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Exec Seat: Q&A With ICM Registry's Stephen Winyard

Rhett Pardon

These are exciting times for ICM Registry Vice President Stephen Winyard. ICM Registry, of course, operates .xxx and now has sights on marketing .adult, .porn and .sex to adult businesses.

Winyard says that, despite ICANN’s arduous process to ensure compliance to its rules, rollouts for .adult and .porn may happen by the end of the year.

We see top keyword search results in Google for .xxx domains and in many cases, they outrank and outperform .coms for identical search terms.

As ICM Registry finds itself expanding, Winyard finds himself continually tasked with keeping the domain deals coming and on solid footing.

XBIZ World caught up with Winyard, a familiar face at industry tradeshows, to find out more about what makes him tick and the adult top-level domain business he helps run.

XBIZ: How did you get involved with ICM Registry?

WINYARD: I started my career with Stuart Lawley in 1988, and in the 26 years that have followed we have developed and founded a number of U.K. businesses in various technology fields and the Internet — the most notable one being OneView.net, which listed on the Alternative Investment Market [a market similar to NASDAQ in the U.S.] of the London Stock Exchange via an IPO in 1999. At the time of its sale for over $200 million in March 2000, it had grown from inception to over 400 employees in just 15 months.

After the sale, I continued living in the U.K. with my family, invested in a few companies and started a social gaming studio at the same time, keeping in close touch with Stuart who was taking on his battles trying to get .xxx approved. As many already know, this process took years and whilst my gaming business was growing, it did not hold anywhere near the fascination, potential or interest compared to the .xxx domain and it became a logical step for me to leave my own interests and take my place as Stuart’s right-hand man again, which I did soon after the .xxx approval in early 2011.

XBIZ: It was quite a struggle getting .xxx approved by ICANN, with many in the industry vehemently opposed to the sTLD — for years. Now, after several years in operation, do you think those same people who once opposed it are changing their attitudes?

WINYARD: Without a doubt. There has been an enormous shift in attitude and acceptance towards ICM and .xxx over the last three years. It took me at least 18 months of attending shows and getting to really know the people within the adult industry to truly understand the reasons why reaction and opinion was often so high and vocal. Much of it fear, misunderstanding, concern over the unknown and I also think some of ICM’s early messaging wasn’t clear or good enough and this led, quite rightly, to much of the opposition we had in the early days. Change of any kind always brings a mixed reaction and three years on, many people who originally rallied against .xxx are now clients and I guess that sums it up. There will always be those who chose not to invest in .xxx and I will always have respect for their decisions but with our sales increasing, we have gone from vilified in some quarters to buoyant and I couldn’t ask for anymore.

XBIZ: Tell me about all of the tools available for those who have .xxx websites? And why should an adult company choose .xxx?

WINYARD: The Internet is changing rapidly with over a thousand new top-level domains being launched and the natural segmentation which is inevitable will see consumers become more aware of the “right of the dot” extensions. .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex clearly identify the content as adult in nature.

The .xxx space is dedicated to serving the adult-sponsored community by making it easier for consumers around the world to find adult related sites. Not only is .xxx ranked as one of the safest TLDs, but also the brand “.xxx” is globally synonymous with adult entertainment and makes any domain name with a .xxx TLD unique and immediately recognizable by consumers.

We see top keyword search results in Google for .xxx domains and in many cases, they outrank and outperform .coms for identical search terms. Google themselves are launching over 70 TLDs and its logical that this process of delivering a search result to a selection of URLs that clearly have the quality content requested by the surfer will be more accurate when the TLD itself is the identifier.

.xxx was ranked by Architelos as one of the safest TLDs in the world regarding malware, phishing, spam and botnet commands and the fact we virus scan each .xxx site helps give the consumer greater confidence

More traffic means more earning potential. Eligible domains are included on www.xxx.xxx and www.search.xxx providing millions of impressions per month at no additional cost. We are seeing xxx.xxx in particular grow number of daily visitors and with Google now effectively discontinuing adult adwords, both our traffic platforms will become more valuable sources of free traffic and promotion.

Adding .xxx to your domain name lets consumers know your site offers adult entertainment. This lowers bounce rates and improves conversions. A desired name may be taken in .com and it stands a much better chance that the .xxx will be available and as I said before, this helps you reach a targeted audience.

Finally, “baseline policies” developed by IFFOR are specifically designed to establish a global standard in combating and reporting sexual child abuse images, providing effective parental control, ensuring accurate domain registration information, and protecting the privacy, security and consumer rights of all Internet users.

In summary, we don’t just supply a domain. We offer a service and value to all owners and will continue to heavily invest in making sure we add the very best in technology and products that support the TLDs we operate.

XBIZ: Are you seeing a substantial number of repeat customers buying up .xxx domains?

