Branding is one of the top-level domain industry’s greatest strengths, and more should be made of it is one of the key observations in this latest Q&A with David Fowler, vice-president, marketing and communications, Canadian Internet Registration Authority. Looking back at 2019, CIRA thought it was a year not without its challenges, particularly the slowing growth in the domain name market, and this was coming off the back of their best year ever in 2018. One way CIRA is responding is by diversifying their product offering and the growth of their Registry Platform and an ‘overwhelmingly successful’ television campaign.
Looking ahead, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), best known as the ccTLD manager for .CA, is excited about their next .CA campaign but David notes they’re concerned about a ruling where ISPs may be required to block content. On new gTLDs, they believe they haven’t panned out as many envisaged, but see great opportunities for geographic new gTLDs and are reaching out to cities and regions in Canada about future applications, which they see as being at least 2 years away. Making domain names more accessible, a common theme among respondents to this Domain Pulse Q&A, is an issue for the industry while tackling domain name abuse is a challenge, one which CIRA is ready to step up and be an active voice on.
Domain Pulse: What were the highlights, lowlights and challenges of 2019 in the domain name industry, both for you and/or the industry in general?
David Fowler: The year was not without it challenges; the primary one being the slowing growth in the domain name market. It is clear that the industry is maturing and new business models such as website builders are challenging us to think differently about how we position .CA to our market. We are also responding by diversifying our product offering with DNS and cybersecurity services that leverage our expertise and infrastructure to make the internet safe, stable and secure.
2019 was a big year for CIRA and .CA. In February, we completed the successful transition of the .CA registry onto the CIRA Registry Platform. The transition of 2.8 million domains was completed in less than eight hours, which must be an unofficial world record for a registry of our size. With .CA now running on the CIRA Registry Platform, we can help our registrar partners grow, innovate and succeed in the market.
Another highlight was the launch of the first ever TV advertising campaign for .CA. We knew we had to be bold in order to get noticed and we definitely succeeded. The campaign was an overwhelming success and we are looking forward to continuing it in 2020.
DP: What are you looking forward to in 2020?
DF: I’m really excited about where were going next with our .CA campaign. We took the feedback from our first run and are using it to help create a campaign for 2020 that further emphasizes the value of .CA for Canadians.
I’m also looking forward to putting our new strategic plan into action. We are going to have an increased focus on our brand and making sure both CIRA and .CA are associated with a trusted internet for Canadians. Our new strategic plan also leans heavily on our growing new product portfolio of cybersecurity and registry products. We have had a lot of success working with our ccTLD peers—such as our great partnership with InternetNZ on Defenz DNS Firewall—and we look forward to sharing more of our knowledge and expertise with the community.
DP: What challenges and opportunities do you see for the year ahead?
DF: Our biggest challenge—and greatest opportunity—is navigating the changing domain industry. Growth is slowing, consumers are shifting towards new models like web builders, and we need to figure out how to reach the last 40 per cent of individuals and businesses who are still not online and are seeking simple, intuitive solutions to help them develop their digital footprint.
Here in Canada, we are monitoring with some of the trends we are seeing concerning content blocking and the other potential disruptions to the open web. The recent Gold TV ruling in federal court has us concerned about the prospect of ISP content blocking becoming an easy remedy for copyright holders at the detriment of the open web.
We also see a challenge in defining the issue of domain abuse and determining the roles of different players in the domain name industry. We look forward to being an active voice on the issue.
DP: How have new gTLDs fared in 2019?
DF: Overall, the gTLD market has not panned out the way many had predicted. There is a lot of confusion in the market and consumers are generally sticking with the trusted brands they know—like .CA. That said, we see promise in the geographic gTLD market, such as city TLDs. We have had discussions with Canadian municipalities about the opportunities of city TLDs and look forward to more information about when the new round of gTLDs will open up.
DP: What progress do you see on a new round of applications for new gTLDs in 2020?
DF: The sub-pro PDP group should be wrapping up their work this year, which includes going out for public comment, then presenting a document to the GNSO Council, then the Board. I think we’re still at least two years out from a new round.
We have already had some preliminary talks with Canadian municipalities that are interested in city TLDs so we look forward to learning more about the upcoming gTLD timeline. There is also a lot of interest in .brands, which we have seen recently when we helped .MLS transition to the CIRA Registry Platform. We expect that interest to continue.
DP: What one thing would you like to see addressed or changed in the domain name industry?
DF: The industry needs to address the challenge of the changing market and how our product may need to adapt to stay relevant. Technology is moving rapidly towards consolidated platforms and user-friendly experiences. How do domain names adapt to this reality? The reality is that our product may be too complex for a good portion of the market. How do we fix that? What can we do to make online branding—domain names—as simple as possible?
As an industry, we also need to focus on value instead of enabling a race to the bottom on pricing. Brand is one of the most important aspects of any business or organization. In many industries, commodification is going to make brand the only thing that matters. Our product *is* brand yet we continue to devalue it. We need to refocus on the value that domain names bring and help educate the public as to why having a custom domain name matters in a world where closed platforms are obscuring individual brands.
Previous Q&As in this series were with: