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GoDaddy says it turned around Neustar, and .biz numbers seem to confirm that

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2021, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy is pleased with how its new registry division is doing, with CEO Aman Bhutani claiming last night that it’s managed to turn around the fortunes of Neustar, which became part of GoDaddy Registry a year ago.

Reporting a strong third quarter of domains revenue growth, Bhutani highlighted the secondary market and the registry as drivers. In prepared remarks, he said:

On Registry, we are continuing to prove our ability to acquire, integrate, and accelerate. A great example is the cohort performance within GoDaddy Registry. When we acquired Neustar’s registry assets in Q3 last year, its new cohorts were shrinking, with new unit registrations down 4% year over year. We are now one year into the acquisition, and we’re pleased to report that within that first year, we have been able to accelerate new business significantly. We are now seeing new unit registrations increase nearly 20% year over year — all organically.

If you’re wondering what a “cohort” is, it appears to refer to GoDaddy’s way of, for analysis purposes, slicing up its customers, how much they spend and how profitable they are, into tranches according to the years in which they became customers.

So GoDaddy’s saying here that Neustar’s number of new customers was going down, and it was selling 4% fewer new domains, at the time of the acquisition last year, but that that trend has now been reversed, with new regs up 20%.

The numbers are not really possible to verify. Neustar’s main three TLDs for volume purposes were .us, .co and .biz, and of those only .biz is contractually obliged to publish its zone file and registry numbers.

But look at .biz!

.biz zone graph

That’s .biz’s daily zone file numbers for the last two years, with the August 2020 acquisition highlighted by a subtle arrow. It’s only added about 50,000 net names since the deal, but it’s reversing an otherwise negative trend.

Monthly transaction reports show .biz had been on a general downward, if spiky, line since its early 2014 peak of 2.7 million names. It’s now at about 1.4 million.

When asked how the company achieved such a feat, Bhutani credited “execution” and left it at that. Perhaps this means something to financial analysts.

When asked by an analyst whether GoDaddy was giving its own TLDs preferential treatment, promoting its owned strings on the registrar in order to better compete with .com at the registry, Bhutani denied such frowned-upon behavior:

We don’t do that. All TLDs work on our registrar side in terms of their merit. It’s about value to the customer — whatever works best irrespective of whether we own the registry side or not. That’s what we’ll sell in front of the customer.

The company reported domains revenue up 17% at $453.2 million for the third quarter, with overall revenue up 14% at $964 million compared to year-ago numbers. Net income was up to $97.7 million from $65.1 million a year ago.

GoDaddy expects domains revenue to grow in the low double digits percent-wise in the current quarter.

Verisign boss talks .web launch, timing and pricing

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign hasn’t fully won .web yet, but it expects to soon and is talking in general terms about what the it might look like live.

CEO Jim Bidzos yesterday told analysts that he expects the Independent Review Process panel currently considering an appeal by rival applicant Afilias to deliver its final verdict before the end of the year. No hearings are scheduled.

Afilias claims Verisign and its secret proxy, Nu Dot Co, cheated, and that ICANN broke its own rules, in the 2016 auction that saw Verisign promise to pay $135 million for .web. Verisign thinks the claims are rubbish.

Bidzos told analysts, wanting to known when they can put .web revenue into the models, that it while it’s a “bit early to speculate” when the company will launch .web, it will likely happen a “couple of quarters from delegation”.

On pricing, he noted that .web does not have the same price controls as .com and .net:

.web is, of course, different from .com and net and that it’s not a price controlled TLD… We do have flexibility with it that we don’t have with other TLDs, and premiums are available. Other sorts of options are available.

But will the company put its marketing muscle behind .web? Many people, myself included, have said that Verisign’s interest in the gTLD is more about keeping it out of its rivals hands. Bidzos said:

There certainly will be some sort of marketing launch that will occur, but I just think it’s too early to really talk about what that would look like and what the expense impact will be. But we certainly intend to market and promote .web. Our plan, our desire, as we’ve stated — and I’ll say again — is to offer our customers more choice and to make .web a very successful TLD.

His comments came as Verisign reported its third-quarter financial results.

The company reported revenue up 5.1% at $334 million and net income of $157 million compared to $171 million a year ago.

