Yes media researchers, you will have to become coders, too

Yes media researchers, you will have to become coders, too
Neil Mortensen: 'There are so many more bases to cover these days'
The Media Leader interview

Neil Mortensen, ITV’s director of audiences, suggests what skills media, research and insight professionals need in a fragmenting media landscape.


Getting to to the heart of how a TV audience thinks and behaves requires “a bit of everything” and a constant programme of training and upskilling.

But, according to ITV’s director of audiences, Neil Mortensen, hardcore ‘quant’ skills will be a necessary part of the job, to the extent that computer programming will become a routine element of media research and audience analysis, too.

“I think everybody in work in the future is going to have these analytics and coding skills,” Mortensen tells The Media Leader. “These will be the skills that will be the Excel and Word and the PowerPoint of the future.”

Mortensen emphasises the importance of upskilling and training numerous times during the interview. He explains how media, insight and research professionals need to “cover more bases” than ever and have a unique set of “multi-layered” skills.

Meanwhile, at ITV, his team has done more digital upskilling of its teams to include more data analytics, engineering and coding skills.

“We’re asking people to do a bit of everything, and I also think that’s probably a resource thing as well. There are so many more bases to cover these days, and your teams don’t necessarily grow and allow you to have other big specialist teams, so you have to retrain yourself and optimise as well as you can because it’s a constant with new things happening all the time.”

Media research remains highly important for TV broadcasters like ITV as linear audiences transition to digital platforms, which has become a fiercely competitive battlefield across smartphones and tables as well as bigger screens. As video audiences become more fragmented, and sought by TikTok and YouTube alongside traditional broadcasters, knowing the changing market is essential.

For example, ITV, alongside rivals Sky, Channel 4 and marketing body Thinkbox, won multiple awards at this year’s Mediatel Media Research Awards for CFlight research. CFlight, a joint venture led by Sky designed to offer better measurement across the TV broadcast space, is itself a product of innovation in media research.

Mediatel Media Research Awards: Sky & MTM take home Grand Prix

Mortensen believes there are four main skillsets that media, insight and research professionals needed in the current media landscape which is fragmenting more all the time:

Understanding and fusing multiple datasets

This means not having “a preconceived idea” of the answer to a question, Mortensen explains, so you can examine and merge together multiple sources, from qualitative surveys to first-party data measurement, to arrive at a decision.

Broad and unique set of skillsets

Mortensen says you have to be “slightly more generalist” than before. Companies need “all-rounders”, although each person can have “a bit of a specialism in one or two things”.

He explains: “We can all work Excel currently, and we can all do PowerPoint, but there’s always somebody in your team that is really good at PowerPoint, or really good at Excel or really an expert in a particular skill set”

The broad set of skills for media research professionals on Mortensen’s team includes writing questionnaires, modelling, coding, analytics, a basic understanding of behavioural science and how to interview people/

Deep functional knowledge

This could mean a deep knowledge of different departments, the company a a whole and how the economics of the industry works as everything moves quickly, he highlights.

For example, at ITV the audience team will all have an understanding of the content, how channelling, commercial operations and sponsorship works.

Communication and visualisation skills

Mortensen stresses: “Being able to tell proper stories with data and analysis is a really really key thing.”

This needs to be flexible to the audience and “wrap” the way of delivering and carry out work to “plug into other people’s processes”.


Looking at the current media landscape and further ahead, Mortensen sees “everything is fragmenting and so it becomes more difficult.”

He adds: “I always say it’s really easy to measure big things that move very slowly, but it’s really difficult to measure small things that are moving very quickly, and I think that’s the world we’re in now.”

And the question is how to resource and get the skills for people to understand all of the different areas from social media inputs, through to TV measurement, Mortensen says.

One of the challenges “staring us right in the face” that Mortensen is worried about is how newer people to the industry are not getting the chance to observe and learn from colleagues, experts or bosses in-person as much as previously.

However, alongside that he highlights that there is an “almost endless” supply of self-help courses, like the ones the ITV team used to upskill around coding and data engineering which can help employees looking to acquire new skills.

Mortensen will be speaking more about skills at MRS’ Insight Alchemy event on 14 March.

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