Entertainment A-List 2009

Entertainment A-List No. 3: 'Gossip Girl'

OMFG! A Show With Few TV Viewers Is Still a Hit

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If you saw Blake Lively on the February cover of Vogue, heard President Barack Obama reference the show in a town-hall meeting or stumbled across a new sightseeing bus tour making the rounds of Manhattan's Upper East Side, you'd think "Gossip Girl" was one of the highest-rated shows on TV. Yet a live audience seems to be the only thing eluding the CW's breakout hit. The show averages about 2.4 million total viewers in its Monday-night time slot, a far cry from the 20 million who regularly tune in to ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" or even the 6 million who have put NBC's "Chuck" on the brink of cancellation.

Rick Haskins, the CW's exec VP-marketing
Rick Haskins, the CW's exec VP-marketing
In an average week, "Gossip Girl" hovers around No. 100 in terms of broadcast TV viewership, according to Nielsen. But as the most downloaded, DVR'd and streamed show among its teen fan base, "Gossip Girl" ranked 15th when multiplatform viewing was taken into consideration in a 2008 Optimedia survey. That's a ranking CW Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff takes to heart when discussing the 3-year-old broadcast network's defining show. "I think there's something to these types of measurement systems, that our shows are very valuable and seen by many more people than the Nielsen numbers would allow us to believe," she said. "People wouldn't put the stars on their covers unless they were selling magazines, household names."

Part of what's helped keep the show and its stars in the headlines is envelope-pushing marketing, which reached a peak last summer with a series of ads accompanied by the phrase "OMFG" and others that used quotes from watchdog groups such as the Parents Television Council, which called the show "mind-blowingly inappropriate." Rick Haskins, the CW's exec VP-marketing, said the controversial ads were "the right campaign at the right time for the right show. You're going to see us take a somewhat different direction" for the third season "but nonetheless with the same spirit."

Avg. live viewership
Gossip Girl est. Nielsen ranking
Its multiplatform viewing ranking
Advertisers such as Verizon Wireless, Bluefly and Unilever's Dove Go Fresh have been clamoring for extensive integrated sponsorships, a sign that blue-chip brands see value in the show's audience beyond its on-air limits. They've even helped fund some of the show's biggest plot points, such as Vitaminwater's on-air integration into the second season's location shoot in the Hamptons. "Advertisers understand there is a lot of fan loyalty and a huge following for the show," said Lisa Gregorian, exec VP-worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. Television Group, which produces "Gossip Girl" for the CW.

Not only has "Gossip Girl" been a launch pad for its stars, the halo effect has extended to music and fashion. Bands such as the Virgins, the Pierces and the Kills have gotten major exposure in key episodes and in the Verizon-sponsored music guide at CWTV.com. The show's signature Upper East Side headbands-and-bowties style was all over the collections at February's Fashion Week in New York.

"Gossip Girl" can even convince teenagers to buy books, as the show is based on the young-adult novel series of the same name. Les Morgenstein, president of Alloy Entertainment, which publishes the books and produces the TV series, said the books posted flat year-over-year sales in 2008, a rare achievement in the flatlining publishing industry. Alloy plans to give the books an even bigger boost in the coming weeks, when they'll be repackaged with new cover art featuring the show's stars and shelved as mass-market paperbacks rather than young-adult fiction.

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