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Donuts boss discusses shock Afilias deal

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2020, Domain Registries

Afilias is to spin off its registrar business and also its contested application for the .web gTLD, following its acquisition by Donuts, according to Donuts CEO Akram Atallah.

Speaking to DI last night, Atallah explained a little about how the deal, which creates a registry with about 450 strings under management, came about.

Rather than a straightforward bilateral negotiation, is seems like Afilias was shopping itself around for a buyer. Several companies were invited to bid, and Donuts won. Atallah said he does not know how many, or which, bidders Donuts was competing against.

Afilias was making over $100 million a year in revenue last time its accounts were published in 2017, but its largest gTLDs are in decline and it took a big hit when Public Interest Registry renegotiated its back-end contract for .org in 2018.

The acquisition, the value of which has not been disclosed, does not include Afilias’ registrar or mobile businesses, which Atallah said will be spun off.

He also revealed that the deal does not include Afilias’ .web gTLD application, which came second in an ICANN auction won by a Verisign-backed bidder a few years back.

Afilias is currently waiting for the results of an Independent Review Process case that seeks to overturn the winning $135 million bid and award the potentially lucrative gTLD to Afilias. The case was heard in August and a decision is surely not many months away.

What the deal does include are all of Afilias’ registry assets, including its owned gTLDs and its back-end service provider contracts.

I asked Atallah what the plans are for migrating or integrating the two registry platforms. While Afilias runs its own data centers, Donuts migrated its registry to Amazon’s AWS cloud service earlier this year.

“We have to make sure whatever we do is as painless as possible to our registrar channel and partners,” he said. “We believe that at least on the new gTLDs that they have it will probably be easier for us to move them to our back-end, which is on the cloud already… We’ll probably do that fairly quickly.”

“But remember they have other registries and ccTLDs that don’t own that they run on their back-end, so there’ll be business issues and negotiations there to see what we can do there,” he added.

While he’s not expecting anyone to notice any big changes immediately, Atallah said that over time features such as the companies’ different EPP commands will be merged, and that valued-added services will start to cross-pollinate.

“All of the features we have on our TLDs will migrate to their TLDs and vice versa,” he said.

That means things like the Domain Protected Marks List, a defensive registration service for trademark owners, will start to show up in Afilias gTLDs before long, he said.

I asked about the possibility of layoffs, something that is no doubt worrying staff at both companies right now and seems quite possible given the move to the cloud, but Atallah said it was too early to say. Nothing will change until the deal closes at the end of the year, he said.

“Once we actually close, we’ll sit down with the management of the Afilias registry team and look at all the different assets that we have and try to pick the best in class in technology and services,” he said.

Having seen some mutterings about competition concerns, I put that question to Atallah. He laughed it away, pointing out that, even combined with Afilias, Donuts will have fewer than 15 million domains under management.

Donuts acquires Afilias to create registry giant

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2020, Domain Registries

Donuts has agreed to acquire Afilias, the two companies have just announced.

The purchase, for an undisclosed sum, will create a registry giant, responsible in one way or the other for over 450 top-level domains.

The deal will not include Afilias’ registrar or mobile software businesses, the companies said.

The acquisition, between two private companies, is expected to close before the end of the year.

Afilias is probably best known for .info, which it has been running for almost two decades. That gTLD has almost 4.7 million domains under management.

It also runs .mobi, .pro and 21 new gTLDs from the 2012 application round, including .global, .green, .pet, .kim and .lgbt.

It acts as the back-end registry provider for over 200 third-party TLDs, the largest of which is .org, and provides DNS resolution services for other TLDs and enterprises.

Donuts owns the largest portfolio of new gTLDs, with 242 in its stable at the last count.

The internet just got its first proper new gTLD of the year, and the timing couldn’t be worse

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2020, Domain Registries

The DNS root zone has just had its first non-branded TLD delegation of the year, and the midst of a highly virulent pandemic is probably the worst possible time for its niche.

It’s .spa, newly assigned to a Malaysian company called Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council.

