Predictions website in talks with polling firm

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2012

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Victoria University is understood to be in advanced negotiations with Australian polling company UMR over how to commercialise its predictions website iPredict, in a deal partly aimed at casting off perceptions of a Right-wing bias.

Since before the 2008 election, iPredict has allowed traders to place bets on hundreds of scenarios or "contracts", ranging from whether the Wellywood sign would be built, to when Winston Peters would be ordered by the Speaker to leave Parliament.

The site has a distinct political focus, although much of the trading relates to economic forecasts or the future price of petrol.

The chance to make money from inside knowledge has seen iPredict build a strong trader community. It now has more than 5800 traders, more than 50 of which have at least $1000 tied up in the site.

While iPredict started as an academic experiment to test the wisdom of crowds, it has since held talks with several parties about ways to commercialise the website.

A deal with UMR appears close, with claims a heads-of-agreement document had been signed amid hopes a joint venture could be launched in months.

Sources involved in the website conceded the deal with UMR was partly designed to show political balance. The pricing of contracts on the website – and therefore the probability that an event will occur – reflect the views of a profit-driven market. The site has links to the National Party.

Since 2010, iPredict's marketing has been conducted by Exceltium, the public affairs firm founded by Right-wing commentator Matthew Hooton. Yesterday, iPredict said chief executive Matt Burgess was leaving to become an economic adviser to Finance Minister Bill English.

UMR is a long-standing pollster for the Labour Party, on both sides of the Tasman.

Sources insisted any deal would see Victoria University retain control of website hosting and the relationship with traders, with UMR and Exceltium unable to access information on the identity of traders, their accounts or their bets.

The move by Burgess to the Beehive will mean administration of iPredict's stocks will be handled by a staff member at Hooton's firm.

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- The Dominion Post

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