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Porn blocks could be worth millions to MMX

Minds + Machines could find itself making millions of dollars a year out of non-resolving defensive registrations in its recently acquired portfolio of porn-themed gTLDs.
The company recently announced the launch of AdultBlock and AdultBlock Plus, which will enable trademark owners to prevent anyone else registering their marks, and variants thereof, for up to 10 years.
Running the numbers, and taking into account MMX’s already substantial established client base for such services, AdultBlock could bring in as much as $11 million a year. But it’s almost certainly going to be much less than that.
The company won’t disclose it’s exact pricing for AdultBlock, or its revenue estimates, but it’s possible to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations and come to some ball-park guesses.
MMX has said that it’s pricing the service such that customers should be able to see a 35% saving compared to the cost of registering a single string across all four of its porn TLDs
The company acquired .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex when it bought ICM Registry last year.
The wholesale fee for each of the four is believed to be about $68 a year. From this, we can calculate that the wholesale price of AdultBlock may well be around the $175-a-year mark.
There’s some room for error here, as MMX hasn’t revealed precisely how it came to its 35% number, but I think we can safely say we’re looking at $150 to $200 a year. For the purposes of this envelope, let’s split the difference and assume it’s $175.
It’s quite a high number, a bit like a recurring sunrise fee for a domain that you don’t even get to use.
But how many domains can MMX expect to be blocked?
A low-ball estimate could be modeled on the .porn/.adult/.sex sunrise periods.
.porn launched in 2015 and gathered 2,091 sunrise registrations, according to ICANN records, making it one of the largest new gTLD sunrise periods. The other two TLDs weren’t far behind.
If that’s a good guide for AdultBlock uptake, we’re talking about a piddling $360,000-a-year business.
But MMX has a secret weapon that it inherited from .xxx.
When .xxx launched back in 2011, it kicked off with two sunrise periods. Sunrise A was for trademark owners in the porn business who wanted to use their .xxx names. Sunrise B was for everyone else, who didn’t.
In Sunrise B, brand owners paid $162 (plus their registrar’s markup) to block their domains for a flat period of 10 years.
Customers couldn’t use their domains. They were registered to ICM and used specially designated ICM name servers to resolve to a standard, non-monetized placeholder page stating “This domain has been reserved from registration.”
There are over 80,000 domains using these name servers, but about 15,000 of those represent names of celebrities, cities, and religiously and culturally sensitive terms that ICM culled from Wikipedia and unilaterally reserved to help avoid a tabloid crucifixion if mileycyrus.xxx ever started bouncing children to something pornographic, such as one of her music videos.
(As an aside, I think it’s worth mentioning that the .xxx zone file only has 93,000 names in it. These means about nine out of 10 live .xxx domains are reserved by the registry.)
So we’ve got 65,000 trademarks that are currently blocked in .xxx, and they’re all going to expire in 2021 because ICM only sold blocks for the duration of its original 10-year ICANN contract.
If all 65,000 domains are upgraded to AdultBlock, the service would be worth over $11 million a year, to a company currently reporting annual revenue around $15 million.
But they won’t.
You don’t have to scroll too far down the .xxx zone file (and I didn’t) to discover some absolute garbage, no doubt the result of scaremongering around the 2011 .xxx launch.
I mean, seriously, look at some of this Sunrise B guff:

100percentwholewheatthatkidslovetoeat.xxx, 101waystoleaveagameshow.xxx, 1firstnationalmergersandacquisitions.xxx, 1stchoiceliquorsuperstore.xxx, 2bupushingalltherightbuttons.xxx, 247claimsservicethesupportyouneed30minutesguaranteed.xxx, 3pathpowerdeliverysystembypioneermagneticsinc.xxx

