Today’s Q&A sees CentralNic’s CEO Ben Crawford open up on 2018 and look ahead to 2019. Crawford’s major highlight and challenge, all rolled into one, was the merger of CentralNic and KeyDrive and re-listing on the London Stock Exchange. GDPR was a “familiar challenge” that exacerbated ‘tensions in the multi-stakeholder governance model’. Looking ahead Crawford sees more mergers and less “old-fashioned role delineations” with private equity groups becoming more involved.
In 2019 Crawford sees fewer new gTLD launches, which may create issues for those relying on continued launches for new registrations, but “a long-term significant market for affordable generic domain names, and the most remarkable fact is that so many industry veterans totally missed the opportunity.” And while the future of domain names is challenging, Crawford also sees “opportunities for using the DNS for the Internet of Things, and blockchain applications.”
Domain Pulse: What were the highlights, lowlights and challenges of 2018 in the domain name industry for you?
Ben Crawford: For us the obvious highlight and challenge was the merger of CentralNic and KeyDrive and our re-listing on the London Stock Exchange as the first industry player to be a world class competitor as a registry, registry backend provider, reseller platform, retail registrar and corporate registrar. We believe the rest of the industry will inevitably follow in moving away from the old-fashioned role delineations, and we see the large number of acquisitions by private equity funds (Dada Group, web.com, Donuts, one.com, etc.) in 2018 as the next step towards significant consolidation.
DP: GDPR – good, bad and/or indifferent to you and the wider industry and why?
BC: As a global company focussed on ccTLDs, we are specialists in working hand-in-glove with Governments – in many cases helping them with drafting of policies and even legislation to situate domains in a framework covering privacy, security, IP protection, etc.. So for us GDPR was a familiar challenge. By contrast it was evident that it exacerbates the tensions in the multi-stakeholder governance model for the internet when certain stakeholders have the rule of law behind them.
DP: What are you looking forward to in 2019?
BC: Delivering even more excellent service to our customers and returns to our investors. From a wider industry perspective, the development of a replacement for WHOIS that works for all stakeholders is a subject close to our heart and our Registry CTO, Gavin Brown is one of the members of the working group that ICANN have pulled together to deliver on the next phase.
DP: What challenges and opportunities do you see for the year ahead?
BC: On the challenge side, there will be very few domain launches, and that makes it tough for companies in our industry who have become addicted to launches to achieve their revenue targets. On the opportunity side, many companies that created spam fatigue among their customers with too frequent new gTLD launch emails may now have an opportunity to recover their most effective form of marketing by building the consumer confidence needed to improve open rates and click rates – GDPR permitting
DP: 2019 will mark 5 years since the first new gTLDs came online. How do you view them now?
BC: As CentralNic Registry is the most successful backend provider for new gTLDs – with over 25% market share and 10 of the top 25 nTLDs – we actually delivered to our investors what they hoped for from the new TLDs. We are happy to see continued strength from .xyz and the Radix domains, as well as strong performances from our clients .icu and .ooo from the moment they migrated to our platform in 2018. There is obviously a long-term significant market for affordable generic domain names, and the most remarkable fact is that so many industry veterans totally missed the opportunity. Meanwhile the DotIndustry newTLDs like .design, .art and .press have strong support from their communities, while others have decided to keep their powder dry waiting for Google and Amazon to do the heavy lifting of building awareness of nTLDs before relaunching.
Similarly as a leading registry back-end provider for DotBrand TLDs, we are seeing a lot of interest in our solutions which allow DotBrand registries to minimise their costs by integrating registry and registrar services with a single provider who is happy to provide true expert advice when they want it at no charge , instead of having pushy sales people hassling them to “activate”.
DP: Are domain names as relevant now for consumers – business, government and individuals – as they have been in the past?
BC: There is no doubt that the tech platforms like Facebook/WhatsApp, WeChat, Amazon, Alibaba and Ebay have done a great job providing SOHO/microbusinesses with tools allowing them to do business online without the need for domain names or their own websites and corporate email addresses. And indeed I believe it has harmed our industry that it is so fragmented that no company has the market power yet to successfully launch domain-based responses to those challenges. Of course, with the backlash against platforms misusing user data and enabling fake news, there is a grassroots movement towards independence from them, which means more people building their own independent websites on their own domains.
There are also opportunities for using the DNS for the Internet of Things, and blockchain applications for domains like those pioneered by .xyz and others. But again history tells us that even if these are the best technical solutions, they won’t win the market share war without the backing of bigger companies.
Previous Q&As in this series were with EURid, manager of the .eu top level domain (available here), with Katrin Ohlmer, CEO and founder of DOTZON GmbH (here), Afilias’ Roland LaPlante (here), DotBERLIN’s Dirk Krischenowski (here), DENIC (here) Internet.bs’ Marc McCutcheon (here), nic.at’s Richard Wein (here) and Neustar’s George Pongas (here).
If you’d like to participate in this Domain Pulse series with industry figures, please contact David Goldstein at Domain Pulse by email to david[at]goldsteinreport.com.