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GoDaddy formally signs .tv registry contract

GoDaddy has formally taken on the contract to run .tv, the ccTLD for the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, according to the company.

GoDaddy Registry said that the deal was signed with the Tuvalu government at the Dubai Expo 2020 trade show on March 30.

The company won a tender process last December in which incumbent Versigin, which has been running .tv for 20 years, did not participate.

Tuvalu is expected to get a much bigger share of the revenue than it did under Verisign, which paid $5 million a year, but terms have not been disclosed.

GoDaddy senior director of business development George Pongas said in a press release that the parties are “convinced that together we can position the .tv ccTLD for significant worldwide growth and a new era of brand awareness and community engagement”.

GoDaddy is substantially more customer-facing than Verisign, and controls the registration path, so it’s not difficult to see how this could boost .tv’s sales.

The deal comes at an opportune time, as user-created video content is experiencing something of a boom.

GoDaddy among five companies competing for .za contract

Kevin Murphy, February 21, 2022, Domain Registries

Five companies are bidding for the contract to run the back-end for South Africa’s .za domains, which is expected to be awarded shortly.

Local ccTLD overseer ZADNA has named ZA Registry Consortium (ZARC), Lexreg and Fevertree Consulting Consortium, GoDaddy Registry, The Bean App & GMO Internet Group, and Catalytic Peter capital Consortium as respondents to its 2021 RFP.

Of those, only GoDaddy is a lone bidder, and the only one without an obvious South African partner. The rest are consortia, apparently newly created to bid for the contract.

ZARC is a venture of incumbent back-end ZA Central Registry and its affiliated commercial arm Domain Name Services, according to ZACR.

Lexreg and Fevertree Consulting Consortium appears to be made up of local corporate registrar Lexsynergy and a South African consulting firm.

The Bean App is a South African startup registrar. Its partner GMO is the Japanese registry provider behind .shop and a bunch of geographic and dot-brand gTLDs.

I’m sorry to say I have no idea what “Catalytic Peter” is. It has no internet footprint and ZADNA has not revealed any information beyond the name.

ZADNA said it is “currently at the advanced stage of the final checkpoints of the procurement process.”

.za has over 1.3 million domains and over 600 registrars. While ZACR currently runs four additional African geographic gTLDs, .za is by far its biggest deal in terms of registrations.

GoDaddy Registry to raise some TLD prices, lower others

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2022, Domain Registries

GoDaddy Registry is to raise the base price of three of its recent acquired gTLDs and lower the price on three others.

The company is telling registrars that the prices of .biz, .club and .design domains are going up later this year, while the prices of .luxe, .abogado and .case are going down.

For .biz, which GoDaddy took over when it acquired Neustar’s registry business in 2020, the price will increase by $0.87 to $13.50.

While .biz hasn’t been price-regulated by ICANN since 2019, the new rise is lower than the annual 10% it was allowed to impose under its previous, price-capped contracts. It’s around 7% this year, roughly in line with .com’s capped increase. It will mean the price of a .biz has gone up by over 70% in the last decade.

For .club, which GoDaddy acquired last year, registrations, renewals and transfers are going up by a dollar to $10.95, the fourth consecutive year in which .club fees have increased.

It’s in the ball-park of what previous owner .CLUB Domains was already doing — .club launched in 2014 with a $8.05 fee, but that went up to $8.95 in 2019, then $9.45 in 2020, then $9.95 last year.

.club has about a million domains under management at the moment. If that level holds, it’s an extra million bucks a year to GoDaddy, which frankly will barely register on the company’s now billion-dollars-a-quarter income statement.

For lower-volume .design, another one of the 2021 acquisitions, the price is going up by $2 to $35.

All of these price changes go into effect September 1 this year, giving registrants over six months to lock-in their pricing for up to 10 years by committing to a multi-year renewal before the changes kick in.

Registrars in most cases pass on registry price increases to their customers, but they don’t have the same six-month notification obligations as registries.

For three other GoDaddy Registry TLDs, prices are coming down in the same timeframe, so registrants may wish to see if the savings are passed on in future by registrars.

.luxe prices are going down from $15 a year to $12, .abogado is going down from $25 to $20 and .casa is going down from $7.50 to $6. The latter two mean “lawyer” and “home” respectively in Spanish.

GoDaddy isn’t currently altering the regular price of the TLDs it acquired from MMX, but it is bumping the restore fee for expired domains by $10 to $40, bringing them into line with .com.

China could block GoDaddy’s $120 million MMX swoop

GoDaddy’s proposed $120 million acquisition of essentially all the meaningful assets of portfolio gTLD player MMX will be subject to Chinese government approval, it emerged this morning.

Following GoDaddy’s bare-bones press release announcing the deal last night, this morning MMX added a whole bunch of flesh, including a list of closing conditions, in its statement to shareholders.

GoDaddy is proposing to buy essentially MMX’s entire operating business — the 28 gTLD registry agreements with ICANN, including the four porn-related strings belonging to subsidiary ICM Registry.