I think we’re going to be looking at a significant junk drop of blocked domains come 2021.
That said, I think MMX may have a psychological advantage here, when it comes to persuading Sunrise B users to “renew”.
Who hasn’t renewed a domain name they strongly suspect they will never use or sell, simply because they couldn’t bear the thought of somebody else owning “their” domain?
An additional consideration for brand owners is that these Sunrise B names are going to show up on drop-lists when they are eventually deleted from the .xxx zone file, perhaps giving inspiration to cybersquatters.
This is a fantastic opportunity for MMX and brand protection registrars to put the hard sell on its Sunrise B customers to “renew” their blocks by upgrading to the new and improved AdultBlock service, which could cost literally 10 times more than what they originally signed up for.
AdultBlock is of course more comprehensive than Sunrise B. It covers three additional TLDs, for starters, and customers can pay a little more for potentially thousands of potential homographs (non-Latin-script domains that look almost identical to the original) to also be blocked.
MMX isn’t waiting until 2021, however. It’s currently offering companies that buy a 10-year-block before the end of 2019 the AdultBlock+ service for the price of the vanilla, no-variants offering.
Existing Sunrise B customers have until the same deadline to purchase the new service without having to have their trademarks re-verified, which carries an additional fee.
For those that miss this early-bird offer, come December 2021, the holders of up 65,000 trademarks are going to face a stark choice: sign up to pay a couple hundred bucks a year, or risk their brands being snapped up by pornsquatters.

Luxembourg tops 100,000 .lu domains

Luxembourgish ccTLD .lu has grown to more than 100,000 domain names for the first time.
ccTLD operator Restena said last week that the domain crossed the threshold June 21. At the end of the month, it had 100,056 domains under management.
While it’s certainly not a lot for a ccTLD, it is when compared to the size of the country it represents.
Luxembourg has a population of under 600,000, so in theory 1 in 6 Luxembourgish people own a .lu domain.
That’s close to the ratio as you’d see in the UK, with its 66 million inhabitants and 12 million .uk domains, though it trails Germany’s 1:5 and the Netherlands’ 1:3.
The per capita numbers are probably not all that useful, however. Restena said that 75% of its domains are in corporate hands.
Many companies are “based” in Luxembourg for tax reasons, which may have some impact on reg numbers.
Restena said that about 3,000 names of the 100,000 are “reserved” and not actively used.
The growth of .lu has not been particularly fast. My records show it has only grown by about 3,000 names over the last year.

Foreigners mostly speak foreign, ccTLD study finds

English may be the lingua franca of the internet, but most foreigners still stubbornly stick to their own tongues, a study has found.
The research, carried out by Oxford Information Labs for CENTR, covered 10 ccTLDs and geo-gTLDs and found that “on average, 76% of web content associated with each TLD reflects the languages spoken in the relevant country or territory.”
English was used in 19% of cases, with other languages coming in at 4%.
The Latin-script ccTLDs in question were .ch (Switzerland), .nl (Netherlands), .pt (Portugal), .ru (Russia), .se (Sweden) and .sk (Slovakia).
Also surveyed was the Cyrillic-script Russian ccTLD .рф and .nu, which is designated to English-speaking Niue but marketed primarily in Swedish-speaking Sweden (it also helpfully makes its zone files available for this kind of research).
The research also covered .cat, a gTLD specifically targeted at the Catalonia region of Spain.
In total, 16.4 million domains, culled from zone files, were looked at. The results were supplemented by research carried out in .nl by local registry SIDN.
Oxford Information Labs said that it was hired “to test the hypothesis that ccTLDs support local languages”
In each TLD, the minimum amount of content in the TLD-appropriate language (after parked pages and spam had been weeded out) was 64% of domains. That appears to be the score for .sk, the Slovakian TLD run by a British registry.
The highest concentration of local language occurred, as you might expect, in the IDN .рф.
Surprisingly, .cat, which I believe is the only TLD in the survey to contractually require “substantial” local-language content in its registrants’ web sites, appears to be about 30% non-Catalan.
The average across all the surveyed TLD was 76% local-language content. The researchers concluded:

This study’s findings indicate that country and regional TLDs boost the presence of local languages online and show lower levels of English language than is found in the domain name sector worldwide.

It is estimated that 54% of all web content is in English.