Spas, of course, are at the top of every government’s list when it comes to sectors that get shut down at the first whiff of virus.

Unlike restaurants and bars, which drove registrations of gTLDs such as .bar in the locked-down second quarter, spa services are not something that can easily be adapted to take-out or home delivery.

.spa has taken this long to reach the root largely due to to a fight with rival applicant Donuts.

ASWPC, backed by spas worldwide and the Belgian government (which claimed geographical protection because spas are named after the town of Spa) applied as a Community Priority Evaluation applicant, and won its CPE.

The company has said it will donate 25% of its profits to the town of Spa.

Donuts fought the CPE decision, preventing ASWPC from proceeding for three years, before backing off without explanation two years ago.

Hopefully, by the time .spa is properly ready to launch, its niche will be approaching some kind of normality.

It’s the fourth root delegation this year, after Amazon’s three dot-brands.

These eight companies account for more than half of ICANN’s revenue

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2020, Domain Policy

While 3,207 companies contributed to ICANN’s $141 million of revenue in its last fiscal year, just eight of them were responsible for more than half of it, according to figures just released by ICANN.

The first two entries on the list will come as no surprise to anyone — they’re .com money-mill Verisign and runaway registrar market-leader GoDaddy, together accounting for more than $56 million of revenue.

Registries and registrars pay ICANN a mixture of fixed fees and transaction fees, so the greater the number of adds, renews and transfers, the more money gets funneled into ICANN’s coffers.

It’s perhaps interesting that this top-contributors list sees a few companies that are paying far more in fixed, per-gTLD fees than they are in transaction fees.

Binky Moon, the vehicle that holds 197 of Donuts’ 242 gTLD contracts, is the third-largest contributor at $5.2 million. But $4.9 million of that comes from the annual $25,000 fixed registry fee.

Only 14 of Binky’s gTLDs pass the 50,000-name threshold where transaction fees kick in.

It’s pretty much the same story at Google Registry, formally known as Charleston Road Registry.

Google has 46 gTLDs, so is paying about $1.1 million a year in fixed fees, but only three of them have enough regs (combined, about one million names) to pass the transaction fees threshold. Google’s total funding was almost $1.4 million.

Not quite on the list is Amazon, which has 55 mostly unlaunched gTLDs and almost zero registrations. It paid ICANN $1.3 million last year, just to sit on its portfolio of dormant strings.

The second and third-largest registrars, Namecheap and Tucows respectively, each paid about $1.7 million last year.

The only essentially single-TLD company on the list is Public Interest Registry, which runs .org. Despite having 10 million domains under management, it paid ICANN less than half of Binky’s total last year.

The anomaly, which may be temporary, is ShortDot, the company that runs .icu, .cyou and .bond. It paid ICANN $1.6 million, which would have been almost all transaction fees for .icu, which peaked at about 6.5 million names earlier this year.

Here’s the list:

VeriSign, Inc.$45,565,544
GoDaddy.com, LLC$10,678,376
Binky Moon, LLC$5,231,898
Public Interest Registry$2,515,416
NameCheap, Inc.$1,755,932
Tucows Domains Inc.$1,747,648
ShortDot SA$1,643,103
Charleston Road Registry Inc.$1,385,356

Combined, the total is over $70.5 million.

The full spreadsheet of all 3,000+ contributors can be found over here.

Donuts to launch .contact next week

Kevin Murphy, September 23, 2020, Domain Registries

Almost a year and a half after buying it, Donuts is ready to launch its newest gTLD, .contact.

According to ICANN records, the sunrise period for the domain will run from September 29 to November 28.

Registrars report that general availability will begin December 9. Retail pricing is expected to be competitive with .com.

Donuts will also run its traditional Early Access Period, from December 2, a week during which prices start very high and decline day by day.

It will be an unrestricted space, as it Donuts’ wont, and I imagine the suggested use case is something similar to the .tel model — the publication of contact information.

Donuts acquired .contact from Top Level Spectrum for an undisclosed amount in April 2019.

