Profile – Moira Coffey: Researcher

Mar 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

In the TV business, where career paths sometimes seem to be measured in nanoseconds, King World Productions’ Moira Coffey is a longdistance runner-literally too.
King World’s chief researcher, who has been crunching numbers at the syndication company for 20 years, is also an accomplished marathon runner whose best time was 3:52 a decade ago when she was in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington.
She also pumps iron, skis, cycles, practices yoga and is an avid reader who reads everything from current affairs (she subscribes to The Economist) to current fiction (on her night table now is Empire Falls, by Richard Russo), but the stories she likes the best are the ones the numbers tell. “For me the numbers are telling a story, so it’s more like reading numbers the way you’d read a book,” she said.
“The goal is looking for the underlying trends.” In fact, the “best skill” of the researcher is the same one any good storyteller needs: the ability to take a mammoth amount of data and “boil it down to salient points, the truths and realities of what it is that you see,” Ms. Coffey said. “There are always market variances. There are regional issues. There are [individual] station strengths and weaknesses.”
The next big thing in research, “and it’s a little frightening,” is Nielsen’s expansion of the local People Meter to the top individual markets. “That’s going to give us an explosive amount of data on a daily basis, which is going to put everything out of control,” Ms. Coffey said. “All of our computer systems are going to be obsolete for that amount of data … [and] you’ll have this tremendous, almost unwieldly amount of data to absorb and it has such a short shelf life. It’s not fresh 24 hours later.”
If she weren’t in the research game, Ms. Coffey, whose father is 90 years old, would like to work with the “well elderly.” Last year she spent six weeks in Maui, Hawaii, taking a physical-trainer fitness-education course. “I’ve been an outdoorsy gal all my life. … Maintaining quality of life as we age interests me greatly.”