.icu joins the million-domains club in one year, but spam triples

Another new gTLD has joined the exclusive list of those to enter seven figures in terms of domains under management.
.icu, managed by ShortDot, topped one million names this week, according to COO Kevin Kopas.
It’s taken about a month for DUM to increase from 900,000 names, and if zone files are any guide half of that growth seems to have happened in the last week.
.icu domains currently sell for between $1 and $2 for the first year at the cheap end of the market, where most regs are concentrated, with renewals closer to the $10 mark.
The gTLD joins the likes of .club, .xyz, .site and .online to cross the seven-figure threshold.
When we reported on the 900,000-reg mark at the end of May, we noted that .icu had a SpamHaus “badness” rating of 6.4%, meaning that 6.4% of all the emails coming from .icu addresses that SpamHaus saw were classified as spam.
That score was roughly the same as .com, so therefore pretty respectable.
But in the meantime, .icu’s badness score has almost tripled, to 17.4%, while .com’s has stayed about the same.
Picking through the Google search results and Alexa list for .icu domains, it appears that high-quality legit web sites are few and far between.
Whether that’s a fixable symptom of .icu’s rapid growth — it’s only about 13 months post-launch — or a predictor of poor long-term potential remains to be seen.

Cloudflare “bug” reveals hundreds of secret domain prices

The secret wholesale prices for hundreds of TLDs have been leaked, due to an alleged “bug” at a registrar.
The registry fees for some 259 TLDs, including those managed by Donuts, Verisign and Afilias, are currently publicly available online, after a programmer used what they called a “bug” in Cloudflare’s API to scrape together price lists without actually buying anything.
Cloudflare famously busted into the domain registrar market last September by announcing that it would sell domains at cost, thumbing its nose at other registrars by suggesting that all they’re doing is “pinging an API”.
But because most TLD registries have confidentiality clauses in their Registry-Registrar Agreements, accredited registrars are not actually allowed to reveal the wholesale prices.
That’s kind of a problem if you’re a registrar that has announced that you will never charge a markup, ever.
Cloudflare has tried to get around this by not listing its prices publicly.
Currently, it does not sell new registrations, instead only accepting inbound transfers from other registrars. Registry transaction reports reveal that it has had tens of thousands of names transferred in, but has not created a significant number of new domains.
(As an aside, it’s difficult to see how it could ever sell a new reg without first revealing its price and therefore breaking its NDAs.).
It appears that the only way to manually ascertain the wholesale prices of all of the TLDs it supports would be to buy one of each at a different registrar, then transfer them to Cloudflare, thereby revealing the “at cost” price.
This would cost over $9,500, at Cloudflare’s prices, and it’s difficult to see what the ROI would be.
However, one enterprising individual discovered via the Cloudflare API that the registrar was not actually checking whether they owned a domain before revealing its price.
They were therefore able to compile a list of Cloudflare’s prices and therefore the wholesale prices registries charge.
The list, and the script used to compile it, are both currently available on code repository Github.
The bulk of the list comprises Donuts’ vast portfolio, but most TLDs belonging to Afilias (including the ccTLD .io), XYZ.com and Radix are also on there.
It’s not possible for me to verify that all of the prices are correct, but the ones that are comparable to already public information (such as .com and .net) match, and the rest are all in the ballpark of what I’ve always assumed or have been privately told they were.
The data was last refreshed in April, so without updates its shelf life is likely limited. Donuts, for example, is introducing price increases across most of its portfolio this year.

Afilias buys the other half of .global

Afilias has acquired one of its new gTLD back-end customers, Dot Global Domain Registry Limited, the registry for .global.
It immediately makes .global Afilias’ best-performing 2012-round new gTLD.
The price of the deal, between two private companies, was undisclosed.
As DI reported last November, Afilias already owned 45% of the company, which had 2017 revenue of $1.9 million and a $320,000 loss.
.global is a relatively good new gTLD business, as new gTLDs go.
We’re looking at a business with probably still low-seven-digit annual revenue, with annual adds and renewals trending upwards.
It had over 48,000 domain under management at the last count, with about about 22,500 annual renews.
The names renew at $100 at GoDaddy, which with 30% of .global regs is the largest .global registrar.
NameCheap, the second-largest registrar (with 11%), renews at about $65.
Anecdotally, it’s a new gTLD that I regularly come across in the wild, which is still relatively noteworthy. It’s often used by multinational companies for global gateway sites.
Afilias said that because .global already runs on its back-end, there won’t be any burdensome migration work for registrars, just some “paperwork will need to be updated”.
In terms of domains under management, .global immediately becomes Afilias’ highest-volume new gTLD (excluding pre-2012 .info, .pro and .mobi).
Its biggest 2012-round TLD, from the about 20 it owns, was .red, with around 34,000 DUM.

