NCC Group has followed through on its promise to divest parts of its domain business, selling the Open Registry collection of companies at a huge discount to the original purchase price.
KeyDrive and a mysterious entity called Terrain.com SA have together acquired the companies for €3.75 million ($3.97 million).
That’s compared to the minimum of £7.9 million ($12 million) NCC originally paid just two years ago.
NCC said in a statement that the sold companies are:
- Open Registry SA, a registry back-end provider with a handful of new gTLD clients.
- ClearingHouse for Intellectual Property SA, aka CHIP, which provides software and billing support for the Trademark Clearinghouse.
- Nexperteam CVBA, a tiny registrar.
- Sensirius CVBA, the original Open Registry company, a new gTLD consultancy.
Missing from that list is Artemis, the new gTLD registry for .trust, which NCC separately acquired from Deutsche Post for an undisclosed sum in February 2014.
NCC is also keeping hold of its data escrow business, which is widely used by gTLD registries to comply with ICANN rules.
It’s not clear how the sold companies are being divided up between the two buyers.
KeyDrive is the Luxembourg-based holding company for the registrars Key-Systems and Moniker and other domain firms.
Terrain.com appears to belong to EuroDNS chair Xavier Buck, who was chair of Open Registry until NCC bought it, but the domain itself doesn’t seem to resolve right now.
NCC said that €2 million will be paid up front and €1.75 million will be deferred for 18 months.
NCC Group has stroppily departed from the domain name business but is evading questions about whether its .trust gTLD is for sale.
The company last month told the markets that it is to “cut its losses” and get rid of its Open Registry registry/registrar business, which it acquired for up to £14.9 million ($22.6 million) just 19 months ago.
But it left open the question of whether it would also divest .trust, the gTLD it acquired from Deutsche Post for an undisclosed sum a year earlier.
Talking to The Telegraph earlier this week, NCC CEO Rob Cotton had some harsh words for the new gTLD industry:
People thought there’d be a need for lots of generic domains, but there’s no need for them at all, it’s only good news for bad guys who can get them for free and pretend to be anyone.
It’s not exactly a volte face from NCC, which has repeatedly published research showing consumers don’t trust new gTLDs.
The company had been banking on .trust (a back-up plan after it failed to obtain .secure, which it had originally applied for) to showcase its potentially higher-margin domain security services.
In its full-year 2016 financial results last month, the company said it was closing down its domain services division, taking a charge of over £13 million as result.
Forty-five people lost their jobs as a result of change in strategy.
The closure does not appear to apply to its data escrow business, which has proven popular among new gTLD registries. That business sits within a separate Escrow Division.
The company said:
It is clear that the open generic domains and city codes have not been taken up by businesses and consumers as well as expected with all of these falling well short of their initial registration targets. Coupled with the fact that the branded domains are still either undelegated or those that are, are unused, it is clear that the market is not ready for the very necessary changes that need to happen to strengthen security on the Internet.
The domains division brought in just shy of £5 million ($6.6 million) in the year to May 31, but most of that was due to its withdrawal of its application for .secure. The division was making a loss.
On .trust, which the company reckons is worth £4.2 million, NCC was less than clear about its plans.
It said in its results that it “will continue to use .trust as the Group’s domain”, but that could merely mean it will continue to use nccgroup.trust as its primary web site.
I asked the company whether .trust was for sale this week and received the following PR statement:
NCC Group said in their FY results statement that certain parts of the Domain Services Division will be divested in due course, although the capability to provide a secure domain environment will be retained. They also stated that this will involve the diminution and realisation of assets. They said that Open Registry is to be realised and other assets written down.
They also made the point that they are still committed to the concept behind domain services and have retained the ability to provide a secure, managed environment when the marketplace changes.
Given the language, I would err towards .trust not being for sale, but the fact that the firm declined to give a straight answer it seems possible that it actually is.