It had 172.1 million .com and .net domains in its registry at the end of the quarter, up 1.48 million sequentially and a 5.1% increase on the year-ago number.

Nothing but losses ahead for MMX

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2021, Domain Registries

Former new gTLD registry MMX has delivered its latest set of financial results and warned that, without any operating business, it will be loss-making for the foreseeable future.

The company today reported a first-half loss of $783,000, compared to a loss of $1.25 million in the year-ago period.

That’s calculated from its ongoing operations, which since the $120 million sale of its registry business to GoDaddy comprises no revenue-generating activities but substantial costs keeping the company running and maintaining its listing on the AIM stock market.

Profit from discontinued operations was $3.38 million, compared to $2.68 million.

It still has small “RSP” business, providing non-technical back-office management services to a few former gTLD partners, but this will be wound down or sold off.

CEO Tony Farrow said in a statement:

We are now in the process of delivering the transition services agreed with GoDaddy Registry and disposing of, or otherwise winding down, our RSP Business. Whilst the transition services are being provided on a cost recovery basis, the Company’s ongoing administrative and other public company costs will result in operating losses for the Group going forward.

When the winding down of existing businesses is done, MMX will look for acquisition opportunities or act as a vessel for a reverse takeover.

It’s currently returning $80 million of its GoDaddy cash to investors with a buyback, but this is not enough to clear all of its shares.

CentralNic expects H1 revenue of $174 million

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2021, Domain Services

A decade ago, CentralNic was scraping by selling domain names at the third level, and now it’s now on track to clear $300 million top line this year.

The domain industry consolidator said yesterday that it expects revenue for the first half of 2021 to be in the region of $174 million, which earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of $20 million.

Third-quarter revenue is expected to be about $90 million, which works out to 63% growth or roughly 25% organic growth, excluding the impact of recent acquisitions.

Organic growth was 16% for the first quarter 2021 and 9% for the full year 2020.

The company also said cash is up and debt is down.

It’s pretty good going for a company that, when it listed on London’s AIM market in 2013 had H1 revenue of about $2 million, based on not much more than its dubious business of selling 3LDs under the likes of .gb.com and .uk.com and a couple of low-volume ccTLD back-end contracts.

Since then, its acquisition streak has seen it branch out into registrars (where it owns a bunch, wholesale and retail, of various sizes, all over the world) new gTLD back-end services (where it runs at least 90 TLDs) and, more recently, domain monetization.

CentralNic trumpets organic growth as its registrars reverse shrinkage

While positioning itself as a consolidator for the last few years, CentralNic today boasted that it’s also growing organically by a healthy amount.

The company reported Q1 revenue up 48% compared to a year ago at $84.4 million. Organic revenue growth for the same period was reported at 16%. It made a loss after tax of $1.4 million, but adjusted EBITDA of $10.1 million.

CentralNic’s indirect segment, which includes its registry and wholesale registrar businesses, saw revenue up 24% to $25.4 million, led by the registrar. Organic growth was 13%.

The direct segment, which comprises customer-facing retail and corporate registrars and brand monitoring services, saw revenue up 29% to $13.7 million. Organic growth was also 13%.

That segment had seen a drag from the corporate segment in 2020 that was blamed on the coronavirus pandemic, but today CentralNic said “both the Retail business and the Corporate business have returned to growth”.

The company’s newest and already biggest revenue-generating segment is online marketing, which boils down to domain monetization services. Revenue there was up 76% or 19% organically at $45.3 million.

This was largely driven by PubTONIC, a traffic arbitrage platform it acquired with Team Internet last year. The service basically allows web site owners to buy redirect traffic from parked domains.

MMX’s year marked by terrible renewals

MMX saw its revenue dip in 2020, and it reported shocking renewal rates at two of its highest-volume gTLDs, according to the company’s annual financial results, published this morning.

The portfolio registry, which is in the process of selling off essentially its entire operating business to GoDaddy, reported revenue of $16.8 million for the year, down from $17.2 million in 2019.

Profit was up very slighty, to $2.9 million from $2.8 million.

The 2019 results included a few one-off gains, including $588,000 from losing a new gTLD auction, which accounted for most of the 2020 revenue decline.

But the company also reported a 19% decline in domains under management, from 2.46 million to 1.99 million, based on some terrible renewal rates in its .vip and .work gTLDs.

