Unscripted TV

Development researcher

Also known as: Researcher

Development researcher

What does a development researcher do?

Development researchers are part of the team that comes up with the ideas for new TV programmes. As the most junior members, they are often relied upon to bring fresh ideas and be the voice of youth.

Development researchers are expected to spot new subjects or people that could make interesting TV. They research various topics and fact-check information. They may need to spend time on location to achieve this; for example, immersed in a group of people while developing a potential observational documentary.

They help the assistant producer with Skype interviews and location-filming of people who may appear in the show, like new experts or presenters. As they get more experienced, they edit these into small packages to show to the development producer. They also write well.

Development researchers work for production companies or broadcasters. They often work on several projects at once. These may be in different areas of programming (such as entertainment, sport, nature). They might also be asked to research what audiences enjoy about existing programmes to guide the development team into creating series that audiences want to watch. Or they might research what broadcasters are on the lookout for and what has recently been commissioned.

Watch and read

What’s a development researcher good at?

  • Ideas: have a creative and enquiring mind, be confident in expressing new ideas, brainstorming within a team and developing ideas further
  • Research: explore a range of subjects and people, back up research briefs with interesting and correct information, facts and figures
  • Communication: have an interest in people and good people skills. Be a good writer and able to condense vast amounts of information into a clear brief
  • Teamwork: respond to the needs of the development team, have reliability, adaptability, time management skills, the ability to meet deadlines
  • Knowledge of unscripted television: watch a wide range of programming in a variety of genres from a variety of sources.  Be aware of what rates well and any trends in popular subject areas

Who does a development researcher work with?

The development researcher reports to the development producer. On a day-to-day basis, they work most closely with the development assistant producer. Depending on the process of each company, they may also work with potential new on-screen contributors and audience focus groups to test ideas.

How do I become a Development Researcher?

Some employers look for development researchers with previous experience in unscripted TV offices, but there are a variety of ways to enter this field.

At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in English, media studies and any other subject you feel passionate about that could help you form ideas.

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
  • Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology

Get an apprenticeship:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn as you learn. You’re unlikely to find an apprenticeship in the development department. However, you might want to find an apprenticeship with one of the broadcasters, as this is a good way into the industry. Go to ScreenSkills information on apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in television. Check out What’s an apprenticeship?  to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly.

Get a degree:
You don’t need a degree to be a development researcher. If you want one, don’t be afraid to follow your passion and study a subject you adore. After all, you could find inspiration for a programme in any field of study.

If you’re interested in a degree more closely connected with the world of unscripted TV, you might want to have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses, though it’s unlikely there will be one based solely around research. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the unscripted TV industry.

Get work experience:
Try to get work experience by writing to local production companies and asking if they offer any. Keep an eye out for work experience opportunities at the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky.

Endemol Shine also runs the Brightbulb programme, a 12-week paid internship for eight entry level candidates.

The PACT Indie Diversity Training Scheme is a chance to gain six months’ paid experience at top independent production companies.

Or perhaps take a look at Screen Scotland’s rad TV Researcher Programme, a 10-month paid training scheme.

Keep developing:
Breaking into the industry can be hard, so if you do find yourself working outside the industry to get by, be alert to opportunities to gain experience that you can use to demonstrate transferable skills such as organisation and communication. Also, ideas for new programmes can come from anywhere, particularly jobs that might not be your dream come true. While it may be difficult to build a portfolio when it comes to development, you never want to walk into an interview without a few ideas for the next unscripted TV hit up your sleeve.

Take a short course:
Hone your skills in development researching by taking a specialist course. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills to see if there is one in researching.

Get to know people in the unscripted TV industry by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there are Facebook pages or other social media groups for people making unscripted TV in your area. There might even be groups for runners and trainees. Join them. Create a ScreenSkills profile. There are a lot of crewing agencies that will charge you to be on their books. Sign up to the free ones initially. Wales ScreenNorthern Ireland Screen and other areas offer free crew databases. Find a film office near you and get connected. If you do sign up to paid sites, make sure they specialise in the areas in which you’re interested.

Search for jobs:
Research unscripted TV production companies that you’d like to work for and watch the programmes that they make. Regularly check their websites and job listings websites to see if they are advertising for roles. You can also send in a short speculative letter with your CV to the head of talent. Register your CV on websites like The Talent Manager, which is used by most broadcasters and independent production companies when looking for staff.

You might also be interested in…

Being a researcher in the editorial department of the unscripted TV industry. You might also be interested in being a development producer in the film and TV drama industry. Alternatively, you could consider being a community manager in the games industry.

Further resources