New gTLDs accounted for 21% of the net growth of the domain name market in 2014.
“The recent publication of the ICANN reports for the month of December 2014 enables us to finally take stock of 2014, marked by the launch of the “new TLDs” (or “top-level domains”) expected since their announcement by ICANN in Paris in June 2008.”
“We now have all the figures for 2014, so we can provide an overview of market trends and outline an assessment of the impact of the nTLDs on the 18 “traditional” generic top level domains (known as “legacy gTLDs”, i.e. .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info, etc.) and the country-code TLDs (or “ccTLDs”).”
Key facts and figures
According to the ICANN reports compiled by the Afnic Market Research team, as at 31/12/2014 there were approximately 158.6 million domain names registered under gTLDs, of which 3.8 million were nTLDs.
These gTLDs, added to the 134 million ccTLDs counted by Verisign / Zooknic, result in a total of 292.6 million domain names at the end of 2014, of which 54% were gTLDs, compared with 55% at year-end 2013. The emergence of nTLDs, therefore, has not been sufficient to allow gTLDs to regain a growth rate higher than that of ccTLDs.
“Ghost” names in ICANN reports
The study also highlighted a positive gap of 408,000 names between the final stock of nTLDs at 31/12/2014 (3.8 million) and the cumulative number of domain name creations reported in 2014 (3.4 million). This year being the first for all of the nTLDs, we should logically find a number of cumulative creations slightly higher than the total stock, taking into account the deletions operated during the year, before the actual renewal date.
Here, it seems as if a percentage slightly higher than 10% of the names reported in the stocks were not reported as creations. This margin of error should be taken into account in the calculations of future renewal rates, in the hope that ICANN reports are more consistent. The number of stocks being closer to the one displayed by nTLDstats.com on 31/12/14, we believe this data to be more reliable than the figures for accumulated creations.
The general slowdown in the market is continuing, despite the introduction of nTLDs
Fig 1: Growth curves for the various TLD segments (2010 – 2014)
Sources for gTLDs: ICANN Reports / Afnic Market Research
Sources for ccTLDs: Verisign Industry Brief / ZookNIC
Global growth in the domain name market reached 6.5% in 2014 (Fig. 1), against 7.3% in 2013. However, this average masks contrasting dynamics. The country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) continued to grow at a rate of 8.5%, that being a marked slowdown, however, compared with the two previous years. The .com dropped below 5%, while all in all gTLDs, boosted by the nTLDs introduced in 2014, experienced a slight upswing in growth. The major losers appear to be the legacy gTLDs (except for the .com), which lost 3% in stock after having already lost 1.3% in 2013.
CcTLDs still leading contributors to the net balance
Fig. 2: Contributions to the overall net balance by segment (2010 – 2014)
According to the figures provided by ICANN and Verisign, the net growth in 2014 was 17.9 million domain names against 18.6 million in 2013 and 26.8 million in 2012. Fig. 2 shows that if the ccTLDs represented the lion’s share in 2013 in terms of “contribution to the net balance” (71%), they represented no more than 59% in 2014. The share of the .com decreased from 31% to 26% and the (negative) share of the “other Legacy TLDs” decreased from -3% to -6%.
Table 1: Changes in contributions to net growth (in%) in 2014 by segment
CcTLDs succeeded in maintaining a growth rate above the market average, allowing them to continue to gain market share. Table 2, however, shows that their contribution to the net balance significantly decreased in percentage terms compared with 2013. Although the .com still represented 26% of the net balance and 71% of the creations of gTLDs in 2014, it alone lost more “points” than all the other legacy gTLDs.
We can therefore conclude that the ccTLDs have suffered from the introduction of nTLDs. Their relative performance remains better, however, and it is mainly the legacy TLDs that saw their market share erode in 2014.
Table 2: Changes in market share (2012 -2014) and growth ratios per segment
Although the ccTLDs have undeniably been affected by the nTLDs, the legacy TLDs, including the .com, are the ones to have suffered most from the introduction of nTLDs in terms of market share. The growth ratios, which compare the contribution to net growth with market share, show that the .com is losing ground, and that the other legacy gTLDs are also facing serious difficulties. If the trend continues, the development in ccTLDs could continue to slow down in 2015 and reach the average market growth rate of about 5%.
Legacy TLDs: highly contrasting performance in 2014
The Afnic Market Research Team has developed a methodology for measuring the performance of TLDs that the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries (CENTR) has used in its annual studies for 2013 and 2014.
It consists, on the one hand in measuring the ability of a TLD to generate new registrations of domain names (the “Creation Rate”) and on the other in calculating the proportion of domain names present on 31/12 of the previous year, “preserved” in the portfolio at 31/12 of year N by applying the following formula:
Stock at 31/12/N = names created in year N + names maintained (or kept) in year N.
