Elaine Paul, CFO, Strategy and Business Development at Hulu, has a scope of work that goes beyond finance and strategy. Hulu benefits from having access to a plethora of digital data, and Elaine’s work includes leveraging all forms of that data to qualify decisions about content, marketing and sales. Elaine studied economics and history at Stanford and earned her MBA at the Harvard Business School. Before joining Hulu she was Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Development at The Walt Disney Company.
The transition from a more traditional media company to, as she said, “the white hot center of media and technology at Hulu,” has been exciting and energizing for her. That enthusiasm was evident in this interview.
Charlene Weisler: What made you decide to leave Disney and move to Hulu?
Elaine Paul: What I find most attractive about Hulu is its position in both the media and technology spaces. There is a dynamic, major shift in the media ecosystem, and Hulu is on the right side of it. Consumer behavior is changing quickly. Where the content and eyeballs go, dollars will follow. SVOD is becoming a meaningful player and Hulu is in the center of that. Hulu captures both subscription and advertising revenue with its dual revenue business model, so we are both a direct-to-consumer business and a B to B business given our relationship with advertisers.
Hulu is a joint venture between Disney, 21st Century Fox and Comcast. Our parent companies are very forward thinking with respect to both technology and consumer trends. They are cognizant that over-the-top (OTT) distribution is a high growth and increasingly important element of the media ecosystem, and that Hulu is at the nexus of the convergence of media and technology.
Charlene: What is your role as CFO?
Elaine: I am CFO, Strategy and Business Development, with an emphasis on strategy. There has been a shift in the CFO landscape. CFOs are increasingly strategic partners to their CEOs and boards and fellow operating executives. Being close to the financial data, one can glean strategic insights that help drive better decision making. I focus on helping develop and articulate our strategy, driving Hulu’s growth, and doing so in an efficient matter.
An emerging theme in the world of the CFO in technology companies is that the CFO now has to become a CDO -- Chief Data Officer. How do we leverage data to maximize our market position? We use data-driven analytics to provide value-added insights and actionable recommendations to drive growth, revenue and efficiency. How can we leverage viewership data to glean insights about how our customers engage with our service, and use that information to drive increased engagement and retention? And how do we optimally combine and leverage our internal data with other external data sets to turbo charge the power of our data? We use data to inform our investments in content and marketing, and to alter and personalize our content and product offerings to give each user the best experience for them. We marry insights from the financials with our wealth of data to supercharge growth.
Charlene: How do you use the data? What data do you use? What metrics do you use?
Elaine: Hulu’s critical objective is to grow subscribers. We use data to analyze subscriber trends: how many new subscribers are we attracting through what channels, how well are they retained, what is the “lifetime value” of those customers, and how can we work to increase that and do so efficiently? A critical financial objective in addition to growing subscribers is to grow Hulu’s advertising revenue from our ad-supported products. In analyzing our ad business, we analyze key metrics such as CPM, inventory supply, management and utilization, and data that enables us to offer targeting opportunities to our ad clients.
We relentlessly focus on the consumer experience: minimizing ad fatigue and delivering relevant ads. To marketers, we offer the opportunity to market in a super-premium content environment, the ability to target. The high viewability and measurability of our ads is a key selling point. We like to say that data is our currency -- and whatever objective a marketer has, we can help them achieve that because we have such strong data on our users and their interests. And if we do a good job at that, we are doing a good job for our viewers as well, delivering them targeted ads that are relevant to them.
Charlene: What about third party data?
Elaine: We use Nielsen and comScore. We are keen to get measure-ability in the living room and better measure-ability on mobile. We are extremely mindful of privacy and are extraordinarily careful with any personal data. We marry our data with third party data to offer marketers targeted solutions via our Advanced TV initiative. And we marry our data to Blue Kai, both as a solution for our marketers and also for a solution in our own outward-bound marketing of our service.
Charlene: Are you doing any programmatic?
Elaine: We call it “Advanced TV” and not programmatic, because some look at programmatic as a race to the bottom on price. How can we exploit Advanced TV for the mutual benefit of Hulu and its advertisers? We trade through private exchanges and offer extremely targeted premium opportunities. Advanced TV for us is advanced targeting, not inventory backfill and price discounting. Only select brands and marketers are able to bid in our exchange, which offers premium exposure and highly targeted opportunities for advertisers.
Charlene: Since you started in the industry, how has the media industry evolved?
Elaine: I started in the industry in the 1980s. It is extraordinary to me that in the last ten years (and now I might say even more so in the last three years) the pace of change is unlike anything I have ever seen. Technology has revolutionized media. Television has always seen change. In the 1970s it was the introduction of cable, then satellite and Telcos entered, and then digital compression and the choice of over 500 networks. Enter Internet protocol, over-the-top and suddenly the pace of change is extremely rapid. What is entertainment? Is it the TV shows live in your living room, short form on your mobile, or YouTube channels on your pc or tablet? It is all of those things. Now you can discover channels on Snapchat. That didn’t exist ten years ago. What is going on in some entrepreneur’s garage today that will emerge in the future as a major new platform? The pace of change in entertainment driven by technology is extremely exciting. Successful media and entertainment companies will keep up, embrace change and be able to look around the corner and anticipate what is next.
Charlene: How do you achieve work/life balance?
Elaine: The difference between work and life in today’s “always connected” world is a blurred line. I have been married for 17 years and have three children. I also love adventure travel, the outdoors and working for causes about which I am passionate. This is on top of a very exciting and demanding career. Life is the amalgamation of everything that makes a human being. We have come far from the “9-to-5” day with definitive work vs. life lines and boundaries. We all have electronic devices that connect us 24/7 to our work and to our friends and family. How do you strike the appropriate balance of being a fulfilled and happy person and fit it all into 24/7? To have meaningful work about which you are passionate and to be fulfilled in your personal life makes for a happy and healthy life overall. Be flexible and strike the balance that works for you.
Charlene: Elaine, what keeps you up at night?
Elaine: My excitement and passion about how exciting the space is. The industry is changing so fast that you can’t miss a beat.
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