Not only do MMX shareholders have to approve the deal — and holders of 64% of the shares have already promised they will — but ICANN approval will be required for the registry contracts to be reassigned.

This may prove a hurdle or delay if third parties raise competition concerns, but ICANN’s pretty opaque approval process generally doesn’t frown too much on industry consolidation.

Another known unknown is China.

MMX told shareholders that it needs: “Approval of Chinese authorities for the change of control of MMX China (including change of control in respect of relevant licenses held by MMX China permitting it to distribute TLDs in China).”

The reason for this is quite straightforward: in volume terms, quite a lot of MMX’s business has been in China in recent years. Popular sellers such as .vip, with over 800,000 names today, have been driven primarily by Chinese investors.

A local presence (in this case MMX China) and approval from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is required to legally sell a TLD to Chinese registrants via Chinese registrars.

I’ve no particular reason to believe MIIT will withhold its approval for MMX China to move into GoDaddy’s ownership, but a failure to get the nod from China appears to be a deal-breaker.

MMX’s statement to the markets this morning also provided some clarity on what exactly it is that GoDaddy is proposing to buy.

The gTLDs to be acquired are: .vip,.nrw, .casa, .vodka, .xxx, .fit, .miami, .fishing, .porn, .beer, .surf, .boston, .adult, .yoga, .garden, .abogado, .work, .fashion, .horse, .rodeo, .sex, .wedding, .luxe, .dds, .law, .bayern, .cooking, and .country.

It seems that when Tony Farrow took over as MMX CEO last year, after his predecessor left due to an accounting snafu, he had the portfolio audited and came to the conclusion that it could expect only pretty crappy growth over the coming years.

It had banked on selling expensive defensive trademark blocks in its four porn-themed gTLDs to big brands to make up the shortfall, but then GoDaddy approached in December brandishing its rather large checkbook.

MMX reckons the deal values the company at a 92% premium over its closing share price Tuesday, and 87% and 78% premiums over its 20-day and 90-day average selling price.

.bayern, .nrw and the four porn gTLDs belong to subsidiaries that GoDaddy will acquire outright, but GoDaddy is not proposing to buy MMX itself.

Rather, MMX will likely stay alive and publicly traded long enough to redistribute its cash windfall to investors and sell or wind down about a dozen non-operating subsidiaries.

It has a transition services agreement to manage certain business functions of the registry until January next year, which sounds a bit like what fellow GoDaddy acquisition .CLUB Domains explained to me last night.

After that, London’s Alternative Investment Market rules will treat MMX as a “cash shell”, and it will either have to acquire an operating business from somewhere or make itself the subject of a reverse takeover by a company looking for a quick way to the public markets.

GoDaddy buys 30 new gTLDs for over $120 million

GoDaddy Registry has just announced it is acquiring 28 new gTLDs from rival MMX, along with the TLDs .club and .design.

The MMX deal is worth at least $120 million; the value of the other two deals was not disclosed.

GoDaddy is also taking over the back-ends for .rugby and .basketball, which had been contracted to MMX, and said it has won the back-end deal for the dot-brand, .ally.

It’s the most significant pieces of registry consolidation since Donuts and Afilias hooked up in December.

GoDaddy Registry will wind up being the contract holder or back-end for over 240 TLDs, with over 14 million domains under management, the company said.

It’s not entirely clear which gTLDs GoDaddy is acquiring right now, but it appears to be all of those listed on the MMX web site.

It’s currently listed by IANA as the sponsor for 21 gTLDs: .cooking, .fishing, .horse, .miami, .rodeo, .vodka, .beer, .luxe, .surf, .nrw, .work, .budapest, .casa, .abogado, .wedding, .yoga, .fashion, .garden, .fit, .vip and .dds.

MMX subsidiary ICM Registry runs .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex, not an easy fit with the family-friendly image GoDaddy has attempted to cultivate in recent years.

MMX also manages geographic gTLDs .boston, .london and .bayern on behalf of their respective local governments.

The company hinted in January that it was considering selling off some of its under-performing registries, after a crappy 2020 that saw it forced to restate revenues, lay off staff and can its top executives.

MMX, which is publicly traded in London, has yet to make a statement on the deal but we should no doubt expect something in the morning before the markets open.

The deal appears to be bad news for Nominet, which runs the back-end for most MMX gTLDs. GoDaddy will very likely migrate them over to its own platform eventually.

MMX aside, GoDaddy is also buying .club from .CLUB Domains, according to its press release.

.CLUB is a bit of a rarity — a single-string new gTLD registry that done really rather well for itself without tarnishing its brand by becoming synonymous with cheap domains and spam.

.design, the other GoDaddy acquisition today, is run by Top Level Design, which also runs .ink, .wiki and .gay.

.design has over 120,000 domains in its zone file today, while .club has over 1 million. Both have been on a growth trajectory recently.