Time for some more ICANN salary porn

Kevin Murphy, June 3, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has filed its tax return for its fiscal 2018, so it’s once again that time of the year in which the community gets to salivate over how much its top staffers get paid.
The latest form 990, covering the 12 months to June 30, 2018, shows that the top 21 ICANN employees were compensated to the tune of $10.3 million, an average of $492,718 each.
That’s up about 4% from $9.9 million in the previous year, an average across the top 21 staffers of $474,396 apiece.
These numbers include base salary, bonuses, and benefits such as pension contributions.
Employee compensation overall increased from $60 million to $73.1 million.
The biggest earner was of course CEO Göran Marby, who is now earning more than his immediate predecessor Fadi Chehadé but a bit less than last-but-one boss Rod Beckstrom.
Marby’s total compensation was $936,585, having received a bonus of almost $200,000 during the year. His base salary was $673,133.
The number of staffers receiving six-figure salaries increased from 159 in fiscal 2017 to 183 — about 44% of its estimated end-of-year headcount.
Towards the end of the reported year, as ICANN faced a budget crunch, many members of the ICANN community had called on the organization to rein in its spending on staff.
ICANN says it targets compensation in the 50th to 75th percentile range for the relevant industry.
The top five outside contractors in the year were:

  • Jones Day, ICANN’s go-to law firm. It received $5.4 million, down from $8.7 million in 2017.
  • Zensar Technologies, the IT consultancy that develops and supports ICANN software. It received $3.7 million.
  • IIS, the Swedish ccTLD registry, which does pre-delegation testing for new gTLDs. It received $1.3 million.
  • Iron Mountain, the data escrow provider. It received $1.1 million.
  • Infovity, which provides Oracle software support. It received $1 million.

The return shows that ICANN made a loss of $23.9 million in the year, on revenue that was down from $302.6 million to $136.7 million.
The primary reason for this massive decrease in revenue was the $135 million Verisign paid for the rights to run .web, at an ICANN last-resort auction, in ICANN’s fiscal 2017.
The tax form for 2018 can be found here (pdf) and 2017’s can be found here (pdf).

GRS has lost three million domains since Famous Four died

The old Famous Four Media gTLD portfolio has shrunk by roughly 60% since old management were kicked out.
At the same time, the new registry is selling less than one percent of the domains it used to add each month.
The 16 TLDs, now managed by GRS Domains, have a total of approximately 2 million domains in their zone files today, compared to about 5 million at the end of August 2018.
Last August was when GRS, which seems to have taken over the portfolio about a year ago, announced that it was introducing “much more transparent and sensible pricing strategy” of $9.98 per domain per year across the board.
Its 16 TLDs include the likes of .loan, .win and .bid. Many had been offered in the sub-$1 range, largely via former affiliate AlpNames, attracting huge volumes of registrations but low renewals and a lot of spammers.
I compared the zone file counts at the end of August 2018 to yesterday’s numbers, rounding to the nearest thousand, and came up with this:
[table “55” not found /]

Don’t think for a second that the correction is over. The story of the old FFM portfolio’s decline will roll for many more months. Each TLD is still seeing monthly deletes in the thousands.
The number of new regs across the portfolio every month has dropped off a cliff — a big cliff with jagged rocks and sharks circling at the bottom — since the August price changes.
Whereas in January 2018 the 16 gTLDs saw a combined total of over 400,000 adds, by January 2019 this had dropped to fewer than 1,700, a 99.59% decline.
[table “56” not found /]

In each case, the drop-off in adds started in August last year. Each TLD went almost immediately from thousands of new regs per month, to under 100.
I compared Januaries because January 2019 is the date of the most-recent registry transaction data. January 2018 was not an atypically strong month for sales for any of the TLDs; for many, it was on the slow side.
Famous Four was replaced by GRS about a year ago after investors in Domain Venture Partners, the ultimate owner of the portfolio, fell out with FFM management.
The registrar AlpNames, which was responsible for a huge share of FFM’s sales and was managed by the same people, has also since gone out of business.

