Early last month, I blogged about Web.com’s acquisition of Network Solutions, the oldest domain name registrar in existence. Now, as of last week, Group NBT, a London-based domain name management and web hosting company, has been purchased by private equity firm HgCapital Funds. According to ShareCast, the terms of the purchase value Group NBT at around £153 million, or approximately $237 million.
Whereas Network Solutions boasted a high volume of non-corporate customers, Group NBT specializes in corporate domain name services. It is the parent company of corporate domain registrar NetNames, and also owns various domain name hosting companies. Group NBT does have a smaller non-corporate, or retail, business in the form of Speednames, a Copenhagen-based retail registrar that serves European markets.
In the post about the acquisition of Network Solutions, I speculated that a trend of consolidation within the domain name industry is emerging in anticipation of ICANN’s new gTLD launch, and the potential burst of activity it will yield. Group NBT’s CEO Geoff Wicks commented that the company will continue to look for acquisition opportunities to firm its “position as a market leader for domain name management services in Europe”. It appears that domain companies are indeed steeling themselves to be able to handle a potential influx of new business.
So the question on my mind is, which company will be next? The big companies are, effectively, too big: CSC has a larger business providing services such as “Registered Agent” service that are unrelated to domains, and Melbourne IT is a publicly traded company that offers a variety of domain-related services. On the other hand, many corporate services registrars are much smaller, even smaller than Group NBT’s NetNames. It is unlikely that they would be sufficiently valuable to investors like HgCapital. So that leaves MarkMonitor, which is currently one of the only private, stand alone, corporate services domain name registrars. If I had to put money on it, I would bet that MarkMonitor could be the next acquisition target.