Donuts rolls out free phishing attack protection for all registrants

Donuts is offering registrants of domains in its suite of new gTLDs free protection from homograph-based phishing attacks.

These are the attacks where a a bad guy registers a domain name visually similar or identical to an existing domain, with one or more characters replaced with an identical character in a different script.

An example would be xn--ggle-0nda.com, which can display in browser address bars as “gοοgle.com”, despite having two Cyrillic characters that look like the letter O.

These domains are then used in phishing attacks, with bad actors attempting to farm passwords from unsuspecting victims.

Under Donuts’ new service, called TrueNames, such homographs would be blocked at the registry level at point of sale at no extra cost.

Donuts said earlier this year that it intended to apply this technology to all current and future registrations across its 250-odd TLDs.

The company has been testing the system at its registrar, Name.com, and reckons the TrueNames branding in the shopping cart can lead to increased conversions and bigger sales of add-on services.

It now wants other registrars to sign up to the offering.

It’s not Donuts’ first foray into this space. Its trademark-protection service, Domain Protected Marks List, which has about 3,500 brands in it, has had homograph protection for a few years.

But now it appears it will be free for all customers, not just deep-pocketed defensive registrants.

CSC removes reference to “retiring” new gTLD domain after retiring new gTLD domain

The corporate registrar and new gTLD management consultant CSC Global has ditched a new gTLD domain in favor of a .com, but edited its announcement after the poor optics became clear.

In a brief blog post this week, the company wrote:

We’re retiring cscdigitalbrand.services to give you a more user-friendly interface at cscdbs.com.

From the trusted provider of choice for Forbes Global 2000 companies, this more user-friendly site is filled with information you need to secure and protect your brand. You’ll experience a brand new look and feel, at-a-glance facts and figures, learn about the latest digital threats, access our trusted resources, and see what our customers are saying.

Visit the site to learn more about our core solutions: domain management, domain security, and brand and fraud protection.

But the current version of the post expunges the first paragraph, referring to the retirement of its .services domain, entirely.

I’m going to guess this happened after OnlineDomain reported the move.

But the original text is still in the blog’s cached RSS feed at Feedly.

CSC blog post

It’s perhaps not surprising that CSC would not want to draw attention to the fact that it’s withdrawn to a .com from a .services, the gTLD managed by Donuts.

After all, CSC manages dozens of new gTLDs for clients including Apple, Yahoo and Home Depot, and releases quarterly reports tracking and encouraging activation of dot-brands.

Interestingly, and I’m veering a little off-topic here, there is a .csc new gTLD but CSC does not own it. It was delegated to a company called Computer Sciences Corporation (ironically through an application managed by CSC rival MarkMonitor) which also owns csc.com.

Computer Sciences Corporation never really got around to using .csc, and in 2017 merged with a unit of HP to form DXC Technology.

If you visit nic.csc today, you’ll be redirected to dxc.technology/nic, which bears a notice that it’s the “registry for the .dxc top-level domain”.

Given that the .dxc top-level domain doesn’t actually exist, I think this might make DXC the first company to openly declare its intent to go after a dot-brand in the next round of new gTLDs.

Donuts kicks down .place fences after attempt at innovation

Donuts has made its temporarily restricted gTLD .place unrestricted once again, two years after announcing it would be taking a stab at some technological innovation.

.place has been under lockdown for two years as Donuts planned to use it in “geofencing” applications developed by a startup it had invested in.

Geofencing is the practice of dividing the world up into three dimensional GPS-based chunks, placing those chunks into a registry, then selling them to businesses and others.

The idea was that each .place domain would be linked to a specific geofenced area. Mick could register mickscafe.place and assign the coordinates of his cafe to that domain.

In 2018, Donuts started telling registrars not to sell .place domains until its partner, Geo.Network, had launched its applications. It had invested an undisclosed sum in Geo.Network in 2016, when it was known as GeoFrenzy.

But these applications do not appear to have yet surfaced, and Donuts is now letting anyone register .place names for $10 a pop.

