CNN to Push ‘Political Prophecy’ Game for 2016 Elections

Can the wisdom of crowds predict the next president of the U.S.? CNN’s digital group is gearing up to expand its “Political Prophecy” game for the 2016 election cycle — and will give top players the chance to win prizes like an all-expenses-paid trip to presidential debates.

The game functions like a stock market, but users bet points on events instead of ponying up actual money. The more accurate their predictions, the higher their ranking on the leader board.

For example, according to the Political Prophecy market Friday morning, Hilary Clinton has an 80% chance of winning the Democratic nomination (up from 75% in early April). Users bet whether the probability will increase or decrease, and if the market agrees with them they earn more points. The events can be about any scenario with two outcomes; the market currently predicts Republicans have a 95% chance of maintaining the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It’s the gamification of politics – a way for the user to have a daily, addictive habit,” said Ed O’Keefe, VP of CNNMoney and CNNPolitics. “We’re looking for the next Nate Silver who is eerily prescient about predicting political outcomes.” Silver, the head of FiveThiryEight.com, is best known as the political analyst who’s made several impressively accurate predictions in prior elections. Two years ago he took the site from the New York Times to ESPN.

CNNPolitics.com’s Political Prophecy game is powered by Pivit, a predictive market system built by New York-based startup Binary Event Network. It’s the same team that created the Intrade market for betting on events (like elections); however, Intrade was shut down in 2013 by government regulators.

CNN tested out Pivit with the midterm elections last November, and it’s now planning to make it a much bigger part of its political coverage after launching a redesign of CNNPolitics.com last month aimed at better showcasing breaking news, analysis and original video. In addition to users’ bets in Pivit, the probabilities incorporate other data, including the betting lines from gambling sites.

On Sept. 10 the news network will launch a CNNPolitics app, which will include the Political Prophecy game. Currently, the CNNPolitics predictive market has several thousand players per day. After the app launches and the 2016 campaigns kick into full swing, O’Keefe expects that number to go into to tens of thousands. “A really healthy poll is about 1,200 people – we’re going to have way more than that in this probability market,” he said.

The incentive for players to participate in the Political Prophecy market, besides prestige? CNN will be offering the leaders in the game the opportunity to attend CNN-sponsored debates later this year, starting with the Sept. 16 GOP debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

CNN has an exclusive deal for Pivit through the 2017 presidential inauguration for the political market. Binary Event Network has about 12 full-time employees. Investors in the company include Swedish technology firm Cinnober Financial Technologies, which provides financial exchange software and services; Broadhaven Capital Partners; and Guggenheim Partners.

According to Binary Event Network co-founder Greg DePetris, the company has found that markets where no money trades — but which provide users incentives to participate — are in some cases better at predicting outcomes. (Another benefit, of course, is that non-financial-based markets are less likely to draw scrutiny from regulatory agencies.)

With Pivit, “The ultimate goal is not be a financial market,” DePetris said. “This is about changing how people engage with media.”

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