A packed Channel Four cinema welcomed execs from the UK’s five major TV channels to the latest RTS Futures event, which lifted the lid on some of telly’s more interesting but less common jobs.
At the late-September session, acquisitions, commissioning, marketing, media law and scheduling – rather than running and researching or presenting and producing – were the subjects for discussion.
Jay Davidson described her route into commissioning as “convoluted”. The BBC Two and BBC Four assistant commissioner moved from record labels to Radio 1Xtra to BBC television via a series of marketing roles.
“My expertise is understanding audiences, really knowing what makes them tick,” explained Davidson. “I’ve used my marketing expertise in a commissioning situation.”
Programmes that appeal to her tell “stories that have never been told” and give a “voice to the voiceless”.
Offering advice to the young Futures audience hoping to break into TV, Davidson said: “The best route in is doing it – it’s making, writing, shooting or lighting your content. It’s experiential rather than talking about it.”
Sky acquisitions manager Jack Oliver’s first experience of telly was a “summer job at the BBC booking cabs” before he went to university. After graduating he found some work experience at the BBC and then landed a job with the Corporation where he worked with fellow panellist Paul Fagan.
The latter is currently Channel 5’s business affairs chief, and is responsible for negotiating commercial contracts with film studios and programme producers. Fagan studied law at university, but his “passion was for film, theatre and the arts”.
He rejected a ”pure legal career” and moved into theatre management, before landing a job with the BBC’s artist contract department. “They wanted someone with a legal qualification but with a passion for the arts. That got me into telly,” he recalled.
Channel 4 channel manager Kiran Nataraja summarised her job as “looking to produce the most creatively interesting and competitive, and commercially viable schedules”.
In scheduling, she added, “You feel you are at the hub of the channel and get to liaise with people from all parts of the business.”
Nataraja described herself as a “TV obsessive. The dream for me originally was to be a Blue Peter presenter.” After university, she applied for a host of TV roles, but was “knocked back so many times – it was heartbreaking”.
Eventually, she joined the BBC in a data entry role and then moved into scheduling.
“As a scheduler, you do become a bit of a data geek. You have to be really interested in audience figures,” said Nataraja.
ITV2 marketing manager Rob Shead broke into television following a stint at Cancer Research UK, working in the same area. “If you have experience in marketing a brand, [those skills] are transferable,” he said.
When a job opportunity came up at ITV2, Shead said it was a “no brainer” to apply. “I watched TOWIE, Love Island and Celebrity Juice – it was right up my street. So, I went to the interview and got it.
Discussing the skills needed for their jobs, the panel highlighted the need to get on with people.
“Relationship management is really important,” said Shead. Oliver added: “All of [our] jobs involve being good at relationships.”
“Whenever something goes wrong, generally the scheduling will be blamed so you have to have nerves of steel. Good communication skills and resilience are needed,” said Nataraja.
“People think TV is really glamorous, but mostly it’s work,” added Davidson. “Be the person that listens – they are often the person that resolves stuff. If you’re solving problems, you’re seen as very valuable.”
The RTS Futures event, “Ever wondered what it would be like to work for a TV channel?”, was held at Channel 4 in central London on 26 September. Capital Breakfast show and 4Music host Vick Hope chaired the event, which was produced by Sasha Breslau and Alex Wootten.