Since the 2018 freeze, the number of registered .place domains has tumbled from about 7,500 to about 3,800. Donuts says it has a 63% renewal rate and that 26% of its names are in active use.

The latest industry C-suite musical chairs

There have been several top-level hires at big new gTLD players in the last week.

Donuts has announced it has appointed Mina Neuberg as chief marketing officer. Neuberg appears to be a newcomer to the domain industry, having most recently worked at a learning software company called Revolution Math. It’s the first time has had a named top marketing exec on its web site since VP Judith McGarry left a year ago.

Her appointment follows February’s announcement that Donuts hired Randy Haas as chief financial officer. He was previously CFO of Rhapsody/Napster, the online music company.

Meanwhile, Shayan Rostam has moved from Intercap Holdings, the registry for .inc, .dealer and .box, where he was chief registry officer, to portfolio registry Uniregistry, where he will be chief growth officer, a newly created position.

And DNW is reporting that new gTLD registry MMX has made two new C-level hires, both coming from Uniregistry: Vaughn Lilely has been recruited as chief growth officer while Ben Anderson is coming in as chief operating officer.

Ten years ago I predicted Oscar winners wanted a .movie gTLD. Was I right?

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2020, Domain Registries

Almost 10 years ago, when DI was barely a month old, I looked at that year’s Oscar nominees and predicted that a .movie gTLD could find some demand in the movie industry. Was I right?

Of course I was. As regular readers know, I’m always right. Apart from those times I’m wrong.

In 2010, there was no .movie gTLD and no publicly announced applications, but I noted at the time that almost half of the 50 nominated movies that year included the word “movie” immediately before the dot.

This year, there were 52 nominated movies across all categories (I’m well aware that this is a pretty small sample size to draw any conclusions from, but this post is just a bit of fun) so one might reasonably expect there to be roughly 25 official sites using .movie domains among them.

There are not. Only nine of the films, including four of the nine Best Picture nominees, use freshly registered .movie domains for their official sites.

These include the likes of 1917.movie, thecave.movie, joker.movie, onceuponatimeinhollywood.movie and littlewomen.movie.

.movie, managed by Donuts, has been around since August 2015. It competes with Motion Picture Domain Registry’s .film, which was not used by any of this year’s Oscars hopefuls.

What about the rest of this year’s nominees? Did they all register fresh .com domains for their movies?

No. In fact, only 10 of the 52 movies appear to have registered new .com domains for their official sites — one more than .movie — including two of the Best Picture nominations.

These fresh .com regs include domains such as parasite-movie.com, richardjewellmovie.com, ilostmybodymovie.com, forsamafilm.com and breakthroughmovie.com.

One movie — Honeyland, a North Macedonian environmentalist documentary about bees — uses a .earth domain.

I discovered today that, rather brilliantly, the Japan-based .earth registry demands registrants “voluntarily pledge to become ambassadors for Earth and do away with actions that harm Earth and its inhabitants” in its Ts&Cs.

So, of the 52 nominated movies, only 20 opted to register a new domain for their official site — down from 24 in 2010 — and that business was split evenly between .com and new gTLDs.

Whether the movies opted for a .movie domain appears to depend in large part on the distributor.

Sony appears to be a bit of a fan of the gTLD, while Fox, Disney and Warner tend to use after-the-slash branding on their existing .com domains for their films’ official sites.

I tallied 17 movies that have their official sites on their distributor’s .com/.org domain.

There are also trends that I could not have predicted a decade ago, such as the rise of streaming services. Back in 2010, Netflix was still largely a DVD-delivery player and was not yet creating original content.

But this year, seven of the Oscar-nominated movies were made and/or distributed by Netflix, and as such the official web site is the same place you go to actually watch the film — netflix.com.

A few of the nominated animated shorts don’t need official sites either — you just head to YouTube to watch them for free.

There are currently only about 3,200 domains in the .movie zone file, about 1,200 fewer than rival .film. It renews at over $300 a year at retail, so it’s not cheaper than the alternatives by a long way.