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Universal unacceptance? ICANN lets XYZ dump languages from UNR gTLDs

Even as CEO Göran Marby was accepting an ambassadorship from the Universal Acceptance Steering Group last month, ICANN was quietly approving a registry’s plan to drop support for several languages, potentially putting dozens of domains at risk.

It seems portfolio registry XYZ.com was having problems migrating the 10 gTLDs it recently acquired in UNR’s firesale auction from the UNR back-end to long-time partner CentralNic, so it’s cutting off some language support to ease the transition.

The company told ICANN in a recent Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf) that internationalized domain names in Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese and German were “causing issues with the [Registry System Testing] for the technical transition”.

“So, in order to move forward with the migration to CentralNic, we have no choice but to remove support for these IDNs. This will only impact fewer than 50 registrations in these TLDs,” the company told ICANN.

I asked both XYZ and CentralNic whether this means the IDN domains in question would be deleted but got no response from either.

Support for the four languages will be removed in .christmas, .guitars, .pics, .audio, .diet, .flowers, .game, .hosting, .lol, .mom according to contractual amendments that ICANN has subsequently approved.

The RSEP was published the same week ICANN signed a memorandum of understanding with .eu registry EURid, promising to collaborate on IDNs and universal acceptance.

The same week, Marby, who has stated publicly on several occasions his commitment to IDNs and UA, was named an honorary ambassador of the UASG to “help amplify the importance of UA work to enable a multilingual Internet”.

Domain sales down even as revenue booms at CentralNic

CentralNic has posted stunning growth for the first quarter, even as it sold fewer domain names.

The company said this morning that revenue increased by 86% to $156.6 million in the three months to March 31, helped along by a few acquisitions in the monetization segment. Organic growth for the 12 months was roughly 53%.

Profit was $4 million versus a $1.4 million loss. Adjusted EBITDA was up 83% to $18.5 million, the company said.

CentralNic said it processed 3.1 million domain registrations in the quarter, down from 3.4 million a year earlier, but said this was because it moved away from selling domains cheaply in bulk.

This meant average annual revenue per domain was up 11% to $9.50, it said.

The online presence segment, which includes domains, was up 2% to $39.7 million.

But the online marketing segment, which includes domain monetization, was up 158% to $116.9 million, again helped by acquisitions.

CentralNic also disclosed that the price it agreed to pay for the .ruhr gTLD, a German geographic, back in January was €300,000, split into two payments of €150,000.

CentralNic sees 51% growth in Q1

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2022, Domain Registries

CentralNic says it expects to report first-quarter growth of 51% and that its 2022 performance is likely to exceed expectations.

The company, which acts as registry and registrar but now makes most of its money from domain monetization, said it expects Q1 revenue to come in at about $156 million, with and adjusted EBITDA of about 18 million.

The gains are largely driven by its online marketing segment, CentralNic said in a statement to the markets this morning.

The company said in January that its 2021 annual revenue growth was 37%.

GoDaddy and XYZ sign away rights after UNR’s crypto gambit

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2022, Domain Registries

ICANN has started asking registries to formally sign away ownership rights to their gTLDs when they acquire them from other registries.

GoDaddy and XYZ.com both had to agree that they don’t “own” their newly acquired strings before ICANN would agree to transfer them from portfolio UNR, which auctioned off its 23 gTLD contracts a year ago.

GoDaddy bought .photo and .blackfriday for undisclosed sums in the auction, it emerged last week. XYZ bought 10 others and newcomer Dot Hip Hop bought .hiphop.

All three transfers were signed off March 10 (though GoDaddy’s were inexplicably not published by ICANN until last Thursday, when much of Christendom was winding down for a long weekend) and all three contain this new language:

The Parties hereby acknowledge that, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any marketing or auction materials, documentation or communications issued by Assignor or any other agreements between the Parties or otherwise, nothing in the Registry Agreement(s) or in any other agreements between Assignor and Assignee have established or granted to Assignor any property or ownership rights or interest in or to the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’ strings and that Assignee is not being granted any property or ownership rights or interest in or to the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’ strings.

The Parties represent that they understand the scope of ICANN’s Consent, which: (A) does not grant Assignee any actual or purported property or ownership rights or interest in or two the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’s strings; (B) is solely binding and applicable to the assignment of rights and obligations pursuant to the Registry Agreement(s); (C) solely relates to the operation of the TLDs in the Domain Name System as specified in the applicable Registry Agreement(s); and (D) does not convey any rights to the letters, words or symbols making up the TLD string for use outside the Domain Name System.

The TL;DR of this? Registries don’t “own” their gTLDs, ICANN just allows them to use the strings.

The new language is in there because UNR’s auction had offered, as a bonus, ownership of matching non-fungible token “domains” on the blockchain-based alt-root Ethereum Name Service.

Alt-roots arguably present an existential threat to ICANN and a risk to the interoperability of the internet, so ICANN delayed authorization of its approvals for many months while it tried to figure out the legalities.

Dot Hip Hop, for one, has said it couldn’t care less about the Ethereum NFT, and has had it deleted.

Separately, the .ruhr contract has been transferred from regiodot to fellow German geo-TLD operator DotSaarland, a subsidiary of London-based CentralNic, which announced the acquisition in February.

This assignment agreement was signed March 31 — after GoDaddy’s and XYZ’s — and does not include the new ownership waiver language, suggesting that it’s unique to UNR’s auction winners.

However, the friction between blockchain alt-roots is likely to be an issue when the next new gTLD application round opens.