The “Maintenance Rate” is thus calculated by relating the number of names maintained in year N to the stock at the beginning of the period.
Another ratio measures the weight of deletions (or names not kept) compared with creations. When it is greater than 1, the TLD is losing stock.
These indicators are simple to calculate and are based on public data, at least with regard to gTLDs. They can be used to measure and benchmark fairly accurately the relative performance of each TLD in terms of sales momentum and the “robustness” of its domain name portfolio.
Table 3: Comparative performance of Legacy gTLDs (2012-2014)
Sources: ICANN Reports / Afnic Market Research
Table 3 shows the performance measurements for the six largest gTLDs in terms of volume, the other “Legacy gTLDs” being aggregated into an overall line.
First, it can be seen that in general the Creation Rate is trending down from 27.8% in 2012 to 25.4% in 2014. This figure means that 25.4% of the names in stock at 31/12/14 had created in 2014. It is natural that the Creation Rate should trend down, since in order to maintain it at the same level, creations have to grow at the same rate as the stock of names registered under the TLD in question. During a downturn in the momentum of creations, the Creation Rate is the first to be affected.
The strategies and situations of the various TLDs can be clearly seen, simply by comparing their Creation Rates, from the .info gTLD which is highly focused on gaining new names but is having increasing difficulty in doing so (48% in 2012, 34% in 2014), to the .mobi gTLD which clearly saw its demand plummet in 2014 (from 41% to 19%).
The Maintenance Rate focuses on the names retained. It therefore reflects the robustness of the TLD and its ability to retain holders that already have domain names. It is can be seen that on average the rate is on an upward trend for Legacy gTLDs, which can be explained by the increasing age of the domain names and which are therefore all the more likely to be kept. Here too, the momentum differs from one gTLD to another. The .com gTLD is slowly losing ground while the .info saw its Maintenance Rate jump by 10 points, a sign that its customer base consolidated in 2014 despite (or because of) a relatively severe loss of stock. Its ratio is also one of the lowest, while the .mobi is also facing extreme difficulty, its Maintenance Rate collapsing from 70% to 58%, unlike that of the .info gTLD.
A comparison with the CENTR figures for 2013 and 2014 shows that the ccTLDs that are members of this association on average outperformed the Legacy gTLDs in terms of their Maintenance Rates, but their Creation Rates were lower in 2013 as in 2014. We therefore need to look elsewhere, probably in the Asia – Pacific region, for the sources of the growth of 8.5% in ccTLDs in 2014. This situation, however, demonstrates the maturity and greater stability of the ccTLDs that are members of the CENTR, which also benefitted from Deletion / Creation rates nearly 10 points lower than that for Legacy TLDs in 2014.
There were two questions about the domain name market in 2014.
- On the one hand, were nTLDs undergoing a revival after several years of downturn? The answer to this question mainly seems to be negative, overall growth still being on the downside.
- The second question was about the impact of nTLDs on existing market players. Their impact is difficult to quantify, since substitution effects are almost impossible to describe (would an nTLD holder have bought a Legacy TLD or a ccTLD if he had been unable to choose the nTLD? What are the substitution effects between ccTLDs and Legacy TLDs?). On the other hand, it is certain that disposals have been made by buyers who have abandoned certain Legacy TLDs while deferring renewal budgets for the acquisitions of nTLDs. Generally speaking, in a period when growth is undergoing a slowdown, nTLDs have inevitably developed at the expense of the existing players.
The difficulties encountered by those Legacy TLDs that are unfortunate enough not to benefit from the aura of the .com gTLD raise other substantive issues that may also be of interest to nTLD registries. First, it is clear that under current market conditions, an increasingly competitive environment does not result in an explosion in the number of creations of domain names. For Legacy gTLDs they fell from 40.3 million in 2013 to 39.3 million in 2014, plus of course the 3.4 million nTLDs.
Second, it is clear that the competition is increasingly being extended to include renewals. It is not enough for a registry to have a high capacity for creating names, it must also have a solid customer base, and that is not something which can be acquired in a day. Domain names registered for speculative purposes (by domainers) or defensive purposes (by rights holders) are good short-term deals, but are particularly vulnerable to the effects of disposals by holders constrained by budgets or opting to “bet” on other TLDs considered to have greater potential. Faced with the arrival of market newcomers, the key to long-term success no doubt lies in having a base of domain names genuinely used by their holders, its corollary being a high “maintenance” or retention rate. In a market where customer acquisition costs are increasing with the intensity of competition, the race for new registrations can no longer be the only strategic focus for registries, even if it cannot be overlooked by players in the launch phase of their TLDs.