What Would Happen if ICANN Launched a Pilot New TLD Program Instead?

The FTC, ALAC, congress, and even the New York Times have all recently urged ICANN to throttle back the initial round of its new TLD program and essentially run the first year as a “pilot”. The new TLD program currently calls for about 500 extensions to be approved per year.

How many fewer extensions would a pilot be? When the FCC sent their request, they indicated even merely doubling the 22 current gTLDs would be an “aggressive” increase.

It’s still uncertain if there will be any changes to the program as these have merely been requests, but what if they did decide to run a pilot? Let’s speculate for a moment about what would happen if the program was throttled back to approving no more than 22 extensions initially.

How would a throttled-back new TLD program be different?

1. Percentage of .brand extensions would likely be smaller

Clearly if ICANN wanted to run a pilot, their objective would be to test the impact of various kinds of different extensions. Most experts agree the vast majority of new TLDs would be .brand TLDs in a full launch. In a pilot however, to make room for a sampling of a variety of extensions, there would likely be a smaller percentage of .brand extensions approved.

2. Thousands of huge companies would vie for those few .brand extensions

A .brand would already be attractive for a lot of large companies as an additional presence-growing online marketing machine. With ICANN limiting the first round to 500 extensions, there would already be competition for the relative few spots, but what if that number was cut down to only 22? Any company scoring their own extension would instantly become elite, making a new TLD that much more sought after.

3. Less likely for there to be any successful extensions

My Business Insider article from a while back explained how the limits of the new TLD program were going to hold it back. In reality, even with 500 new extensions, based on history of newer TLDs coming out, most would be expected to fail.

Drop that to 22 and the chances of even a single successful extension would be rather slim. This is not the old internet – now people already have choices embedded into their minds. It would take a massive marketing campaign to pry people away from the extensions they’re used to. Even if an extension has a successful launch, many extensions wind up losing steam after the first few years.

4. Less likely to see auctions or trademark disputes for TLDs

With 500 extensions, there would undoubtedly be hundreds of applications for generic terms, a good chunk of which would be approved. The better terms could have competition vying for them, which would lead to an auction. Likewise, in looking to approve 500 extensions, there’d be more likelihood for trademark disputes to come up among the .brand applications.

If the generic extensions ICANN approves are intentionally the ones with competition, then auctions could be witnessed. Trademark disputes however would be entirely doubtful with that few of approvals happening.

5. Trademark holders MAY get a taste of protecting their mark in many more extensions

Even with a pilot program, a trademark owner’s mind may think at minimum their brand name x 22 extensions = costs they’d rather not have. That said, IF companies got wiser and more selectively protected their trademarks, they would only need to protect them in the extensions that end up mattering, which among the new TLDs could be 0.

6. Could end up being forever throttled

The groups that have asked for a throttled new TLD program are not the same who have complained about the program. That said, those groups complaining about it will be back to complain about it in the future when expansion is near. If the normal program doesn’t proceed now, who’s to say it ever would after a pilot? In fact, the pilot could prove some of the concerns to be true and seal the normal program’s fate.

7. Probably wouldn’t impact much if anything

Sure, 22 new TLDs would double the current count of 22 gTLDs. But we already have over 200 ccTLDs, many of which have essentially been launched as global extensions. 22 new extensions isn’t a whole lot considering that, especially if half or more end up being .brand, which will likely not contend for normal domain registrations.

A couple geo areas could end up seeing their own extension, which could at least affect those areas. Perhaps an industry or two could get their own extension, which may or may not take hold. We could even see a few attempts at .com alternatives. 22 would however be far too few extensions to see the true impact the larger program could have.

If anything, a pilot TLD program could wind up having the same effect as .xxx has – getting more money and attention from trademark holders than actual users of the extension.

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