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MMX’s year marked by terrible renewals

MMX saw its revenue dip in 2020, and it reported shocking renewal rates at two of its highest-volume gTLDs, according to the company’s annual financial results, published this morning.

The portfolio registry, which is in the process of selling off essentially its entire operating business to GoDaddy, reported revenue of $16.8 million for the year, down from $17.2 million in 2019.

Profit was up very slighty, to $2.9 million from $2.8 million.

The 2019 results included a few one-off gains, including $588,000 from losing a new gTLD auction, which accounted for most of the 2020 revenue decline.

But the company also reported a 19% decline in domains under management, from 2.46 million to 1.99 million, based on some terrible renewal rates in its .vip and .work gTLDs.

The DUM decline can be attributed mostly to .vip, a popular TLD among Chinese speculators, which started 2020 with around 1.4 million domains but finished the year with just over a million.

.work actually ended the year up on where it started, with around 709,000 names under management.

But MMX today disclosed that the renewal rates for .vip and .work were 36% and 18% respectively. In a business where 70%+ is considered healthy, these are some poor numbers indeed.

However, the company discontinued first-year promotions on these TLDs in 2020, focusing instead on selling domains likely to lead to recurring renewal revenue, which lead to 14% (.vip) and 19% (.work) increases in revenue.

Fewer domains. More money.

MMX said that it is seeing these trends continuing into 2021. Public transaction reports show both these TLDs losing 40-50,0000 names in January. The company expects revenue to fall 4% in the first quarter compared to Q1 2020.

One bright spot appears to be “The Great Relese”, the company’s move last month to mark down hundreds of thousands of premium-priced domains. That’s brought in $170,000 since its April 23 launch.

One basket where the company is placing a lot of its eggs is AdultBlock, the trademark protection service it inherited when it acquired ICM Registry a few years back. It enables customers to block their brands in .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex without actually having to register the names.

The 10-year period ICM allowed brands to block when it launched in 2011 is coming to an end, so MMX is banking on renewals (which retail at $349 to $799 per year before multi-year discounts) to boost revenue.

“While it is early in the AdultBlock Sunrise B renewal period, we are encouraged by Registrar interest and some early sales of this product,” CEO Tony Farrow said in a statement.

This reliance on AdultBlock for short-term organic growth was one of the reasons MMX is selling up to GoDaddy.

The market-leading registrar and fast-emerging registry consolidator agreed to pay $120 million for MMX’s portfolio, which will leave MMX as a shell company only long enough to distribute the cash to investors before fading away quietly.

That deal has an August deadline to close and is dependent on approvals from business partners, ICANN and the Chinese government.

Earnings reports: GoDaddy, Tucows and NameSilo report growth

Three of the industry’s largest registrars announced revenue growth in their latest reporting periods in recent days.

GoDaddy

Market-leading GoDaddy reported a whopping 18.8% year-over-year revenue growth from domains in its first quarter, with $422.7 million.

CEO Aman Bhutani told analysts that much of this growth is being driven by the company’s emerging strategy of acting as a secondary-market intermediary, making it easier for domainers to sell their domains quickly to end-users (what it calls “independent customers”) and vice-versa.

“Independent customers added over 200,000 domain names that had otherwise been passive into the aftermarket, spurring activity for domain investors,” Bhutani said.

It currently has over 20 million domains listed on its aftermarket platform, contributing 10% of total revenue, the first time it’s broken into double-digits, analysts were told.

Domains was the best-performing segment in growth terms by some margin.

Including its other segments, GoDaddy’s overall Q1 revenue was up 13.8% year over year, at $901.1 million. It had a net income of $10.8 million, compared to $43.2 million a year earlier.

Tucows

Tucows reported domain services revenue up 4%, from $59.5 million in Q1 2020 to $61.2 million, with adjusted EBIDTA of $13.8 million versus $11.5 million a year ago.

CEO Elliot Noss said in a statement that new domain registration growth was slowing following the “pandemic surge” it experienced in 2020, when lockdown-hit businesses flew online to keep afloat.

Including its non-domain segments, Tucows reported Q1 revenue of $70.9 million. That was down from $84 million a year earlier largely as a result of the sale of its Ting Mobile business to Dish Network.

Net income for the quarter was $2.1 million, down 24% compared to the year-ago period.

NameSilo

Fast-growing registrar NameSilo reported revenue for its full-year 2020 of $31 million, up 14.3% on 2019. That was primarily driven by domains growth and its newish add-on services, it said, but it does not break down its revenue by segment.

It had net income of $6.5 million in fiscal 2020, compared to a net loss of $4 million in 2019.

It added 235,347 net domains in gTLDs in 2020, according to reports filed with ICANN, ending 2020 with 3,663,090 names under management. NameSilo said that number is now around 3.9 million.

Verisign expects huge domain growth in 2021

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign tonight significantly upgraded its estimate of how many .com and .net domains it expects to sell this year, citing an improving economy and increased growth in online commerce.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts that it’s now expecting its domain base to increase by 4% to 5.5% this year. Three months ago, it had cautiously predicted growth would be between 2.5% and 4.5%.

That’s a minimum of 6.6 million net new domains this year.