CENTR: domain growth now slowest EVER

The number of registered domain names in the world is growing at its slowest rate ever, according to CENTR.
Its latest CENTRstats Global TLD Report, covering the first quarter of 2019, shows median domain growth of 3.4% year-over-year, a “record low”.
That stat peaked at 29.8% in the third quarter of 2015, according to the report. That was when the first significant wave of new gTLDs were hitting the market.
The 3.4% figure is the median growth rate across the top 500 TLDs CENTR tracks.
The group tracks 1,486 TLDs in total, a little under the 1,531 currently in the root, ignoring TLDs that are too small or have unreliable data.
The report says that growth rates are similar across ccTLDs and gTLDs, though gTLDs seem to be faring slightly better.
The median growth rate of the top 300 gTLDs was 4.1%.
For ccTLDs, the percentage growth varied between regions, from 1.4% in the Americas to 6.3% in the still much smaller African markets.
CENTR estimates that there were 351 million registered domains at the end of the quarter.

Brand-blocking service plotted for porn gTLDs

MMX wants to offer a new service for trademark owners worried about cybersquatting in its four porn-themed gTLDs.
The proposed Adult Block Services would be similar to Donuts’ groundbreaking Domain Protected Marks List and the recent Trademark Sentry offering from .CLUB Domains.
The service would enable big brands to block their marks from registration across all four TLDs for less than the price of individual defensive registrations.
Prices have not been disclosed, but a more-expensive “Plus” version would also allow the blocking of variants such as typos. The registry told ICANN:

The Adult Block Services will be offered as a chance for trademark owners to quickly and easily make labels unavailable for registration in our TLDs. For those trademark owners registering domain names as a defensive measure only, the Adult Block Services offer an easy, definitive, and cost-effective method for achieving their goals by offering at-a-stroke protection for TLDs included in the program. The Adult Block Services are similar to the Donuts’ DPML, Uniregistry’s EP and EP Plus and the .Club UNBS and should be immediately understood and accepted by the trademark community.
The Adult Block will allow trademark owners to block unregistered labels in our TLDs that directly match their trademarks. The Adult Block Plus will allow trademark owners to block unregistered, confusingly similar variations of their trademarks in our TLDs.

It seems more akin to DPML, and Uniregistry’s recently launched clone, than to .CLUB’s forthcoming single-TLD offering.
The Registry Service Evaluation Process request was filed by ICM Registry, which was acquired by MMX last year.
It only covers the four porn gTLDs that ICM originally ran, and not any of the other 22 gTLDs managed by MMX (aka Minds + Machines).
This will certainly make the service appear less attractive to the IP community than something like DPML, which covers Donuts stable of 242 TLDs.
While there’s no public data about how successful blocking services have been, anecdotally I’m told they’re quite popular.
What we do have data on is how popular the ICM gTLDs have been in sunrise periods, where trademark owners showed up in higher-than-usual numbers to defensively register their marks.
.porn, .adult and .sex garnered about 2,000 sunrise regs each, more than 20 times the average for a new gTLD, making them three of the top four most-subscribed sunrise periods.
Almost one in five of the currently registered domains in each of these TLDs is likely to be a sunrise defensive.
Now that sunrise is long gone, there may be an appetite in the trademark community for less-expensive blocks.
But there have been calls for the industry to unify and offer blocking services to cover all gTLDs.
The brand-protection registrar Com Laude recently wrote:

What brands really need is for registry operators to come together and offer a universal, truly global block that applies across all the open registries and at a reasonable price that a trademark owner with multiple brands can afford.

Quite how that would happen across over 1,200 gTLDs is a bit of a mystery, unless ICANN forced such a service upon them.