Developing a personalisation & recommendation strategy
Channel 4

Developing a personalisation & recommendation strategy


Challenges and opportunities

Channel 4, who brought the likes of Shameless, Dispatches and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings to our screens, is one of the UK’s leading television broadcasters. With a vast back catalogue of independently commissioned programmes and films and a history of providing alternative TV, they have a very distinct brand identity and large viewership.

They approached Engine to help them develop a personalisation and recommendation (P&R) strategy that would get more people watching and engaging with Channel 4’s content, both on the TV and online. Through improved personalisation and recommendations Channel 4 hoped to: get more people watching more TV; engage viewers with the Channel 4 brand; and boost rates of registration to better understand viewers preferences and provide more relevant content and advertising.

Engine worked collaboratively with key stakeholders from Channel 4 to develop a strategy that would give viewers a coherent personalisation and recommendation experience across all of Channel 4’s services, from live TV with companion mobile applications to catch-up TV via 4oD online.

Central to the work Engine delivered were specifications for a series of key features that would bring the P&R strategy to life within the Channel 4 ecosystem. These features were explored through use cases to show how they would work for different segments of Channel 4’s audience.

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What we did

Engine began by interviewing industry experts such as technologists, content owners and ad buyers to begin building up a picture of what makes a valuable viewer, what viewers themselves value, and the best ways to deliver that value to them. We also conducted competitor analysis, in order to familiarise ourselves with the existing approaches to P&R and gauge how well these approaches were working.

Given the objective of expanding peoples’ viewing from online to TV and vice versa, and extending the time they spend engaging with Channel 4 content – we took the approach that the more people like what they’re watching, the more they’ll watch. So an effective P&R system should be able to connect people with content they will enjoy, on all platforms, increasing their activity across Channel 4.

We developed a vision for how this personalisation and recommendation system might work, and a series of propositions for how the service might start to deliver this vision to viewers.

Our propositions were tested through user engagement in 3 iterative design sprints. We recruited a group of people that represented different segments of Channel 4’s viewership, from TV tech nerds, to faithful soap opera followers, and conducted this user engagement online because it provided an efficient and cost effective means of working with just the right segments for Channel 4.

The user engagement acted as both research and user testing, and through the 3 iterations we moved from the overarching propositions to detailed product specifications and wireframes.

Recommendation vs. Discovery 

In the first sprint of user engagement we explored different P&R propositions. It became clear from the feedback that because of the differences in people and their preferred methods of discovery, one recommendation approach would not fit all. The system needed to respond to different discovery styles, for example:

  • Discovery via social connections
  • Discovery via Channel 4 as a curator of content
  • Recommendations related to what you’ve been watching
  • Or personal discovery where you make your own connections between the shows and topics you like, following the route that most interests you

For the second sprint of user engagement we developed features that might aid these styles of discovery, and in the third sprint we began developing the UX of the features that would facilitate exploration and support the commercial objectives of Channel 4.

We worked closely with Channel 4’s tech team to ensure all the new P&R features we developed were feasible and buildable within their vast and complex ecosystem of products, devices and platforms.

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When the P&R strategy and concepts were finalised, Engine drew all the aspects together into an overarching service ecology and demonstrated the service with use case scenarios based on the different Channel 4 viewer segments.

We also defined how the P&R engine works - where it gets information from, how it uses it and where it feeds back into the viewer experience.

And finally, we mapped out how the features relate to each other and how they align to work concurrently going on internally at Channel 4 to form a roadmap of how the features could be built across many platforms over time.

Some of P&R features we developed with Channel 4 are now starting to go live, such as the personalised “Watch Next” feature that suggests a selection of shows to watch after the one you are currently viewing and encourages longer on-demand content viewing sessions.

The personalisation and recommendation strategy connects different people with content they love, so they watch and engage more with  Channel 4.

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