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Jason Kilar

The Four Who Got It Right in 2008

December 25, 2008
by Christopher Coats
As the year comes to a close, we take a look at those whose predictions and gambles were proven right by the events of 2008.

Nate Silver: The “Spreadsheet Psychic”

Finding a transition from the world of sports to politics is never easy, but Nate Silver did so in a spectacular way this year by applying the statistical calculations that had helped him become a dependable name in baseball to the puzzling world of politics.

Instead of cherry-picking individual polls to try predicting electoral success or failure, Silver used an approach he had honed in the world of sports: taking every detail and figure into consideration to draw an array of conclusions based on demographic shifts and trends.

A mathematician from an early age, Silver has built a baseball cottage industry out of a series of analyses programs, including PECOTA, and one he cryptically referred to as Secret Sauce.

Writing under a pseudonym, Silver began posting his political forecasts on a series of blogs until mainstream pundits began picking up on how right he seemed to be. Eventually, Silver turned his calculations into a blog titled FiveThirtyEight, which tracked every poll conceivable to predict the myriad ways the election could turn out.

Dropping the pen name in May 2008, Silver quickly became what Time’s Joe Klein called, “Election Year’s Rookie of the Year,” predicting race after race with startling accuracy. As results rolled in on Election Day, it quickly became clear that Silver’s calculations were spot-on, predicting the presidential election to within .9 points and accurately calling each and every Senate race.

Peter Schiff: Financial Clairvoyant

As difficult as it may be to watch the countless YouTube clips of economist and President of Euro Pacific Capital Peter Schiff predicting virtually every financial pitfall of the last year, it’s somewhat reassuring to know that someone knew what was coming. Unfortunately, few seemed to be listening.

A staunch advocate of transforming the U.S. economy from a borrow and spend model to a savings and production model, the Connecticut-born, Berkeley-educated economist spent the better part of the last three years warning of the credit crisis, the housing bubble, the weakening dollar and a coming long-term recession, on financial shows across cable. Despite his often-impassioned pleas, few on these panel shows seem to take Schiff’s harsh forecast very seriously, with some actually laughing on air.

After a stint as an economic advisor to the Ron Paul campaign, Schiff is now credited as being the one who got it right, and he continues to advocate a seismic shift within the U.S. economic system.

Jason Kilar: Playing by the Rules

While the rest of the digital world put its money on YouTube to lead the online video industry into the future, a former Amazon executive thought he had a better idea. As Google gobbled YouTube up, Kilar, backed by News Corp and NBC, decided that he could do online video better by following the rules.

Instead of trying to sidestep the copyright and permission issues faced by YouTube and other such services, Kilar decided to convince the owners of television shows and movies that it was in their best interest to do it themselves. After all, the content was bound to make its way online in one way or another, why not make it on their own terms.

The result was Hulu, one of the sleekest and cleanest video hosting services operating today. While Hulu still trails YouTube in international users, the service currently has far more potential for profit as the site can sell advertising spaces within and around the free and completely legal content, while YouTube’s mostly user-generated content makes that process more complicated.

Stressing simplicity and share-ability to help videos spread virally, Kilar helped create a way for users to watch their favorite shows where, when and how they wanted, offering what some see as a glimpse into the future of television.

The Bancroft Family: Out in Time

When the elusive Bancroft family announced last year that it had finally given in to three months of persistent bidding on the part of Rupert Murdoch for ownership of the Dow Jones Company, there was an audible gasp in the media universe. Not only had it given up its family stake in the company after nearly a century, it had sold it to Murdoch, hardly a favorite among industry peers.

However, as The Tribune Company declares bankruptcy, The New York Times, trading at under half its value from a year ago, borrows against its new building, and newspapers from coast to coast hang “For Sale” signs, the Bancroft family’s decision to exit the media stage does not seem so misguided.

Stung by a mix of transition pains to digital and weak advertising interest thanks to the economic downturn, newspapers have struggled to stay afloat. Meanwhile, the Bancrofts took their leave with a purchase price nearly double that of their share price when the bidding began three months before they finally agreed in early summer.

While the Sulzberger family watches its New York Times sink to a new low price, the Bancrofts walked away with a $60 share price, netting them $5.6 billion.

Although there is no way to tell how their share price could have shifted in the last year, Murdoch’s News Corp. is a good indicator. When it took on the Dow Jones purchase, it listed for $22 a share. Today, it sells at $8.

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