The upgrade was inspired by its first-quarter performance, in which .com and .net base grew by 4.6% when compared to Q1 2020, to 168 million names.

That was an increase of 2.8 million names during the quarter, which compares to 1.83 million net new domains in Q1 2020 and 1.46 million in Q4 2020. A pretty damn good showing, in other words.

For Q1, Verisign tonight reported net income of $150 million, down from $334 million in Q1 last year, when it experienced a one-off tax benefit.

Revenue was up 3.6% on last year at $324 million.

Lockdown bump sees GoDaddy double customer gains in 2020

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2021, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy almost doubled its rate of customer acquisition in 2020, compared to 2019, as pandemic-related lockdown measures pushed more small businesses online.

The company last week reported that it added 1.4 million customers last year, a 7% year-on-year growth but almost double the number it added the previous year.

It ended the year with 20.6 million customers, up from 19.3 million 12 months prior.

Recognizing that coronavirus restrictions in various parts of the world were increasing demand for domains, hosting and related services, the market-leading registrar upped its marketing spend to make sure it captured as many customers as possible.

It spent $438.5 million on marketing last year, up from $345.6 million in 2019.

Its full-year revenue from domains grew from $1.35 billion to $1,51 billion. Including its other segments, company revenue was up to $3.31 billion from $2.98 billion, an 11% increase.

Domains revenue for the fourth quarter was $402.2 million, up 14.2% on Q4 2019. Total revenue for the quarter was $873.9 million, up 12.0%.

Verisign upgrades its cash-printing machine but warns post-pandemic “could go either way”

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign has named the date for its long-anticipated .com prices increases, as it reported another healthy quarter and year of growth.

The company announced that the annual wholesale fee for a .com domain is going up from $7.85 to $8.39, effective September 1. That’s in line with the 7% annual cap reinstated by the Trump administration and rubber-stamped by ICANN.

It’s the first .com price increase since 2012, when reg fee was frozen by the Obama administration’s Department of Commerce under its longstanding contract with the company.

The $0.54 price increase would mean an extra $82.5 million for Verisign’s top line, assuming the .com base remains static at today’s level of 152,883,064 domains. The reality is very probably that registrations will continue to grow, however.

Verisign is allowed to increase prices by 7% three more times under its current ICANN contract. It was allowed to take the Trump bump last year but deferred due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Registrants are able to lock-in their current renewal rates for up to 10 years before the price rise kicks in, assuming registrar fees don’t increase in the meantime.

.com is of course a fabulously successful business, and it received a pandemic-related boost last year, due to a increase in small businesses moving online due to lockdown rules, which was reflected in Verisign’s fourth-quarter and full-year results.

Verisign reported fourth-quarter net income up from $148 million to $157 million, on revenue that was up 3.1% to $320 million.

For the full year, net income was up from $612 million million to $815 million, on revenue that was up 2.7% at $1.23 billion.

Operating margin is always an metric where Verisign shines — I often get phone calls from analysts baffled as to why ICANN allows such blatant profit-taking — but it was down a tad to 65.2%, from 65.5% in 2019.

That’s probably not enough to dislodge its crown as the company with the highest operating margin of the S&P 500.

Speaking to analysts and investors last week, Verisign said it’s projecting 2021 operating margin down again, to be between 64% and 65%, because of increased investment in its infrastructure and the $4 million annual bung it’s agreed to pay ICANN.

While Verisign is only going to see one quarter of higher prices this year, it seems the majority of its increased revenue will trickle down to the bottom line.

The company expects its domain growth to be between 2.5% and 4.5% in 2021. Execs noted continuing pandemic-related uncertainty. CFO George Kilguss said:

when the pandemic subsides and things start opening it up, I think it could probably go either way either it could accelerate or it could slow a little bit. We’re just not sure how the market would react just as we were somewhat uncertain when this whole pandemic started

In other words, while coronavirus proved an unexpected boon, post-pandemic economic recovery may not necessarily be a good thing for the industry.

MMX vows to refocus under new boss after crappy 2020

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2021, Domain Registries

MMX says it plans to refocus its business on higher-margin products after a 2020 marred by plummeting registrations, product delays and financial irregularities that led to senior management being oustered.

The new gTLD registry also revealed that it laid off 20% of its staff in a “right-sizing” exercise last year. Due to its modest size, this means about four or five people lost their jobs.

The company said today that acting CEO Tony Farrow has been confirmed for the job full-time, and that he will join the board of directors after regulatory checks.

Farrow took over last October, when CEO Toby Hall and CFO Michael Salazar were both ejected after admitting to over-stating MMX’s revenue and profit in 2019.

Now, Farrow says MMX will spend 2021 focusing on “quality” regs — those with a higher chance of renewing or with higher-margin reg fees — and on its AdultBlock services, which block trademarks and typos across its four porn-themed gTLDs.

Overall domains under management declined 19% in 2020, which appears to be almost entirely down to .vip, a cheap gTLD that initially performed strongly with Chinese speculators, losing about half a million names.

AdultBlock, which covers the old ICM Registry portfolio, launched at the end of 2019 with a high price tag and a couple bulk sales, but stalled during 2020. MMX blames this for a 3% decline in overall billings last year.

