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Verisign has great quarter but sees China growth slowing

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2016, Domain Registries

Verisign beat its sales expectations in the first quarter of the year, but leadership said rapid growth from Chinese registrants will now “normalize”.

The .com/.net registry last night reported net income up 21% at $107 million, on revenue that was up 9.1% to $282 million.

That’s based primarily on it selling 2.65 million net new .com/.net names during the quarter, at 7.1% increase on the Q1 2014 level baseline. It said it sold 10 million new names in the quarter, up from 8.7 million a year ago.

For comparison, Q1 2015 saw 1.51 million net adds across the two TLDs. Three months ago, the company had predicted net adds to be 1.5 to 2 million names.

It had 142.5 million names at the end of the quarter, 126.6 million of which were .com.

CEO James Bidzos told analysts: “We again saw activity coming from registrars in China that exceeded our expectations.”

However, he added: “At this point, we expect activity from registrars in China to normalize as we continue through the second quarter.”

When pressed, CFO George KIlguss elaborated (according to the SeekingAlpha earnings call transcript):

as we look at the trends, we’ve seen the demand that happened in the second half of the first quarter kind of ebb and flow. So we saw it come. It was pretty strong for a few weeks and then it came back to more than normalized path. So we don’t have a perfect crystal ball, but based on the trends that we’ve seen that we’ve been tracking, it seems to be back on the normalized path for that particular region, at least as what we’ve seen historically.

Verisign is currently negotiating for the renewal of its .com contract with ICANN, which may or may not enable it to raise its government-frozen registry prices in future.

Verisign warns about Chinese .com boom

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign has warned investors that the current boom in .com sales is largely coming from Chinese domainers and may not be sustainable.

The company has added an unprecedented 4.1 million domain in .com and .net so far during the fourth quarter.

“While there continues to be demand for domain names globally, the recent increased volume for Verisign’s top level domains, as well as top level domains of other registries, during the fourth quarter is coming largely through registrars in China,” the company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

It listed several factors that are likely responsible for the sudden uptick, but warned that renewal rates are typically not great.

In the past, Verisign has discussed many factors that affect the demand for domain names, including, but not limited to economic, social, and regulatory conditions, Internet adoption, Internet penetration, and increasing e-commerce. In addition to these factors affecting demand, Verisign is also evaluating additional potential factors unique to China that may also be responsible for the recent increased volume of new registrations in China.

In no particular order, these potential factors, or combination of factors, could include, but may not be limited to, government initiatives in China to develop their online economy such as ‘Internet Plus;’ registry and registrar regulatory requirements; cultural influences such as the popularity of numeric domain names; increasing competition amongst Chinese registrars; potential increases in domain name investment activity; and recent capital markets volatility and access to capital in China.

Verisign cannot predict if or how long this increased pace of gross additions will continue and we cannot at this time predict what the renewal rate for these domain names will be. Verisign has noted in the past that renewal rates for domain names registered in emerging markets, such as China, have historically been lower than those registered in more developed markets.

It’s difficult to imagine that Chinese investors have managed to find four million unregistered domains worth keeping.

There are currently 123,497,852 domains in the .com zone file, according to Verisign’s web site.

Verisign is not the only registry that appears to be benefiting from a deluge of registrations from China.

XYZ.com has seen over 440,000 domains added to its .xyz zone file in the last three weeks, bringing its total to over 1.5 million, which appear to be largely coming through Chinese registrars.

Verisign adds 750,000 .com names instantly with reporting change

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign has boosted its reportable .com domain count by almost 750,000 by starting to count expired and suspended names.

The change in methodology, which is a by-product of ICANN’s much more stringent Whois accuracy regime, happened on Friday afternoon.

Before the change, the company reported on its web site that there were 116,788,107 domains in the .com zone file, with another 167,788 names that were registered but not configured.

That’s a total of 116,955,895 domains.

But just a few hours later, the same web page said .com had a total of 117,704,800 names in its “Domain Name Base”.

That’s a leap of 748,905 pretty much instantly; the number of names in the zone file did not move.

