Channel 4 is a publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster with a remit to push boundaries, be experimental and distinctive.

Channel 4 constantly looks to develop and nurture new talent, promote innovation and form partnerships in all aspects of the business. This includes how the organisation recruits; Channel 4’s Consumer Insight Team have led the way, developing two bespoke postgraduate programmes with UCL to attract the best graduates.

Channel 4’s Consumer Insight Team looks at why, how and when people watch TV from reporting ratings to picking up key trends to find the next “big thing.” In 2011, Channel 4 launched a pioneering data strategy – building up a database that includes more than 15m registered viewers, including half of all 16-34s. Aimed at understanding viewers’ preferences and developing innovative advertising strategies, Channel 4 requires data scientists who build models to better understand viewers, the wider organisation and the broadcasting landscape.

The broadcaster found an issue recruiting graduates with the necessary skills to fill such positions. The skills data scientists require are in high demand, as it brings together core STEM abilities and not enough STEM graduates chose the media, due to a shortage of students coming through the university system and competition from other popular, well-paying industries such as banking and technology.

Channel 4 partnered with UCL to create a fully funded postgraduate scheme to fill the gap and bring in the necessary skills. With UCL, Channel 4 developed two data scientist schemes; a 2 year Masters MRes in Machine Learning and Data Science and a 3 year PhD in Statistical Sciences.

Channel 4 partnered with UCL because the University was open to creating bespoke, flexible programmes unique to the Channel’s requirements and let them retain the intellectual property rights of research the students undertook.

The course splits the graduate’s first year between attending the university, working at Channel 4 and completing course work. The second year focusses on developing practical experience and real life work exposure as the graduate works full time at Channel 4.

Since 2012 the scheme has delivered a number of benefits:

  • Creating a fully funded programme allowed Channel 4 to attract high potential talent and retention is higher as the course is not limited to just those who can pay.
  • The emphasis on interlinking student work with Channel 4’s commercial agenda meant many projects the data scientist graduates worked on as students were incorporated into the Consumer Insight Team’s future strategies.
  • Building relationships with academic institutions gave Channel 4 access to professors with specialisms in different industries promoting ‘outside-in thinking’.

Of the scheme’s 12 students, three are full time employees and two of these are in senior positions. Building on the success of the UCL partnership, in 2017, Channel 4 is looking to drive more recruitment through our collaborative approaches with Academia.

Channel 4’s Consumer Insight Team developed two additional postgraduate programmes:

  • 1 year Creative Leadership programme at Bournemouth University combining the analytical side of science and research with the cultural study of what it means to work in broadcasting.
  • 3 year Neuroscience PhD programme at Durham University so students can study how advertising influences human brain responses and how consumers respond to choice.