following its purchase of SK-NIC this week.

The acquisition of the Bratislava-based registry, which will cost between €21 million and €26 million ($25 million to $31 million) depending on performance, has been controversial in Slovakia, with many leading registrars campaigning against the sale.

One of the charges leveled against CentralNic was that its modus operandi has been to market ccTLDs as if they have other meanings. It markets Laos’ .la as a TLD for Los Angeles, and acts as the back-end for Palau’s .pw, which is marketed as an acronym for “Professional Web”.

“From a technical point of view, it’s definitely a good acquisition. CentralNic has a good system that is stable and working well, but we don’t agree with their sales and marketing policies,” Ondrej Jombik of Slovak registrar Platon told DI today.

Jombik is the person who organized a petition against the sale that attracted almost 10,000 signatures.

“We don’t agree with how they manage national TLD registries,” he said. “What they do in Palau is not acceptable. What they do in Laos is not acceptable. We’re kind of scared what they plan to do with our domain, how they plan to market it.”

But CentralNic CEO Ben Crawford said in an email interview that these concerns are misplaced. He said:

CentralNic has never had plans to repurpose .sk, and CentralNic commits not to market it with any other meaning than as the Slovak country code. Moreover, while some of the ccTLDs we work with welcome the export revenues from repurposing their TLDs, such practices are specifically restricted under recent contractual requirements put in place by the Slovak Government in response to this concern being raised by SK-NIC’s policy committee.

Jombik’s petition, which claimed to be supported by 13 of the top 15 .sk registrars covering 73% of .sk’s 360,000 domains, called for the ccTLD to be handed over to a “new independent non-profit organization” that more fairly represented the Slovak internet community.

But Crawford said that .sk already has strong community representation, which is guaranteed by the registry’s contract with the Slovak government.

“I am honestly unaware of any ccTLD where the Government, the internet community in general and the registrars all have such a defined and important role,” he said, adding:

There will be changes under our management: The Government contract has recently been beefed up placing further stability and disclosure responsibilities on SK-NIC, including escrowing the registry data to the Government cloud, a formalised Service Level Agreement, giving the Government the right to audit SK-NIC’s performance, etc., all of which we will abide by. We have other ideas too on contributing to the Slovak internet, and we are planning to hold discussions with not for profits, industry associations, Universities and other such entities in Slovakia, to seek their guidance on the best ways to do this.

Whether these promises and actions will be enough to assuage critics of the deal, who are also motivated by a sense of national pride and aggrieved that what is arguably a national resource is falling into foreign hands, remains to be seen.

Having a ccTLD manager acquired outright by a foreign entity without a redelegation by ICANN/IANA is an unusual occurrence. Only the $109 million acquisition of .CO Internet by US-based Neustar back in 2014 springs to mind.

CentralNic brings back old CFO

CentralNic has swapped its currently chief financial officer for his immediate predecessor.

Glenn Hayward has left the company after three and a half years “to pursue other opportunities”, the company said in a statement to the markets today.

He has been replaced by Don Baladasan, who was CFO of the company between 2010 and 2014.

During his previous stint in the role, he oversaw CentralNic’s flotation on London’s Alternative Investment Market.

Junk drop cuts .xyz in half, .top claims volume crown

The .xyz gTLD has seen its zone file halve in size, as millions of free and cheap domains were not renewed.

The former volume leader among new gTLDs started this month with a tad over 5.2 million domains in its zone.

But its July 17 zone contained 2.5 million, much less than half as many, DI analysis shows.

The precipitous decline means that Chinese-run gTLD .top, increasingly notorious as a go-to TLD for spammers, is now literally at the top of the league table, when you measure new gTLDs by zone file volume, with 2.6 million names.

The primary reason for .xyz losing so many names is of course the expiration of most of the domains that were sold for just $0.01 — or given away for free — in the first few days of June 2016, and the aggressive promotional pricing on offer for the remainder of that month.

On May 30, 2016, there were just under 2.8 million names in the .xyz zone. By July 1, 2016, that number had topped 6.2 million, an increase of 3.4 million over a single month.

That was .xyz’s peak. The zone has been in gradual decline ever since.

Domains generally take 45 days to drop, so it’s entirely possible XYZ.com will see further losses over the next month or so.

There’s nothing unusual about seeing a so-called “junk drop” a year after a TLD launches or runs a free-domains promotion. It’s been well-understood for over a decade and has been anticipated for .xyz for over a year.

But compounding its problems, the .xyz registry appears to still be banned in China, where a substantial portion of its former customer base is located.

The company disclosed over two months ago that it had a “temporary” problem that had seen its license to sell domains via Chinese registrars suspended.

The ban was related to XYZ falling out with its original “real name verification” provider, ZDNS, which was tasked with verifying the identities of Chinese registrants per local government regulations.

I’ve never been able to confirm with either party the cause of this split, but everyone else involved in the Chinese market I’ve asked has told me it related to a dispute over money.

Regardless, two months later the major Chinese registrars I checked today still appear to not be carrying .xyz names.

XYZ has meanwhile signed up with alternative Chinese RNV provider Tele-info, and just three days ago submitted the necessary paperwork (pdf) with ICANN to have the move approved as a registry service under its contract.

In that request, XYZ said the new RNV service “will allow XYZ to reenter certain domain name markets”, suggesting that it has not yet regained Chinese government approval to operate there.

CentralNic says revenue more than doubled in 2016

CentralNic’s revenue was up 110% in 2016, according to the company.

The registry today released its unaudited results for last year, showing EBITDA up 65% at £5.5 million ($6.7 million) on revenue of £22.1 million ($26.9 million)

The company, which has expanded into registrar services via acquisition in the last few years, said its recurring revenue — mainly domain registrations — now account for about 80% of revenue.

CentralNic has about a third of the new gTLD back-end market, primarily because it’s the provider for .xyz’s millions of cheapo registrations.

In its statement, it said it hopes to focus on growing more in China, where clients including .xyz were recently licensed.

It also intends to make more acquisitions, where the deals “meet clear strategic criteria including being earnings accretive in the short term with a strong recurring revenues base”.