Rose Hulse And Yushi Xu Show A Fearlessness Worth Watching
This year’s Women in Technology Women to Watch use technology to improve the viewer’s ability to find content they want and optimize the scheduling of ads.
Rose Hulse, founder and CEO of ScreenHits TV, and Yushi Xu, senior architect at FreeWheel, are TVNewsCheck’s Women to Watch, and they will be presented with their awards in a panel discussion with all of the Women in Technology Award winners on Oct. 12 at 1 p.m. ET.
Hulse Takes ScreenHits From B2B To B2C
Hulse’s ScreenHits TV app makes it possible for viewers to aggregate all of their video on demand subscriptions in one place.
The seeds of her business idea started when she was pitching a show internationally on a tight budget. There had to be a better solution, she says, than sending out DVDs to other countries.
“People weren’t sending things out in a digital way,” she says.
But sending YouTube links and sending content in a digitized way “sped up our whole sales process” and made it possible to track whether someone clicked the content.
“From a sales standpoint, I realized that was definitely the future,” Hulse says.
Four years later, she started ScreenHits Limited as a B2B marketplace aggregator that provided an algorithm that showed the right show to the right buyer based on a number of parameters like territory and type of content sought.
“There was nothing like that at the time,” she says. “We were breaking ground with ScreenHits Limited and really working on getting large studios to become part of the platform.”
And then the focus shifted from selling content with groups trying to regain their rights for use in various streaming services. But that meant there were many individual streaming apps and people had to check each app for content they might want to watch.
“It was just a nightmare, and no one was addressing it,” she says.
ScreenHits, which had been cataloging content for years, added B2C to its capability to make it easier for consumers to find shows they wanted to watch. The company also created the Screen Hits mobile app because people use their phones and tablets to discover content.
“It was a natural progression of the business as the industry changed and progressed,” Hulse says.
Hulse didn’t start out with the intention to work in technology. She dabbled in advertising in college “but couldn’t get into it” and had a brief detour into politics before realizing one of her talents was sales. During her early career, she worked at Promax, The Hollywood Reporter, the Sundance Institute and Universal City before moving to Buenos Aires to handle production and distribution for a company there.
She returned to New York to work for AIGA then moved on to Gen Art and Audio Network before founding ScreenHits Limited.
“From a technology standpoint, I think there are a lot of misconceptions around tech and the tech world, and that deters women from coming into the space,” she said.
Instead, Hulse believes women should set those misconceptions aside and learn how to turn their ideas into code that uses technology to address the issues and challenges facing the industry.
“More women should lift up the hood, and they’ll realize it’s not that difficult, the engine side,” Hulse says. “I look forward to seeing more and more women coming into this space because technology really is great for women because our minds are able to work in so many different ways and multitask in so many different ways. And that’s what code does. Code is constantly multitasking, we [women] have a brilliant mind to do it.”
One of Hulse’s early ambitions was to compete as an ice skater in the Olympics.
Figure skating was “my yoga, my solitude. The smell of ice and frozen fingers, I loved it,” she says.
Until the time she stopped pursuing that particular dream, she’d believed anyone could do anything they wanted if they tried hard enough. Not being able to compete in the Olympics made her question whether people actually could do everything they wanted, she says.
But in retrospect, she says, she realized the years she devoted to the sport shaped her into who she is today. “It helped me to open my eyes that sometimes we’re on a journey. The prize isn’t actually that gold medal. The prize is something that’s coming later, but it’s that journey you had to go on to do it.”
And on that journey, she says, her parents instilled in her the confidence to go for her ideas even if others laughed at her goals.
But when times get really tough, she calls on the determination of another: Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919), who made a fortune after creating a homemade line of hair care products for African-American women.
“She came from slaves and was one of the wealthiest women in her time,” Hulse says. “She had no one to support her, but she became successful.”
Xu Tackles Computational Advertising
Machine learning expert Yushi Xu is spearheading an initiative at FreeWheel that bridges the technology gaps between traditional linear TV and digital video to improve the scheduling and tracking of ads.
When Xu joined FreeWheel, she knew nothing about advertising but held a Ph.D. and master’s in computer science from MIT. What she saw was a good career growth opportunity with a small team that offered strong support for female engineers, she says.
She started at FreeWheel as a senior software engineer and rose to the role of senior architect overseeing a large project aimed at applying machine learning technology to intelligent ad planning and scheduling.
“I owe a lot of what I’ve achieved today to our leadership team,” she says. During her six years at FreeWheel, she has been put in “positions where I was challenged and could grow professionally.”
One of those was leading a large cross-team initiative for a hybrid addressable project.
“At the time I was a lead software engineer and there had been many teams I’d never talked to before,” she recalls. “A lot of the terminology was completely new to me.”
She then led a bigger project with a larger scope.
“The knowledge I have accumulated from the project just grows exponentially,” she says. “Those occasions really make me very confident I can achieve more than I thought I can.”
Part of what she’s worked on has been linear addressability of ads to optimize ad delivery to people’s living rooms.
Making FreeWheel’s automated digital ad-decisioning capabilities available for television was a “technically challenging” project, she says.
It relies on sophisticated algorithms and machine learning to schedule advertising.
“Everything is automated,” she says, noting it took many iterations to optimize the software and make it scalable. “It’s 100% more efficient than by doing it by humans.”
As competition increases in the advertising industry, she says, there is a drive toward computational advertising, which aims to use data to automatically make decisions for how an advertising campaign should be planned, how to schedule ads to maximize the revenue of the inventory and achieve the key performance indicators of a given campaign.
“The process requires a lot of data, applying advanced optimization algorithms and machine learning algorithms to predict the future behavior of viewers.” At the same time, she says, the allocation between supply and demand needs to achieve objective goals while conforming to business rules.
One of the challenges the advertising field faces as it becomes more computationally intensive is finding people who are able to “extract more value out of the data.”
Xu says her focus now is leading projects and achieving deliverables. But when she has time, she says, she works to help other women on the engineering team achieve their career goals.
“I’m not a very social person. Like many other engineers, I’m an introvert.” Even so, she says, she’s trying to leverage her network and experience to give other female engineers the confidence and opportunity to achieve their goals.
When she’s not thinking about machine learning and advertising, Xu is a passionate gardener of vegetables and flowers, enjoys “all sorts of handcrafts” and is a fan of ballet. Currently, she is taking ballet lessons.
Xu says one reason she has succeeded with her projects is because she is detail-oriented and open to collaboration.
“When I do my own job, I care about every detail, but then I also do not believe I can know everything, so I seek out collaboration with other teams,” she says. “I think many women are a little bit shy when talking to a team or a manager that might be in a higher position than you. Women tend to shy away from those occasions. But I don’t think people need to be shy.”
That’s because in organizations, Xu says, “most people are more friendly than you think. They’re willing to listen and they’re willing to help.”
To read the profiles of TVNewsCheck’s other 2021 Women in Technology Award winners, click here.