.net jumped 111,110 names to 15,143,356.

The reason for the sudden spikes is that Verisign is now including two types of domain in its count that it did not previously. The web page states:

Beginning with the first quarter, 2015, the domain name base on this website and in subsequent filings found in the Investor Relations site includes domains that are in a client or server hold status.

I suspect that the bulk of the 750,000 newly reported names are on clientHold status, which I believe is used much more often than serverHold.

The clientHold EPP code is often applied by registrars to domains that have expired.

However, registrars signed up to the year-old 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement are obliged by ICANN to place domains on clientHold status if registrants fail to respond within 15 days to a Whois verification email.

The 2013 RAA reads (my emphasis):

Upon the occurrence of a Registered Name Holder’s willful provision of inaccurate or unreliable WHOIS information, its willful failure promptly to update information provided to Registrar, or its failure to respond for over fifteen (15) calendar days to inquiries by Registrar concerning the accuracy of contact details associated with the Registered Name Holder’s registration, Registrar shall either terminate or suspend the Registered Name Holder’s Registered Name or place such registration on clientHold and clientTransferProhibited, until such time as Registrar has validated the information provided by the Registered Name Holder.

Last June, registrars claimed that the new policy — which came after pressure from law enforcement — had resulted in over 800,000 domains being suspended.

It’s an ongoing point of contention between ICANN, its registrars, and cops.

Verisign changing its reporting methodology may well be a reaction to this increase in the number of clientHold domains.

While its top-line figure has taken a sharp one-off boost, it will still permit daily apples-to-apples comparisons on an ongoing basis.

UPDATE:

My assumption about the link to the 2013 RAA was correct.

Verisign CFO George Kilguss told analysts on February 5.

Over the last several years, the average amount of names in the on-hold status category has been approximately 400,000 names and the net change year-over-year has been very small.

While still immaterial, during 2014, we saw an increase in the amount of names registrars have placed on hold status, which appears to be a result of these registrars complying with the new mandated compliance mechanisms in ICANN’s 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement or RAA.

In 2014, we saw an increase in domain names placed on hold status from roughly 394,000 names at the end of 2013 to about 870,000 at the end of 2014.

.net zone back above 15 million names

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2015, Domain Registries

Is .net bouncing back after a year of declines?

The Verisign legacy gTLD has topped 15 million names again, a bit over a month after it dipped below the notable but ultimately irrelevant threshold. Today, the .net zone has 15,000,038 names in its zone file.

It had gone below 15 million on January 1, and hit a trough of 14,980,773 on January 19, but has been gaining ground — in a wobbly fashion — ever since.

Verisign executives have previously blamed “confusion” from the sudden influx of new gTLDs into the market for .net’s 2014 decline, which saw it lose a couple hundred thousand zone file domains.

On January 22 and 26, the company’s stock outlook was downgraded by financial analysts, based on the view that new gTLDs were hurting its business.

But the company has been quite aggressively marketing .net alongside big brother .com for several months. Are those efforts paying dividends?

New gTLDs pummel .net below 15 million domains

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign’s .net gTLD has had a disappointing start to 2015, as its zone file dipped below 15 million domains for the first time since achieving the milestone.

As of last night, .net had 14,998,404 names in its zone, a daily dip of over 10,000 domains.

That’s down by about 200,000 names from the roughly 15.2 million it had in March 2014, the earliest count for which I have records.

The gTLD first passed 15 million in August 2013, according to a celebratory blog post at the time.

Verisign has previously blamed the “confusion” created by the launch of new gTLDs for the decline, which was inexorable in 2014.

In October, CEO James Bidzos told financial analysts that “.net may be more susceptible to that confusion that swirls around new gTLDs.”

My similar view is that the existence of new gTLDs is causing people to wake up to the fact that defensive or shopping cart up-sell .net registrations are now superfluous, and that the days of .net riding on big brother .com’s coat-tails may be numbered.

There are still about 31,000 dark .net domains — registered names not present in its zone file — according to Verisign.

At the end of August 2014, .net had 15,569,398 registered names, according to the most recent available ICANN registry report.