WINYARD: Definitely. We have reported in the press many sales to repeat clients and there are more we don’t report as a result of non-disclosure requirements. JT is the most high-profile and prolific buyer of .xxx names. He launched castings.xxx and orgasms.xxx in 2011 and now has spent over $1.5 million and operates over 300 .xxx domains. Our premium sales revenue has topped $15 million now and a high percentage of this is from existing clients who come back for more after seeing how their domains perform. We are also experiencing many sales to new clients who keep seeing how other, notable and reputed players perform with their .xxx names .Some companies lead, some follow. Either way we are delighted with the landscape and performance for .xxx

XBIZ:  What’s going on with the current new gTLDs under ICM Registry’s control? When will two of those gTLDs be operational for .xxx customers?

WINYARD: Our first two new TLDs, .porn and .adult are going through the final launch and planning stages and we haven’t announced their operational date yet. There are many moving parts involved in bringing a new extension to the market, particularly in the new cluttered TLD environment and ensuring compliance with ICANNS rigorous rules and policies and we are still hopeful of a late Q4 go live this year. We are very excited to see how they perform and, in particular, we think .porn will perform well in SEO and therefore add additional value to all .xxx registrants.

XBIZ: What’s your take on filtering issue in the U.K., as well as the possible clamp on foreign porn sites that don’t abide by ATVOD’s rules?

WINYARD: ICM’s stance has always been against government led regulation , preferring to advocate industry led self regulation . The fact remains that children shouldn’t see adult content yet they do and the volcano of pressure to find a workable solution is gaining momentum on a global basis. This is a sensitive topic and I prefer to focus more on how .xxx can be part of a solution that might prevent governments and regulators like ATVOD, pushing into place policies and legislation that will likely be messy, clumsy and problematic to enforce. I spend a substantial amount of my time with policy makers and sit on various committees at Westminster and remain convinced that there is no one single “silver bullet” and therefore it requires many key and critical stakeholders to combine their resources and technologies to help assist with a satisfactory solution. To date that has not happened.

ATVOD have their remit and are taking stronger more diverse steps to stop U.K. children seeing adult content. They will of course target the most popular, well known sites as they are easy pickings and probably represent the highest percentage of adult sites visited from the U.K. In simple terms, they want all hardcore material behind an age-verification control and to be honest, on one level that landscape is hard to argue against. However, the Internet is a global product and requires a global solution and I do not believe that cleaning up one back yard cures the problem; if anything, it will create more highways and paths to content that would be outside legislative controls and we get back to the same problem again. It can and is likely to place certain providers in an uncompetitive commercial environment, which is something we stand strongly against. There needs to be a level playing field.

The problem is not just focused solely the U.K. Other E.U. countries are following the progress of ATVOD and there are various established E.U. directives in place to make changes in this area and make it by certain, fast approaching, deadlines. We are working closely with all these policymakers and solution providers to providers to bring to market an option which we hope, would avoid governments legislating and allow all adult sites to benefit.

Filtering, parental controls, content labels and a plethora of other technologies will help but will not cure. The U.K., like many countries across the world have filtering already and parental complacency will be the one of the issues as the more that parents assume it will be OK, the worse the problem can become can become. No matter what your views or thoughts, the fact you need ID to buy a drink, gamble, buy firearms, tobacco and other items yet anyone, even underage kids can watch unfettered hardcore sex with one or two clicks is something that is hard to defend.

We are aware of the global reach and awareness .xxx has and we are treading very diligently and with immense duty of care to try and proffer solutions that will help, not hinder.

XBIZ: How important is it to attend and be active at online adult trade shows?

WINYARD: I attend virtually all the trade shows and gatherings around the world and ICM invest heavily with support and sponsorship, which I feel is critical. For such a vast industry, it’s unique in that a small number of key players deliver the lion's share of revenues and it has been a pleasure getting to know some wonderful people and great technologists with sharp minds.

We have done most of our best business at or as a result of face to face-to-face meetings at the various shows.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that its adult content because the intelligence and innovation applied to the business practices could actually fit many different sectors. Attending the shows is and always will be critical for success and as was witnessed by the recent sale of Sex.xxx. Sometimes business takes years to write and despite the fact we all earn our livings from internet related entities, people to people is, and always will be, the most powerful way to succeed.

XBIZ: What’s a typical workday like? And when not thinking about the biz, what do you like to do?

WINYARD: I’m always up early and work late. It's always been that way. I’m available virtually 24 hours a day as I deal with people all over the world so it's not unusual for me to get Skype calls at 3 a.m. as someone will forget or not know where I am, and I struggle to leave my phone on silent. Just in case … you never know !

My personal life is fun. I play golf, have great times with friends and family and always seem to keep myself so busy I never have much free time ... but I like it that way.

Also, I don’t consider what I do a job, it’s a privilege. To be involved in an industry so diverse and at the intersection of technology and public policy in a world that is changing so quickly is incredible and exciting at the same time so long may it continue.

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