Is the Web Hurting Guilty Pleasure TV Shows?

So, um, I watch Gossip Girl. But I do it on my laptop, when nobody else is around.

gossipgirlstreamingAnd as I read recently of complaints by Lipstick Jungle‘s creators that its cancellation threats are unfair because much of its audience isn’t measured, I had to wonder if maybe they weren’t just whining.

Could the increasing number of options for watching TV shows that fall under the guilty pleasure category mean they are slipping in the conventional rating systems? Soap operas are some of CBS Interactive’s most popular online programming, I’ve been told. I’ve also heard concern from networks that younger-skewing shows just aren’t as economically viable these days, because their audience could care less about the TV. BitTorrent, YouTube, TV Links, iTunes — it’s all at their fingertips.

But I wonder if as online viewing goes more mainstream, this wouldn’t be a broader concern for shows that people prefer to watch in private or when nobody else is around. I don’t mean anything salacious, necessarily, I just doubt that I’m the only one who would rather not admit I know what Blair Waldorf’s latest blackmail scheme was.

The CW has expressed frustration over its inability to nail down viewership numbers for Gossip Girl in the face of the show’s supposed popularity (at least as measured by things like press coverage). The network even pulled Gossip Girl from online streaming last season in an effort to drive up viewership (it resumed streaming this season, but still posts it a few days after it airs, longer than any other network). Lipstick Jungle seems to be facing a similar problem. Here’s the bit about the show from the Daily Beast this morning:

The Nielsen scores do not reflect the number of people who TiVo episodes or watch the show on websites like or Hulu—where Lipstick has a cult following. If these numbers were included, Candace Bushnell told The Daily Beast, the network would be crazy to talk cancellation. “These kinds of serial shows tend to be what people TiVo and then watch all in a row on a Saturday morning,” she says. “Over 50 percent of our audience is not accounted for in the numbers.”

Does the data support this theory? A recent report said both Gossip and Lipstick had above-average DVR numbers. Gossip Girl is almost always at the top of the iTunes charts, but I can’t say the same for Lipstick Jungle on Hulu. According to NBC’s integrated measurement system, mobile, VOD, downloads, and streaming amount to at most a tenth of the show’s viewership.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if building an online audience is a bad thing. It’s just not a thing that keeps shows on the air these days

If you have any more data or personal testimonials, please do let us know and we’ll follow up.