It’s being said that a great many “TLDs” are being registered on various blockchains specifically in order to interfere with matching ICANN applications, and that blockchain fans are attempting to delay the next round to give their own projects more time to take root.

GoDaddy’s two acquisitions bring the total known outcomes of UNR’s auctions to 13 out of 23 gTLDs. At least four more are being processed by ICANN, according to a now month-old statement.

CentralNic grows revenue 70% in 2021

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2022, Domain Registries

CentralNic saw its revenue grow by about 70% last year, a bit more than half of which was organic growth, the company said this morning.

The acquisitive company expects to report revenue of about $410 million and adjusted EBITDA of about $45 million when it reports its final numbers on February 28.

That represents year-on-year organic revenue growth of 37% and a 47% growth in EBITDA, the company said.

Acquisitions closed during the year include Safebrands, Wando and NameAction. Most of its recent growth has come from its newish domain monetization business.

CentralNic makes another registrar acquisition

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2021, Domain Registrars

CentralNic said today it has bought another registrar, Chile-based NameAction, in a $1 million deal.

NameAction has been around since the late 1990s and specializes in ccTLDs in the Latin American region, including offering local presence services for foreign registrants.

It sells gTLD domains too, acting primarily in the brand protection space, but does not appear to be ICANN-accredited in its own right.

CentralNic said the deal will immediately add $2 million to its top line and $200,000 to profits.

CEO Ben Crawford said in a press release that the deal is small but of strategic importance, giving the company a beachhead from which to expand into Latin America.

It’s the fourth acquisition announcement from CentralNic, which describes itself as an industry consolidator, this year.

CentralNic takes over a dead dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2021, Domain Registries

CentralNic has become the latest company to pounce on a dot-brand gTLD that was on its way to the dustbin of history.

The ICANN contract for .case was transferred to a London company called Helium TLDs, a CentralNic subsidiary, last week.

That company was previously called FANS TLD, and was the vehicle CentralNic used to acquire .fans from Asiamix Digital in 2018 before later passing it on to Hong Kong-based ZDNS International.

I believe something similar is happening here.

.case was a dot-brand owned, but never used, by CNH Industrial, which Wikipedia tells me is an American-Dutch-British-Italian company that makes about $28 billion a year making and selling agricultural and construction machinery. Diggers and forklifts and such.

CNH also managed .caseih, .newholland, and .iveco for some of its other brands, but these contracts were terminated earlier in the year.

The company had also asked ICANN to cancel its .case agreement, but that seems to have attracted acquisitive registry operators, and the termination request was withdrawn as I noted in September.

While terminating a dot-brand can often be seen as a lack of confidence in the dot-brand concept, selling off the gTLD to a third party rules out reapplying for the same string in future and can be seen as an even deeper disdain.

Now, .case is in CentralNic’s hands. I believe it’s the first dot-brand the company has taken over.

Rival registries including Donuts, XYZ and ShortDot have also swept up unwanted dot-brand gTLDs, stripped them of their restrictions, and repurposed them as general-purpose or niche spaces.

Bahrain to relaunch ccTLD globally

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2021, Domain Registries

The government of Bahrain has announced that it is relaunching its .bh and البحرين. ccTLDs with a simplified, automated, standardized registration process.

The domains will be available globally, the local Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said: “The new process of registration is fast, simple, and secure cutting the time of registration from days to minutes.”

Names will be “available for local and international customers”, the TRA said.

It looks like Bahrain has switched its back-end to CentralNic, and will be operating a standard EPP system.

While launch dates, registration rules and participating registrars were not announced, the TRA did indicate that the launch would begin with a sunrise period for trademark owners some time in the fourth quarter.

Bahrain is small but wealthy island state in the Persian Gulf with about 1.5 million inhabitants. The number of current registrations in .bh is not known.

CentralNic says it’s making more money than expected

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2021, Domain Registries

Domain all-rounder CentralNic this morning told the markets it thinks it will hit or beat expectations this year.

CEO Ben Crawford said in a statement this morning that at the end of 2021 the company expects to be “at or above” analyst estimates of $348.6 million to $355.3 million at the top line and profit of $41.1 million to $42.0 million.

For the nine month ended September 30, CentralNic expects revenue to come in at $280 million or above, with adjusted EBIDTDA of at least $32 million, up 66% and 45% respective on the same 2020 period.

That represents organic growth, normalizing the impact of acquisitions, or 29%, the company said.

While the company did not reveal the drivers behind its growth, in recent quarters the best performer has been its domain monetization business, which provides revenue from parking ads and traffic redirection.

It will report its results November 22.

CentralNic spends $6.5 million on traffic network

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2021, Domain Registries

CentralNic this morning said it has paid $6.5 million to acquire “a publishing network of revenue generating websites”.

The company, which is seeing an increasingly large chunk of its revenue coming from domain monetization, said the network generates $2 million in annual revenue and $1.5 million in earnings.

The seller is White & Case, a 120-year-old international law firm, not exactly the kind of company you’d expect to own a bunch of random monetized domains.

Neither the size of the network nor the means of monetization were disclosed.

CentralNic said the network was already a customer for roughly half of its sites, so the acquisition will add about $1 million to revenue and $1.5 million to earnings, reducing annual cost of revenue by about $500,000.

While the company is best know for selling domain names, following recent acquisitions revenue from its fast-growing “online marketing” segment outpaced its traditional revenue sources, bringing in $96.4 million in the first half compared to $78.3 million in it two domain-related segments.