The DUM decline can be attributed mostly to .vip, a popular TLD among Chinese speculators, which started 2020 with around 1.4 million domains but finished the year with just over a million.

.work actually ended the year up on where it started, with around 709,000 names under management.

But MMX today disclosed that the renewal rates for .vip and .work were 36% and 18% respectively. In a business where 70%+ is considered healthy, these are some poor numbers indeed.

However, the company discontinued first-year promotions on these TLDs in 2020, focusing instead on selling domains likely to lead to recurring renewal revenue, which lead to 14% (.vip) and 19% (.work) increases in revenue.

Fewer domains. More money.

MMX said that it is seeing these trends continuing into 2021. Public transaction reports show both these TLDs losing 40-50,0000 names in January. The company expects revenue to fall 4% in the first quarter compared to Q1 2020.

One bright spot appears to be “The Great Relese”, the company’s move last month to mark down hundreds of thousands of premium-priced domains. That’s brought in $170,000 since its April 23 launch.

One basket where the company is placing a lot of its eggs is AdultBlock, the trademark protection service it inherited when it acquired ICM Registry a few years back. It enables customers to block their brands in .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex without actually having to register the names.

The 10-year period ICM allowed brands to block when it launched in 2011 is coming to an end, so MMX is banking on renewals (which retail at $349 to $799 per year before multi-year discounts) to boost revenue.

“While it is early in the AdultBlock Sunrise B renewal period, we are encouraged by Registrar interest and some early sales of this product,” CEO Tony Farrow said in a statement.

This reliance on AdultBlock for short-term organic growth was one of the reasons MMX is selling up to GoDaddy.

The market-leading registrar and fast-emerging registry consolidator agreed to pay $120 million for MMX’s portfolio, which will leave MMX as a shell company only long enough to distribute the cash to investors before fading away quietly.

That deal has an August deadline to close and is dependent on approvals from business partners, ICANN and the Chinese government.

Earnings reports: GoDaddy, Tucows and NameSilo report growth

Three of the industry’s largest registrars announced revenue growth in their latest reporting periods in recent days.

GoDaddy

Market-leading GoDaddy reported a whopping 18.8% year-over-year revenue growth from domains in its first quarter, with $422.7 million.

CEO Aman Bhutani told analysts that much of this growth is being driven by the company’s emerging strategy of acting as a secondary-market intermediary, making it easier for domainers to sell their domains quickly to end-users (what it calls “independent customers”) and vice-versa.

“Independent customers added over 200,000 domain names that had otherwise been passive into the aftermarket, spurring activity for domain investors,” Bhutani said.

It currently has over 20 million domains listed on its aftermarket platform, contributing 10% of total revenue, the first time it’s broken into double-digits, analysts were told.

Domains was the best-performing segment in growth terms by some margin.

Including its other segments, GoDaddy’s overall Q1 revenue was up 13.8% year over year, at $901.1 million. It had a net income of $10.8 million, compared to $43.2 million a year earlier.

Tucows

Tucows reported domain services revenue up 4%, from $59.5 million in Q1 2020 to $61.2 million, with adjusted EBIDTA of $13.8 million versus $11.5 million a year ago.

CEO Elliot Noss said in a statement that new domain registration growth was slowing following the “pandemic surge” it experienced in 2020, when lockdown-hit businesses flew online to keep afloat.

Including its non-domain segments, Tucows reported Q1 revenue of $70.9 million. That was down from $84 million a year earlier largely as a result of the sale of its Ting Mobile business to Dish Network.

Net income for the quarter was $2.1 million, down 24% compared to the year-ago period.

NameSilo

Fast-growing registrar NameSilo reported revenue for its full-year 2020 of $31 million, up 14.3% on 2019. That was primarily driven by domains growth and its newish add-on services, it said, but it does not break down its revenue by segment.

It had net income of $6.5 million in fiscal 2020, compared to a net loss of $4 million in 2019.

It added 235,347 net domains in gTLDs in 2020, according to reports filed with ICANN, ending 2020 with 3,663,090 names under management. NameSilo said that number is now around 3.9 million.

