05/07/2014 12:03 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2014

Get Ready: The Netflix Election Is Coming


Just days before the 2012 election, The Economist published "The Woes of Netflix: Looks Bleak," a candid assessment of the Internet streaming media company's announcement of an 88 percent drop in its third quarter profit. For those tuned into day-to-day operations, it was an ominous, but not-so-surprising development:

"American subscriptions have slowed, and its international push has been wobbly," the magazine noted, including a quote from an industry analyst who observed that the company would need to "pull a rabbit out of its hat."

Fast-forward to May 2014 and three things are clear: Netflix has changed the video distribution and consumption game, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black deserve a good portion of the credit, and the company's analytical model has the potential to directly shape the digital strategies of candidates running for president in 2016.

The rabbit is out of the hat. All hail President Underwood.

First, a bit of context: In 2012, Democrats outsmarted Republicans in nearly every aspect of digital outreach and engagement, resulting in a significant turnout advantage on election day. The Obama campaign built on its existing infrastructure from 2008, developed new online platforms that empowered supporters at the zip code level and dominated the overall conversation across Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social media channels. This approach quickly emerged as the new gold standard.

As I wrote last week, the rise of "big data" is now leading to an overall automation of social media analytics, which requires a far greater focus on qualitative analysis to ensure that raw data leads to actionable insights. Matching online and offline data, developing individual profiles to target the right voters via paid and organic strategies and engaging supporters through dashboards and social media platforms on a daily/hourly basis will continue to drive both political parties.

But this is largely an evolution of the 2012 model, in which the content delivery platforms we increasingly rely upon were still in their nascent visual stages. Netflix, in particular, was struggling to get its footing as a streaming provider of random, often B-rated content.

It's been widely reported that the Netflix content delivery model is as follows: Give the consumer what he/she wants by constantly analyzing viewing habits, from the point a movie, television show or video clip started and/or stopped, to the number of times it was watched, to time of day, to day of the week, to order of viewed content, etc.

As Joris Evers, the company's director of Communications told the New York Times last year, "There are 33 million different versions of Netflix."

By all accounts, voters are also becoming much more selective as to how they view, share and digest content. If 2004 was the blogging election, 2008 the social election, and 2012 the verb election, I have no doubt that 2016 will be the Netflix election. Voters will become less tolerant of overall quantity of visual content and more apt to identify with candidates and campaigns that understand what resonates and why -- down to the single phrase in the 30-second ad that captures the most stops, starts or shares. Within hours, if a message doesn't closely align with this feedback, it will be an indicator that a campaign doesn't understand the full value of predictive analytics.

The same goes for opposition research, in which content that falls flat provides an opportunity to sharpen a point of criticism or avoid repeating a similar mistake.

Data mining and list building, which have largely powered digital campaign strategies up to this point, will without question become far more automated as it becomes easier to identify potential supporters through shared traits. However, as effective content marketing is embraced by political organizations, precision of overall message becomes all the more important, especially in an era that analyzes spoken, written and visual preferences down to the second or millisecond.

Admittedly, content is just one factor in a broader set of opportunities and challenges facing 2016 presidential campaigns. But delivery and consumption behaviors are changing by the hour. Visual rules the day. We view what we want, when we want to view it and expect more of the same vs. frequent surprises.

Get ready, the Netflix election is coming.