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NCC sells Open Registry at huge discount

Kevin Murphy, January 6, 2017, Domain Registries

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.

.trust gTLD might be for sale as NCC closes domain business

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2016, Domain Registries

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.

Survey: more people know about new gTLDs but fewer trust them

People are becoming more aware that new gTLDs exist, but there’s less trust in them that there was a year ago, according to an ICANN-sponsored survey.

The second annual Global Consumer Survey, which was published late last week, shows that 16% of respondents had heard of specific new gTLDs, on average.

That’s up 2% on last year’s survey.

The number for TLDs added in the last year was 20%, with .news leading the pack with 33% awareness.

However, fewer people were actually visiting these sites: 12% on average, compared to 15% a year ago. For TLDs added in the last year, visitation averaged 15%.

And the amount of trust placed on new gTLDs added prior to the 2015 survey was down from 49% to 45% — half the level of .com, .org and .net.

For TLDs added since last year’s survey, trust was at 52% on average.

The 2015 survey looked only at .email, .photography, .link, .guru, .realtor, .club and .xyz. For this year’s survey, respondents were also asked about .news, .online, .website, .site, .space, .pics, .top, .bank, .pharmacy, and .builder.

The number of registered domains did not seem to have an impact on how aware respondents were on individual extensions.

.xyz, for example, had the lowest awareness of those used in the survey — 9% versus 5% in 2015 — despite being the runaway volume market leader and having scored PR coups such as Google’s adoption of abc.xyz for its new parent company, Alphabet.

Likewise, .top, second only to .xyz in the size league table, could only muster up 11% awareness.

.news, .email and .online topped the awareness list — with 33%, 32% and 30% respectively — despite having only about 500,000 names between them.

I’m not sure I buy much of this data to be honest. There’s some weirdness.

For example, the survey found that 28% of respondents claim to have visited a .email web site.

That’s a gTLD at least partially if not primarily designed for non-web use, with roughly 20,000 names that are not parked.

If over a quarter of the population were visiting .email sites, you might expect some of those sites to show up prominently in Alexa rankings, but they don’t.

But perhaps, if we take this survey as a measure of consumers perceptions, it doesn’t matter so much whether it reflects the reality of internet use.

The survey, conducted by Nielsen for ICANN, covered dozens of other aspects of internet use, including feelings on cybersecurity, navigation and such, and weighs in at 160 pages. Read it all over here.

As .trust opens for sunrise, Artemis dumps .secure bid

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2014, Domain Registries

Amazon is now the proud owner of the .secure new gTLD, after much smaller competing applicant Artemis Internet withdrew its bid.

Coincidentally, the settlement of the contention set came just yesterday, the day before Artemis took its .trust — which I’ve described as a “backup plan” — to sunrise.

I assume .secure was settled with a private deal. I’ve long suspected Artemis — affiliated with data escrow provider NCC Group — had its work cut out to win an auction against Amazon.

It’s a shame, in a way. Artemis was one of the few new gTLD applicants that had actually sketched out plans for something quite technologically innovative.

Artemis’ .secure was to be a “trust mark” for a high-priced managed security service. It wasn’t really about selling domain names in volume at all.

The company had done a fair bit of outreach work, too. As long ago as July 2013, around 30 companies had expressed their interest in signing up as anchor tenants.

But, after ICANN gave Amazon a get-out-of-jail-free card by allowing it to amend its “closed generic” gTLD applications, it looked increasingly unlikely Artemis would wind up owning the gTLD it was essentially already pre-selling.

In February this year, it emerged that it had acquired the rights to .trust from Deutsche Post, which had applied for the gTLD unopposed.

This Plan B was realized today when .trust began its contractually mandated sunrise period.

Don’t expect many brands to apply for their names during sunrise, however — .trust’s standard registration policies are going to make cybersquatting non-existent.

Not only will .trust registrants have their identities manually vetted, but there’s also a hefty set of security standards — 123 pages (pdf) of them at the current count — that registrants will have to abide by on an ongoing basis in order to keep their names.

As for Amazon, its .secure application, as amended, is just as vague as all of its other former bids for closed, single-registrant generic strings (to the point where I often wonder if they’re basically still just closed generics).

It’s planning to deploy a small number of names to start with, managed by its own intellectually property department. After that, its application all gets a bit hand-wavey.

NCC buys .trust new gTLD from Deutsche Post

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2014, Domain Registries

NCC Group, owner of .secure applicant Artemis, has bought the rights to .trust from Deutsche Post, which has an uncontested bid for the new gTLD but decided it doesn’t want it.

The price tag of the deal was not disclosed.

NCC, which is also one of the two major data escrow providers supporting new gTLD applicants, said in a statement:

Deutsche Post originally obtained the gTLD through ICANN’s new gTLD allocation process during 2013 but has now chosen not to utilise it.

NCC Group will use .trust as the primary vehicle for launching its Artemis internet security service, which aims to create global internet safety through a secure and trusted environment for selected customers.

The Group remains in the contention stage with its application to ICANN for the .secure gTLD. It believes that there will be a benefit in having a number of complementary named gTLDs, all of which offer the same high levels of internet security.

While Artemis has applied for .secure, it’s facing competition from the much richer Amazon.

Its initial hope that Amazon’s bid would be rejected due to the controversy over “closed generics” seems to have been dashed after Amazon was allowed to change its application.

NCC may be characterizing .trust as an “additional” security TLD, but it’s quite possible it will be its “only” one.

Deutsche Post, which as owner of DHL is the world’s largest courier service, has passed Initial Evaluation on .trust but has not yet signed its ICANN contract.

ICANN’s web site still shows Deutsche Post as the applicant for .trust and it’s not clear from NCC’s statement how the transfer would be handled.

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