Edinburgh’s Christmas festival may have been “saved” but amid all the fraught, behind-the-scenes wranglings about who will run what, and where in the city to place this year’s festive attractions, the home of Edinburgh’s Christmas on the web was quietly taken over by an Indonesian gambling site.
Where before there were cheery folk enjoying festive attractions around the Scottish capital, the city’s former Christmas site urges visitors to “Main Slot” (Google translation: “Play Slots”).
A spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council told EG that it was the previous owner of the domain. However, it was not able to elaborate on why it is now its ex-Xmas domain. It also did not respond when asked if the new owner of the edinburghschristmas dot com had been in contact to see if the Council wanted the name back.
The Council goes to painful lengths to avoid talking publicly about what it calls “commercially sensitive” matters. Just watch the webcast of the Emergency Meeting of the Finance and Resources Committee a month ago, where councillors, their legal advisor and staff, spend half an hour debating whether to debate this year’s Christmas festival debacle in public.
Prior to the meeting, Edinburgh learned that the company that won the bid in July to put on the festival, Angel’s Event Experience, was unable to deliver on its contract which would have included using more Old Town sites for the Christmas festival. The contract was worth 5.5 million in rent to the city over five years.
The ensuing Council discussion about what went wrong and how to move forward with plans for this year's Christmas festival, shone not a great deal of light on the matter given how little detail could be publicly disclosed. But there appears to have been "amber flags", as Cllr Phil Doggart put it, in the former contractor's bid.
Lost domains must fall into the Council’s “commercially sensitive” bucket. When I emailed again for more information on the lost domain a couple of days later on 14th October, I was told: “I've not got any further info for you other than we're aware and in discussion with the new event provider (UniqueAssembly) about web presence for this year's events.”
I was directed to this year’s official, brand new domain, which a “whois” query reveals was registered for the first time on 18th July 2022.
The domain is the rather long-winded EdinburghChristmasFestival.com. At time of writing it’s only a holding page ("our elves are busy building our new website", it says). A countdown clock has the opening of the Christmas Festival on 18th November. But with the late change of contractor, the date of the festival was pushed back a week to the 25th November, so the web page hasn't been updated recently. The holding page has a link to the @edinburghschristmas Facebook page, which does have the right dates.
But then there's another domain, EdinburghsChristmasFestival.com (with a possessive "s"), which leads to another holding page, with the right date for the Christmas festival, and a sign-up form for an event newsletter that is being operated by UniqueAssembly.
Yet another domain was used last Thursday, when the press release came out announcing this year’s Christmas Festival programme. The domain given in the press release is EdinburghWinterFestivals.com which redirects to the Edfest-owned ticketing site Showcatcher, where UniqueAssembly is selling tickets to Christmas and Hogmanay events.
It's a tad confusing, to say the least.
Why was Edinburgh's Christmas domain name dropped?
Losing a domain name is a non-trivial affair, particularly one that has been lavished with so much marketing funding and effort over many years. The EC dot com was first registered on 1 May, 2005 and was used every year to promote the range of Christmas activities organised in Edinburgh in November, December, and early January on behalf of Edinburgh City Council.
Edinburgh actually launched its Christmas festival at the turn of the millennium as “Edinburgh’s Capital Christmas”, but in 2005 the “Capital” was dropped and “Edinburgh’s Christmas” became the new brand. It has been used in its promotional material since, be that video trailers, publicity photographs, media releases, newsletters, or all the illuminated Christmas Market signage. “Edinburgh’s Christmas” has been the brand on social media, for both account names and in posts, using the #EdinburghsChristmas hashtag.
The pandemic reminded us how important an online presence is for marketing, communication, ticketing, and continuity from one year to the next. The role of the Christmas web site would seem even more vital, as the Council was preparing to hand over the festival from the old contractor, Underbelly, to the new one.
During the tender process for the festival, documentation assured the potential Contractor: ”The Council owns a number of URLs relating to this event and will make these available to the Contractor.”
One domain was more important than the others. The EC domain had built up a rich ecosystem of incoming links. According to ahrefs, it has 734,007 backlinks from 7,111 domains, including broadcasters, major media outlets, blogs, social media sites, the tourist industry, and (at time of writing) last year’s Christmas festival operator Underbelly.
The first thing the new contractor would discover is that it was unavailable. According to its domain records, the EC domain was dropped on 10th May 2022, in the period between the handing over of the Edinburgh’s Christmas contract from Underbelly to the new contractor Angel’s Event Experience. The Edinburgh City Council spokesperson was not able to provide any information on why the domain was dropped.
Over on Facebook, the Edinburgh’s Christmas account manager, was more forthcoming: “Unfortunately within the transition period of event producers over the summer, it would appear that the... url lapsed and was taken over by a rogue host."
Over the last two weeks, I’ve contacted the Council and the PR agency for this year’s Christmas festival asking for an update, but not heard anything back yet.
It’s noteworthy that EdinburghsChristmas.co.uk was not dropped and still redirects to the Council’s new Christmas domain (the one with the wrong dates).
The CapitalChristmas.co.uk domain, used back in the days when the festival was marketed as Edinburgh’s Capital Christmas, was dropped years ago and is currently for sale.
Domains are not costly to renew - $8.03 a year for a dot com. Most people set their domains to auto renew and each year your credit card will be charged for another year’s registration. Mistakes happen though. Usually domains are inadvertently dropped because the registered payment card/facility expired, and the billing contact(s) and registrant did not receive or read any of the emails reminding them to renew their domain before it expired. This situation commonly arises when a staff member moves on and their email account ceases to be monitored.
According to the regulatory body for domain names ICANN, domain name registrants should receive two renewal reminders one month and one week before (and within five days after) the expiration of a domain name. There’s also a 30 day grace period allowing a registrant to renew the name after expiration even if other parties have bid on it. After 30 days, the domain can be legitimately snapped up on the open market.
I don’t know if this is what happened to Edinburgh’s Christmas domain. But it would not be the first (or last time) that a domain name was lost because someone forgot to renew it.
Whatever the reason, losing the domain name at the same time as losing the Edinburgh’s Christmas contractor and with it the promise of over £1 million in rent income a year, doesn’t inspire confidence. It comes at a particularly rough time for the arts and culture sector - with the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse becoming recent high profile casualties of tougher economic conditions.
UniqueAssembly is just days away from delivering a Christmas programme for Edinburgh that, due to the short timeline, will be quite similar to last year. In spite of the flurry of controversy, the Christmas festival organisers have the benefit of being able to go back to familiar, in-person, Edinburgh locales - George Street for the temporary ice rink, East Princes Street Garden and the Mound for the Christmas Market, and West Princes Street Garden for Santa Land. Reading between the lines, it doesn't look like it will be that easy for the Christmas Festival to return to its online home of the last 17 years.
- 1 May, 2005: EdinburghsChristmas domains (dot com and dot co uk) registered.
- 31 March 2022: Underbelly contract ends
- 1 May 2022: EC dot com domain expires
- 11 July 2022: Angel’s Event Experience takes over Edinburgh’s Christmas
- 18 July 2022: edinburghchristmasfestival.com registered
- October 2022: AEE says it cannot deliver on its contract
- October 2022: UniqueAssembly takes over Edinburgh Christmas festival
- 3 November 2022: Christmas events announced
- 25 November 2022: Edinburgh Christmas festival starts