Cable Nets Prepare to Become Masters


Cable networks, including ones owned by CBS, Time Warner and Scripps Networks, plus program producers and multichannel video program distributors, will find out next week if they can brand their Web businesses with their own Internet domain names. Viewers may find out by mid-2013 if the new “generic Top Level Domains” (gTLDs) will be used to deliver Internet-broadband video, including over-the-top shows and networks.

ICAAN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages domain names) will begin announcing next week its approvals for new domains, expanding the current roster of familiar dot suffixes (“.com,” “.net,” “.org” and so on) to hundreds of dot-brands and dot-categories. 

Look for domains such as .HBO, .Showtime, .Bloomberg, .QVC, .HGTV, .FoodNetwork, .TravelChannel (and many other Scripps Networks brands) as well as .Comcast and .Xfinity (from Comcast) if ICAAN approves those trademarked brands. Sports leagues – including ones now carried on linear networks – are awaiting approval for .NFL, .NBA and .MLB.  Major League Baseball has also applied for .Baseball, but a domain-name aggregator has also bid for that domain, so a bidding war is in the offing.

Media and entertainment companies represent about 3% of the 1,900 applicantsfor their own brand or an industry generic domain name after the “dot.”  Other applications include .ABC, .CBS, .Sony, .Fox, .BBC, .Netflix, .Fox and .Dish. Dish Network has also applied for .blockbuster (the retail and online video distributor it owns) as well as .data and .Latino.

The dot-branding would enable companies to package and deliver their content directly to an Internet on-demand audience, although none of the media applicants is yet revealing what they’ll do when their brand names come after the dot. Although the companies may merely use their branded dot-TLDs for support, promotion or augmentation of their current video products, the new dot-domains will also make it easier from programmers and operators to set up dedicated Web channels for network video delivery.  Viewers could find shows via URLs such as www.BoardwalkEmpire.HBO or www.PaulaDeen.FoodNetwork. (Reality check; neither network has revealed any such specific plans. I'm just saying what’s possible.)

 “I believe this will replace cable television [since] all of these TLDs [can] become channels,” said Jennifer Wolfe, president of Wolfe Domain, a consultant who represents applicants, including Scripps Networks; Scripps has applied for 13 TLDs.

Wolfe cites a “confluence of factors,” especially because of the dot-brand. The branded TLD would allow a company like “HBO [to] build out the infrastructure … [including] the domain space in a much more robust way than as a,” she told me.

 Wolfe concedes that many of the applications are opportunistic. "Most of them applied because they don’t know what’s going to happen and they don’t want to get caught off-guard,” she said.  Without citing specific applicants, she opined, “I don’t think they know for sure what they’re going to do.”

She pointed out that NBCUniversal, Disney, ESPN, Lifetime and National Geographic are among the major media companies that did not file for a TLD.

Companies paid $185,000 to apply for the gTLDs (plus at least that much for legal fees).  There are hundreds of conflicts, which means a bidding war. For example Wal-Mart and Safeway both want the .Grocery domain; at least seven applicants are seeking .Movie.)  Several aggregators/registries have applied for hundreds of domains – notably an applicant called “Charleston Road Registry.”  Behind that innocuous name is Google, using the name of the street in Mountain View, California, that is an address for part of the Googleplex headquarters.

The cable and media companies seeking TLDs are tight-lipped about their plan.  A Scripps Networks spokesperson told me that the company is “constantly searching for domain names that makes sense” either for a future venture or from “a defensive standpoint.”  Among Scripps’ proposed domains is .Frontdoor, a brand that the company has used for a couple years for an online real estate service  as a

Among the big applicants for new branded domains is Amazon, which has applied for 76 domains, including its own name plus generic terms such as .Book, .Coupon and .Call. Demand Media’s16 gTLD applications include .Army, .Navy, .AirForce, .Democrat, .Republican and .Moto – most of which have no competing applicants. At least a dozen companies want to register the domain .App, and .Cloud is on half-a-dozen wish lists. There’s a good explanatory infographics about the new TLD landscape here.

When ICANN reveals its first round of choices next week, the clock begins ticking for a one-month period of “objections.” A dispute resolution period begins on Jan. 13 – running through June 2013.  

At about that time – and certainly by late 2013 – viewers may be able to go directly to a familiar network’s dot.domain, paving the way to expanded OTT experiences and greater connections directly with program providers.