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MMX rejected three takeover bids before buying .xxx

MMX talked to three other domain name companies about potentially selling itself before deciding instead to go on the offensive, picking up ICM Registry for about $41 million.

The company came out of a year-long strategic review on Friday with the shock news that it had agreed to buy the .xxx, .adult, .porn and .sex registry, for $10 million cash and about $31 million in stock.

CEO Toby Hall told DI today that informal talks about MMX being sold or merged via reverse takeover had gone on with numerous companies over the last 11 months, but that they only proceeded to formal negotiations in three cases.

Hall said he’d been chatting to ICM president and majority owner Stuart Lawley about a possible combination for over two years.

ICM itself talked to four potential buyers before going with MMX’s offer, according to ICM.

Lawley, who’s quitting the company, will become MMX’s largest shareholder following the deal, with about 15% of the company’s shares. Five other senior managers, as well as ICM investor and back-end provider Afilias, will also get stock.

Combined, ICM-related entities will own roughly a quarter of MMX after the deal closes, Hall said.

ICM, with its high-price domains and pre-2012 early-mover advantage, is the much more profitable company.

It had sales of $7.3 million and net income of $3.5 million in 2017, on approximately 100,000 registrations.

Compared to MMX, that’s about the same amount of profit on about half the revenue. It just reported 2017 profit of $3.8 million on revenue of $14.3 million.

There’s doesn’t seem to be much need or desire to start swinging the cost-cutting axe at ICM, in other words. Jobs appear safe.

“This isn’t a business in any way that is in need of restructuring,” Hall said.

He added that he has no plans to ditch Afilias as back-end registry provider for the four gTLDs. MMX’s default back-end for the years since it ditched its self-hosted infrastructure has been Nominet.

The deal reduces MMX’s exposure to the volatile Chinese market, where its .vip TLD has proved popular, accounting for over half of the registry’s domains under management.

It also gives MMX ownership of ICM’s potentially lucrative portfolio of reserved premium names.

There are over 9,700 of these, with a combined buy-now price of just shy of $135 million.

I asked Hall whether he had any plans to get these names sold. He laughed, said “the answer is yes”, and declined to elaborate.

ICM currently has a sales staff of three people, he said.

“It’s a small team, but their track record is exceptional,” he said.

The company’s record, I believe, is sex.xxx, which sold for $3 million. It has many six-figure sales on record. Premiums renew at standard reg fee, around $60.

With the ICM deal, MMX has recast itself after a year of uncertainty as an acquirer rather than an acquisition target.

While many observers — including yours truly — had assumed a sale or merger were on the cards, MMX has gone the other route instead.

It’s secured a $3 million line of credit from its current largest shareholder, London and Capital Asset Management Ltd, “to support future innovation and acquisition orientated activity”.

That’s not a hell of a lot of money to run around snapping up rival gTLDs, but Hall said that it showed that investors are supportive of MMX’s new strategy.

So does this mean MMX is going to start devouring failing gTLDs for peanuts? Not necessarily, but Hall wouldn’t rule anything out.

“Our long-term strategy is ultimately based around being an annuity-based business,” he said. He’s looking at companies with a “strong recurring revenue model”.

About 78% of ICM’s revenue last year came from domain renewals. The remainder was premium sales. For MMX, renewal revenue doubled to $4.8 million in 2017, but that’s still only a third of its overall revenue (though MMX is of course a less-mature business).

So while Hall refused to rule out looking at buying up “struggling” gTLDs, I get the impression he’s not particularly interested in taking risks on unproven strings.

“You can never say never to any opportunity,” he said. “If we come across and asset and for whatever reason we believe we can monetize it, it could become an acquisition target.”

The acquisition is dependent on ICANN approving the handover of registry contracts, something that doesn’t usually present a problem in this kind of M&A.

CentralNic spends $3.3 million on .com portfolios

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2018, Domain Sales

CentralNic has splashed out £2.5 million ($3.3 million) to bolster its portfolio of domain names for the secondary market.

The company said in a brief statement today that it acquired an unspecified number of domains across “a number of portfolios”. The sellers were not disclosed.

The names were all in .com.

CEO Ben Crawford said the names were acquired “at an attractive discount to current market rates”.

The deals mean London-listed CentralNic might be able to continue to prop up its recurring revenue (registry/registrar) numbers through the sale of premium names, something it still needs to do if it wants to show investors a pleasing growth curve.

That’s assuming it can sell the names at a profit, of course.

Some call this the premium domain “hamster wheel”.

CentralNic and .CLUB reveal premium sales

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2017, Domain Services

CentralNic and .CLUB Domains have both revealed sales of premium domain names over the last several days.

CentralNic said yesterday that it has sold “a number” of premiums for $3.4 million.

The names are believed to be from its own portfolio, rather than registry-reserved names in any of the TLDs it manages. The company did not disclose which names, in which TLDs, it had sold.

The sale smooths out potential lumpiness in CentralNic’s revenue, and the company noted that the sales means that recurring revenue from its registrar and registry business will become an increasing proportion of its revenue as its premium portfolio diminishes.

Last week, .CLUB announced that it sold $380,793 of premium .club domains in the third quarter. That was spread over 452 domains.

The big-ticket domains were porn.club and basketball.club, sold by the registry for $85,000 together.

The Q3 headline number was a sharp decline from the Q2 spike of $2.7 million, which was boosted by auctions in China.

The company published a lot more data on its sales on its blog, here.

ZACR to delete 12,000 .za domains next week

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2017, Domain Registries

South African ccTLD registry ZACR is to delete more than 12,000 domains, many of them English dictionary words, ending in .org.za next week.

That’s more than a third of the current count of .org.za domains, which stands at about 33,000 today.

The list includes many English dictionary-word domains very possibly worth more than the standard registration fee, such as sex.org.za, accountant.org.za, comedy.org.za, vodka.org.za, casino.org.za and cash.org.za.

The domains will be deleted and then become available for first-come, first-served registration on September 1.

The current registrants have had fair warning. The company migrated to a new EPP-based registry back-end a few years ago and told its customers they had to migrate to an accredited registrar.

A year ago, it suspended 15,420 domains, cutting off their ability to resolve in the DNS, as way to bring the impending deletion to their owners attention, but since then only 2,394 suspended domains have become compliant with the new rules.

That means 12,677 .org.za domains face the chop Friday next week, unless their owners mount an eleventh-hour rescue operation.

ZACR has published a full list of the soon-to-be-deleted names here

The .org.za space is far less popular than commercial counterpart .co.za, which has over a million registered names.

.club premium sales approaching $5 million

Kevin Murphy, April 11, 2017, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains sold half a million dollars worth of reserved premium names in the first quarter, bringing its cumulative to-date total to almost $5 million, the registry reported at the weekend.

Q1 sales were $505,139, the company said, bringing its total since launch to $4,844,428.

There were 475 premium sales in total, sold via auctions, registrars and aftermarket platforms, it said.

Headline sales in the period included seniors.club and pet.club for $18,000 apiece, and photo.club for $10,000.

The numbers may indicate that its broker program and financing options, introduced in January, may be taking off.

The registry’s Q1 sales amount to more than half of what it sold in the whole of 2016.

More sales figures are available in the .CLUB Domains blog post.