Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Master of Its Domain

Clear Channel pimps the Web address of an obscure Southeast Asian island.

By Jim Hanas

APRIL 17, 2000:  Listeners to Clear Channel-owned radio stations have no doubt heard the advertising spots hawking Internet domain names with the dot-cc extension (as opposed to the more familiar dot-com, dot-net, or dot-org extensions) and perhaps have wondered how it is that the San Antonio-based media-megalith has managed to procure its own top-level Internet domain.

The answer is that it hasn't. Not really.

Dot-cc actually belongs to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean that has fewer residents (636 according to the 1999 CIA World Factbook) than Clear Channel has radio stations (973 according to radio industry research firm BIA).

Back in the day, all countries were assigned country-code domains, whether they needed them or not. Some of the countries needed them (e.g. dot-uk), while some of them, well, did not. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are not exactly a simmering tech-bed. The territory's major export is coconuts and, again according to the World Factbook, there were only 300 radios in the whole place (all five-and-a-half square miles of it) as late as 1992. Demand for Web addresses was not high.

So, in 1997, the Cocos Islanders struck a deal with a Seattle-based company, eNIC, to administer the dot-cc domain and to distribute dot-cc domain names. Director of sales and marketing Joe Crowley will not disclose the terms of eNIC's deal with the islanders, but says it includes running a T1 line out into the middle of the Indian Ocean, providing some computers, and helping to develop a shellfish bed.

eNIC's mission is to make dot-cc the next dot-com, a domain that is running out of prime real estate fast. Dot-cc domain names function worldwide just like dot-com names, and probably hardly anyone will think they have anything to do with an obscure Australian territory.

Instead, if Clear Channel's marketing blitz is a success, many people will think the cc stands for Clear Channel.

According to Crowley, dot-cc domains can be purchased through some 6,500 vendors (the price is $100 for two years, compared to $70 for two years for dot-coms), but far and away the largest is SamsDirect Marketing, a Beverly Hills-based company that heretofore specialized in selling compilation CDs -- its biggest seller is a devotional collection called Keep the Faith -- on late-night television.

At the moment, SamsDirect runs spot.cc, a Web site devoted to selling dot-cc domains, and holds exclusive rights to market dot-cc on radio and television. Which is where Clear Channel comes in.

"Clear Channel has been a phenomenal marketing partner," says David Sams, chairman and CEO of SamsDirect. The companies started partnering to move the dot-cc domain in test markets months ago and began rolling its campaign out nationwide in early February. The pitch includes ads on Clear Channel radio stations and links on its Web sites to spot.cc. As in Memphis, Clear Channel stations are also registering their Web sites with dot-cc extensions.

"We have a window here to really get cc out there and establish it as a major domain with Clear Channel and its 800-plus radio stations," says Sams. "It's all about marketing."

Sams says his company has sold some 75,000 dot-cc domain names since the beginning of February (eNIC's Crowley says "a whole lot more than that" have been sold in all) and hopes that there will be a total of 1.5 million dot-ccs out there by the end of next year. That would put dot-cc in front of dot-net as the second most popular domain.

This would mean lots of money for eNIC, SamsDirect, and Clear Channel, all of which will share in the fees paid for the new domain names. Plus, Clear Channel will have imbued a clunky old domain extension with its own corporate aura, becoming -- in effect -- "master of its domain," as Sams observes.

And how many of these will actually belong to real live Cocos Islanders? Crowley and Sams both say there are plenty of dot-cc Web sites that actually originate there, although neither seems too sure about how many plenty might be. But it's not like the islanders aren't getting anything for their virtual real estate. There's an undisclosed stake in the sales, and that T1 line, and a shellfish bed, and who knows?

"I anticipate that the Cocos [Keeling] Islands are going to become one of the most popular vacation spots in the next three or four years," Sams predicts.

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