A media researcher works in television, radio or new media helping to organise all aspects of media programming, from ideas to execution.
Media researchers work in different sectors of the media industry, including television, radio, film and the web. They plan, arrange and execute the production of programmes and other output in its various forms, whilst keeping tabs on the industry and its reception in the wider world.
The researcher is a point of liaison between executives, creatives and the public, and can work with different people from across these boundaries to ensure the smooth running of the programming process.
A journey through the different stages of research work might start with investigation into markets and output. A researcher is one of the people responsible for knowing about the state of the industry, so that companies can plan programmes which will be in tune with demand; adjust and tabulate their productions according to current affairs; and plan future manoeuvres to widen the public’s access to different media programmes.
The next stage becomes more specific, as researchers devise ideas for future productions. After being sent an idea for a programme, they may be required to establish its logistical feasibility or to find out about any cultural or historical knowledge that would be a necessary precondition of the pitch before it came to production.
The later stage of a media research job involves the production itself. At this stage, practical elements come to the fore, such as filming, sound recording, organisation and booking. This often involves large groups of people and catering for unusual requests from celebrities or production teams who need the researcher to set up a certain situation.
At all times, the researcher is expected to be on the ball, alert, accessible, ready to obtain information or sort out practicalities and at ease with their company.
Salaries can vary depending on the company, the seniority of the position, the commercial potential of the programme and the economic forecast.
Because of the contractual nature of the work, researchers are often paid at weekly rates, which can range from £350 for junior researchers to £600 per week for covering senior research roles.
- Emails and phone-calls
- Meeting with directors or executives to discuss forward planning
- Practical organisation of the programme – e.g. organising the venue for shoots, or booking travel for stars and executives
- Writing plans and reports for past and future programmes
- Researching market statistics and writing reports on what they might mean for the company or specific programme
Applicants are almost always educated with a good 2:1 degree in any subject. There is no standard request for other given qualifications, as advertisements will usually stipulate qualifications specific to the role.
- Interpersonal skills and a good phone manner
- Computer skills
- Ranging interests
- Good research skills
When working from the office, the working conditions are standard office practice – stress can be an issue, but other risks are minimal.
When on location, however, conditions vary. Researchers are usually expected to be on-site for the duration of filming, which can mean long stints away from home and staying in hotels with no opportunity to get away.
Furthermore, unusual settings and difficult requests from directors can involve attendant problems. However, companies are legally obliged to brief their employees on any adverse conditions they can foresee, so researchers should be going into any period of filming with some idea of what’s going to happen.
In many cases, the researchers are the people who book the place and plan the events of the filming themselves, and so they may be the best equipped for what’s going on.
Increasingly, applicants must expect to spend some time gaining experience as an unpaid intern before they are likely to be considered for a full-time paid position. Most researchers are promoted from early positions as interns and runners, and in some places it is expected that applicants for a research position will have gained experience in the media through these avenues.
However, there is no unbreakable template for applicants, as personality and programme-specific experience are so central to the work.
Recruitment advertisements may stipulate specific skills or genre-specific experience. For example, the skills required to research a reality television show in pre-production may be very different to those required to research and fact-check a historical documentary that has already been made. On the other hand, of course, many of these skills overlap, so a background in research of any kind is a big help for potential applicants.
In the UK, the BBC is a major employer of media researchers, as are all the big-name commercial television and radio stations. However, many foreign and satellite television channels who have a strong presence in the UK media will not necessarily recruit researchers here, as their production may all take place in their home country, or exported abroad where they can find cheaper labour.
As mentioned above, researchers can expect to progress from internships and work as runners to work as a media researcher. Promotion to a senior researcher role is a typical advance from junior research positions. From this point on, the career progression is less typical.
Some researchers will continue to work in a research capacity. Some will work as executives, commissioning and overseeing the programme at the media outlet or station. Others will focus on the creative side of the industry, writing, directing and producing work. Still other media researchers might decide to go freelance and combine different aspects of these roles.
Also known as…
- Television Researcher
- Radio Researcher
- New Media Researcher
What’s it really like?
Ella Wells, 24, is a senior researcher currently working on a television programme.
I have been working as a media researcher for various different television companies for two-and-a-half years now. My first position in television was as a runner, and previous to that I worked in marketing after studying Modern History at Oxford University.
My working life is divided into time when the programmes on which I am working are in development, or planning and editing; and when we are actually filming, which is called production.
When we are in development, I might check the daily papers for any format or documentary ideas as well as keeping an eye out for potential talent, such as possible presenters or experts for programmes. I’ll look at ratings and reviews of last night’s programmes to be aware of what is rating well and what could work for channels and their audiences.
I also spend some time thinking about companies and people to gain access to, and I set up meetings with them to discuss possible programme ideas.
The final aspect of my role in development involves writing proposals to send to commissioners, and attending brainstorming meetings with the development team to come up with new programme ideas.
The production side of my job varies vastly, according to the programme I am working on and the stage in production they are at when I join the process. Generally speaking, I spend days setting up the shoot, researching task ideas for contestants on the programme on which I am currently working, and casting individuals for participation in the programme.
Casting can involve advertising, cold-calling or visiting prospective contributors, which often involves travelling around the country.
During production, television researchers might be expected to help film taster tapes or casting tapes for the channel, as well as getting involved with the actual filming of the programme. This usually involves running around, taking notes and being very nice to people.
For taster tapes and casting tapes shooting, researchers will sometimes shoot on Z1 cameras. At other times a cameraman or assistant producer will be used.
Applicants for research roles must be prepared to do whatever is asked and do it well. You need to learn quickly – and never, ever complain! Don’t think cancelling a holiday is a big thing as a thousand other people will have to do it too.
The industry is very competitive so you have to prove you are the best and willing to help out in whatever way is needed. The job also relies on thinking ahead, planning and being organized – you have to know what is happening next on a shoot, especially if you are acting as a runner.
As an industry insider, I’d warn potential applicants to do their homework before an interview. It’s so important to know what the company specializes in, to know who is interviewing you and what they have done before.
I’d also tell potential applicants to be lively and creative in constantly thinking of new ideas for programmes, and keeping an eye out for new talent.
As well as these demanding elements, the negative side of the job is written in the short-term contracts: there is never much security, and you constantly have to look for the next job out there. Hours can be extremely long when working on a production, and your social life can virtually disappear during this time.
On the plus side, research positions give you many opportunities to meet new people and learn about their lives, as well as different cultures or different views from your own. It is a job that allows creativity and challenges you: your role and day-to-day job will constantly change.
It is a very laid-back atmosphere and people in TV are always chatty and friendly. I’m a sociable person so I love this aspect of the job. For me, as a senior researcher, a position as an assistant producer is the next role on the career ladder, but eventually I hope to be a director.