Rose Adkins Hulse isn’t one to take no for an answer. If she did, she wouldn’t be sitting at the helm of burgeoning tech company ScreenHits TV, an aggregator platform that’s promising to simplify the streaming content game by allowing consumers to access all of their VOD and OTT subscriptions in one place.
“I’ve really had to prove myself as I didn’t have the support early on,” recalls the London-based entrepreneur. “I had a great idea, but I didn’t go to Harvard, I didn’t have a board behind me at the beginning, I didn’t have experience in trading companies and I didn’t have a tech background. A lot of people said to me, ‘it’s a great idea, but I don’t think you’re going to be the one to do it.’ And that was disheartening. But that’s how companies are either made or broken I suppose.”
What started as a streaming platform for B2B media content sales has since morphed into an aggregator app that operates in the U.S., UK and Germany, with plans to bow imminently in Austria, Switzerland, Latin America and Canada. In the U.S., ScreenHits TV aggregates 32 streaming services including Amazon Prime, Disney, Paramount+ and Hulu via a connected-TV app. Since its soft-launch in May 2020, the company is close to 500,000 subscribers in the U.S. and UK and is on course to hit 1M by the year’s end. Its base level of service is available for $0.99 (£0.99 in the UK and €0.99 in Europe) and it offers discounts on bundles of multiple services for those creating those packages through its platform.
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The company has been staffing up with a number of key hires as well. Last month, ScreenHits TV hired Amazon Studios’ former comedy and drama chief Joe Lewis to its advisory board along with former WarnerMedia and Disney EMEA distribution exec Humphrey Black. It’s also hired former Sky Germany & Sky Italy marketing whizz Arianna Saita as Chief Marketing Officer. Additionally, the company formed a joint venture with the founders of India’s Vial Content Tech, former Sony Pictures Network India CEO Kunal Dasgupta and EVP Vivek Gupta, giving the company access to the Indian market.
While it’s certainly been a busy year, ScreenHits TV is, in many ways, just getting started after enduring a long and uphill battle to convince people in the industry that digitization is the future.
Born in Santa Monica, Adkins Hulse had stints at NBCUniversal and the Sundance Institute in the sales and distribution arena. At the former, she worked with Universal home entertainment veteran Craig Kornblau (now an advisor at Google Ventures), who was very focused on the digital transformation of films in direct-to-video and direct-to-cinema at a time when Netflix was still a mail-in service. Then, at the Sundance Institute, after being discouraged by the number of indie films that premiered at the festival and never saw the light of day again, Adkins Hulse saw an opportunity.
“I remember wondering why there wasn’t an industry platform that aggregated all of these films and content so that any kind of buyer from around the world would be able to come in and see the content they wanted to acquire in the price range of availability,” she recalls. At the time, Vimeo and YouTube were exploding on the video-sharing scene so, for her, the imminent digitization of the industry was clear.
“I started to see that that was definitely going to be the future,” she says.
She relocated from New York to London in 2012 and set up ScreenHits, a B2B media content sales streaming platform. Hulse and her parents funded the start-up in its infancy, which consisted of a small team of eight people.
“It was an ambitious idea,” says Adkins Hulse. “When I started out, a lot of feedback I got was why would people go to a digital platform when they had Mipcom and Cannes? Why would they want to work with a company that’s going to be so disruptive and eventually take their jobs away? We were kind of in an uphill battle, but I wasn’t put off by that because I really believed in the product and I believe that at the end of the day, if you can make more money using technology that can help speed up that process and not leave money at the table, then it makes sense.”
It was a niche business but it ticked along nicely across a number of years. During this time, ScreenHits developed strong relationships with companies such as Disney, TBS, Netflix, Amazon and the BBC.
“I remember we took a booth in Mipcom, meeting with some of the biggest people in the industry explaining how this was going to change the way people buy and sell content,” she recalls. “Some people were quite excited but others were quite against the change.
“But we pushed through over the years and always tried to find solutions so that we could work in tandem with the industry. We ended up building a lot of strong relationships as a result, even if it took them years to come onto ScreenHits.”
In 2017, Adkins Hulse got wind that another shift for the industry was on the horizon. She and her team were having increasing conversations with companies eyeing a direct-to-consumer approach for streaming content. Netflix and Amazon were the only major players at the time in the streaming game, with the big studios licencing their content to the platforms internationally.
“We started to notice a big drop in renewing that third-party licence,” says Adkins Hulse. “We called up one of our studio clients that we worked with in Latin America to ask what was going on and they told us that there was a mandate from high up at the company to try and reclaim rights as the studio was going to begin creating its own streaming service.”
Numerous conversations followed with other studios and Adkins Hulse knew that her company was going to have to adapt her business to the changing landscape.
“We did a pivot, which felt like a natural progression really,” she says. “Across the years we had really perfected our technology and aggregation tool so I thought why not use this technology to aggregate all of these different streamers that would soon be on the market?
“People thought I was crazy because there was Amazon, Roku and Apple with billions of dollars behind them. The general consensus was, ‘How is ScreenHits even going to make a mark out there?”
Adkins Hulse knew her company’s USP was different – ScreenHits would not be involved in producing its own original content, like many of the others in the market.
“We’re completely agnostic to that,” she says. “Our focus would always be on our partners’ content and we would never have the issue of putting our own original programming front and center. We wanted to bring in all of the partners we had built over the last few years and give them fair and equitable attention on our platform.”
The company was able to build on its strong relationships that Adkins Hulse had forged throughout the years and began to quickly sign-up major players and now boasts a roster with the likes of Disney, Netflix, Amazon, Paramount+, BBC, ITV, Mubi, Starz and Shudder.
Consumers can easily see what’s trending on the service, manage their favourite content and what is recommended across all of their subscriptions and content channels in an easy-to-use format. Next week, the company is launching a social feature, TV Friends, which will be available on Apple devices and will enable users to see what their friends are watching on the service.
“With so many streaming players out there now, there is no more ‘I want to keep the customer’ talk,” she says. “The customer is going to go where the content is and the best thing to do is work together and create packages. A journalist once asked me, ‘why would these players want to be in the same place?’ and I said ‘why would TV channels want to be on cable?’ There’s nothing different about what we’re doing, we’re just basically allowing people to have all of their streaming services and their channels in one place.”
It’s been a long road for Adkins Hulse and her company to get to this point but she conscious that her approach to the challenges has helped kick open doors that remained open to her and the company down the line.
“I think in order for me to survive in all of this chaos, I always approach challenges by simplifying because if you simplify, the answer is always there.”
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