The company also hinted that it may try to offload some of its crappier gTLDs, saying:

The new executive team is also reviewing the contribution received from each of its TLDs and the growth prospects for each from new sales initiatives to ensure the carrying values associated with each TLD is appropriate going forward.

Farrow said in a news release:

Our FY 2021 plan will focus on AdultBlock sales, extensive release of inventory to the market, quality registrations with the view of future renewal revenue and standardized promotions for our channel partners. It is a straightforward business where focus must remain on the quality of our domain registrations and promotions with our channel partners. We lost some of the momentum after the initial launch of AdultBlock in FY 2019. However, FY 2021 was always the target year for the full rollout of this new product, and I am encouraged by the dialogue with our channel partners to really move AdultBlock in FY 2021.

AdultBlock, which sets trademark-match domains aside as non-resolving reserved names, launched with a price tag of between $349 and $799 per trademark per year.

MMX separately announced today that it is paying ICM Registry’s investors, primarily founder Stuart Lawley, over alleged (and denied) breaches of unspecified warranties made at the time of the acquisition in May 2018.

Farrow was COO of ICM from the 2011 launch of .xxx until the MMX acquisition.

.org made $97 million last year

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2020, Domain Registries

Public Interest Registry has published its 2019 tax returns, revealing a top line of $97.1 million.

That’s a tad under the $101.1 million it reported for 2018, presumably due to the declining number of .org domains under management.

It lost roughly 200,000 names in 2019, bottoming out at 10.4 million, though it has since recovered in 2020.

The returns also reveal that back-end provider Afilias was paid $18.3 million for its trouble, and ICANN was paid $2.6 million in fees.

The Internet Society, which owns PIR and uses it for most of its funding, was paid $67.5 million, up from the $48.7 million given in 2018.

The form also list the salary and bonuses for 20-odd staffers and directors, for the salary voyeurs among you.

NameSilo in profit as sales rise 11%

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2020, Domain Registrars

Canadian registrar NameSilo today reported a profit for the third quarter, as bookings increased 11% sequentially over the three months to September 30.

One of the fastest-growing registrars, the company said that as of today it has 3.54 million domains under management, up from the 3.45 million it reported at the start of September.

NameSilo said its revenue for the quarter was $8.07 million, up 2.8% on Q3 2019. Its net income was $2,72 million, compared to a net loss of $753,093 a year earlier.

Much of the net income was attributable to income on investments, the firm said.

Bookings, which represents the number of domains sold but not yet recognized as revenue for accounting purposes, was up 11% compared to Q2 at $8.4 million.

CentralNic more than doubles revenue as parking business thrives

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2020, Domain Registrars

CentralNic today reported revenue growth of 118% for the nine months to September 30, largely on the back of its recently acquired domain monetization business.

The company said it made a net loss after tax of $6.2 million, compared to $6 million, on revenue of $168.5 million.

Still casting itself as the domain industry’s consolidator, most of the growth came due to acquisitions made over the last couple of years, so CentralNic has also published pro forma results to give a better sense of organic growth.

On that basis, revenue was up a still-decent 17%.

The acquisition of Team Internet, which offers the ParkingCrew and Tonic monetization services, for $48 million just over a year ago was the biggest booster of growth.

Pro forma, CentralNic’s monetization segment was up 39% to $72.9 million in revenue, mostly due to a whopping 36% increase in RPMs.

Ninety-two percent of its monetization revenue comes from a single customer.

CentralNic’s indirect segment, which unhelpfully bundles together its registrar reseller channel with its registry service provider operation and .sk registry operator business, was up 51% to $63.5 million and up 8% to $65.2 million pro forma.

The company said the growth was mostly due to the acquisitions of TPP Wholesale and Hexonet Group last year.

The direct segment, which comprises its retail registrars as well as software and consultancy, dipped by 9% to $32.1 million, or 2% to $31.8 million pro forma.

GoDaddy sees 12% growth in domains revenue

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2020, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy delivered another quarter of impressive growth in the third quarter, showing again the resilience of the domain name market to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company reported total revenue up 11% on the same period last year at $844.4 million, with net income sliding from $76.8 million to $65.1 million.

GoDaddy spent more on marketing during the quarter, saying that as demand for its services increases it needs to make sure it captures as many customers as possible.

Revenue from domains slightly outperformed overall growth, coming in at $387.4 million, up 12.2% year over year.

The domains segment was also a bit more profitable because GoDaddy no longer has to pay Neustar for domains in TLDs managed by what is now GoDaddy Registry.

The business applications segment, which includes email and third-party apps such as shopping carts, was the standout growth segment, coming in at $154.6 million, up 18.7%.

GoDaddy expects to see a similar pattern in Q4, with domains growth coming in at low double figures and business apps growth coming in at high double figures.

Both Q3 growth and Q4 outlook were better than analysts expected, and GoDaddy stock was rewarded accordingly.

The company also announced the departure of COO Andrew Low Ah Kee after 10 years with the company. His position will not be immediately refilled, and he is said to be taking a presidential role at a company outside of the domain industry.