GoDaddy also said as part of the same announcement that it has signed Ally Financial’s dot-brand business for .ally, but as Ally was already a client of Neustar (which GoDaddy owns) I’m not entirely sure what it’s getting excited about.

End of the road for Neustar as GoDaddy U-turns again and buys out its registry biz

GoDaddy has changed its mind about the registry side of the industry yet again, and has acquired the business of Neustar, one of the largest and oldest registries.

The deal will see GoDaddy purchase, for an undisclosed sum, all of Neustar’s registry assets, amounting to 215 TLDs and about 12 million domains.

It means the gTLD .biz is now under the new GoDaddy Registry umbrella, as are the contracts to run the ccTLDs .us, .in, and .co, 130 dot-brand gTLDs and 70 open gTLDs.

Neustar’s registry staff are also being taken on.

“We’re bringing the whole team aboard. One of the things we’re very excited about is bringing the team aboard,” Andrew Low Ah Kee, GoDaddy’s chief operating officer, told DI today.

He added that, due to coronavirus job insecurities wracking many minds right now, GoDaddy has promised its entire workforce that there will be no layoffs in the second quarter.

Nicolai Bezsonoff, currently senior VP of Neustar’s registry business, will run the new unit. He said for him the opportunity for “innovation” was at the heart of the deal.

“We’ve always been one step removed from the customer, so it can be hard to understand what customer wants to do,” he said. “This gives us huge customer insight into what customers want and how they want to use domains.”

Pressed for hypothetical examples of innovation, Bezsonoff floated ideas about selling domains for partial-year periods, or doing more to crack down on DNS abuse.

The deal is an example of “vertical integration”, which has been controversial due to the potential risk of a dominant registry playing favorites with its in-house registrar, or vice versa.

While registries such as Donuts, CentralNic and until recently Uniregistry vertically integrated with little complaint, the industry is currently nervous about Verisign’s newfound ability under its ICANN contract to own and run a registrar.

Because GoDaddy is the Verisign — the runaway market leader — of the registrar side of the industry, one might expect this deal (expected to close this quarter) to get more scrutiny than most.

But the company says it’s going to “strictly adhere to a governance model that maintains independence between the GoDaddy registry and registrar businesses”.

Low Ah Kee said that this means the registry and registrar “won’t share any information that gives or appears to given any unfair advantage” to the GoDaddy registrar, that their business performance will be assessed separately, and that they’ll be audited to make sure they’re not breaking this separation.

If GoDaddy appears to be preemptively expecting criticism, there’s a good reason why: the proposed acquisition of .org manager PIR by private equity group Ethos Capital has caused huge upset in recent months, and there are some parallels here.

First, like .org, pricing restrictions were lifted in Neustar’s .biz under a contract renewal with ICANN last year. It fell under the radar a little as .biz is substantially smaller, not a legacy gTLD as such, and not widely used.

Like the .org deal, the transfer of control of .biz will also be subject to ICANN’s approval before GoDaddy and Neustar can seal the deal.

Could we be looking at another big public fight over a gTLD acquisition?

But unlike Ethos with .org, GoDaddy says it has no intention of raising prices with .biz.

“We will not be raising prices, in fact we will look into reducing prices for some TLDs,” Bezsonoff said.

One TLD where one assumes prices won’t be going down is .co, where Neustar has just had its margins massively slashed by the Colombian government.

The acquisition was announced just days after the Colombian government announced that it has renewed its contract with Neustar to run .co for another five years, but under financial terms hugely more favorable to itself.

Whereas the initial 10-year term saw the government being paid 6% to 7% of the .co take, that number has soared to 81%, making .co — arguably Neustar’s registry crown jewel — a substantially less-attractive TLD to manage.

One assumes that the acquisition price would have fluctuated wildly based on the outcome of the .co renegotiation, but the GoDaddy/Neustar execs I talked to today didn’t want to talk about terms.

GoDaddy’s history with the registry side of the business has been changeable.

As far as ICANN contract is concerned, it is already a registry because it owns the .godaddy dot-brand. But that’s currently unused, with the registry functions outsourced to — cough — Neustar’s arch-rival Afilias.

Given Neustar’s religious devotion to the dot-brand concept, and the weirdness of using one of your primary competitors for a key function, one might expect both of those situations to change.

GoDaddy did also apply for .casa and .home back in 2012, but changed its mind and abandoned both bids fairly early in the process.

The sudden excitement about the registry business today begs the question of why GoDaddy didn’t buy Uniregistry’s registry business at the same time as it bought its secondary market and registrar earlier this year, but apparently it was not for sale.

Following the acquisition, Neustar is keeping its DNS resolution services and GoDaddy will continue to use them, so Neustar is not entirely out of the domain game, but it looks like the end of the road for Neustar as a brand I regularly report on.

The registry started life in 2000 as “NeuLevel”, a joint-venture between Neustar and Aussie registrar Melbourne IT formed to apply to ICANN for new gTLDs. It wanted .web, but got .biz, which now has about 1.7 million names under management, down from a 2014 peak of 2.7 million.