Verisign expects huge domain growth in 2021

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign tonight significantly upgraded its estimate of how many .com and .net domains it expects to sell this year, citing an improving economy and increased growth in online commerce.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts that it’s now expecting its domain base to increase by 4% to 5.5% this year. Three months ago, it had cautiously predicted growth would be between 2.5% and 4.5%.

That’s a minimum of 6.6 million net new domains this year.

The upgrade was inspired by its first-quarter performance, in which .com and .net base grew by 4.6% when compared to Q1 2020, to 168 million names.

That was an increase of 2.8 million names during the quarter, which compares to 1.83 million net new domains in Q1 2020 and 1.46 million in Q4 2020. A pretty damn good showing, in other words.

For Q1, Verisign tonight reported net income of $150 million, down from $334 million in Q1 last year, when it experienced a one-off tax benefit.

Revenue was up 3.6% on last year at $324 million.

Lockdown bump sees GoDaddy double customer gains in 2020

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2021, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy almost doubled its rate of customer acquisition in 2020, compared to 2019, as pandemic-related lockdown measures pushed more small businesses online.

The company last week reported that it added 1.4 million customers last year, a 7% year-on-year growth but almost double the number it added the previous year.

It ended the year with 20.6 million customers, up from 19.3 million 12 months prior.

Recognizing that coronavirus restrictions in various parts of the world were increasing demand for domains, hosting and related services, the market-leading registrar upped its marketing spend to make sure it captured as many customers as possible.

It spent $438.5 million on marketing last year, up from $345.6 million in 2019.

Its full-year revenue from domains grew from $1.35 billion to $1,51 billion. Including its other segments, company revenue was up to $3.31 billion from $2.98 billion, an 11% increase.

Domains revenue for the fourth quarter was $402.2 million, up 14.2% on Q4 2019. Total revenue for the quarter was $873.9 million, up 12.0%.

Verisign upgrades its cash-printing machine but warns post-pandemic “could go either way”

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign has named the date for its long-anticipated .com prices increases, as it reported another healthy quarter and year of growth.

The company announced that the annual wholesale fee for a .com domain is going up from $7.85 to $8.39, effective September 1. That’s in line with the 7% annual cap reinstated by the Trump administration and rubber-stamped by ICANN.

It’s the first .com price increase since 2012, when reg fee was frozen by the Obama administration’s Department of Commerce under its longstanding contract with the company.

The $0.54 price increase would mean an extra $82.5 million for Verisign’s top line, assuming the .com base remains static at today’s level of 152,883,064 domains. The reality is very probably that registrations will continue to grow, however.

Verisign is allowed to increase prices by 7% three more times under its current ICANN contract. It was allowed to take the Trump bump last year but deferred due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Registrants are able to lock-in their current renewal rates for up to 10 years before the price rise kicks in, assuming registrar fees don’t increase in the meantime.

.com is of course a fabulously successful business, and it received a pandemic-related boost last year, due to a increase in small businesses moving online due to lockdown rules, which was reflected in Verisign’s fourth-quarter and full-year results.

Verisign reported fourth-quarter net income up from $148 million to $157 million, on revenue that was up 3.1% to $320 million.

For the full year, net income was up from $612 million million to $815 million, on revenue that was up 2.7% at $1.23 billion.

Operating margin is always an metric where Verisign shines — I often get phone calls from analysts baffled as to why ICANN allows such blatant profit-taking — but it was down a tad to 65.2%, from 65.5% in 2019.

That’s probably not enough to dislodge its crown as the company with the highest operating margin of the S&P 500.

Speaking to analysts and investors last week, Verisign said it’s projecting 2021 operating margin down again, to be between 64% and 65%, because of increased investment in its infrastructure and the $4 million annual bung it’s agreed to pay ICANN.

While Verisign is only going to see one quarter of higher prices this year, it seems the majority of its increased revenue will trickle down to the bottom line.

The company expects its domain growth to be between 2.5% and 4.5% in 2021. Execs noted continuing pandemic-related uncertainty. CFO George Kilguss said:

when the pandemic subsides and things start opening it up, I think it could probably go either way either it could accelerate or it could slow a little bit. We’re just not sure how the market would react just as we were somewhat uncertain when this whole pandemic started

In other words, while coronavirus proved an unexpected boon, post-pandemic economic recovery may not necessarily be a good thing for the industry.