LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The CW network is taking aim at an unlikely competitive threat: its own Web site.
The network said Thursday that episodes of its series "Gossip Girl" will not be streamed on CWTV.com when "Gossip" returns Monday with original episodes through season's end. The first 12 episodes of the season, which will remain on the site, were made available free to viewers about a week after their original airdate.
The CW is trying to avoid being a victim of its own success: "Gossip" has proved to be a big draw online (www.CWTV.com), with each episode said to be generating hundreds of thousands of streams. Episodes routinely rank among the most downloaded on iTunes, which also will continue to offer new episodes.
CW is taking the counterintuitive step of limiting "Gossip" to test whether its online window is cannibalizing the TV audience.
"While the buzz on the show has remained strong, we decided to have it be that you can only get it on our airwaves," said a CW spokesman, who deemed the withdrawal an "experimental" move. "We'll see if that at all impacts the numbers."
Yanking "Gossip" online is a stark departure from what most TV programmers are doing this season. Full episodes have been made ubiquitous online and seeded with advertising; executives tout them as purely additive measures toward maximizing their audience back on air.
But in targeting the younger demographics that tend to consume more programming on the Web than older viewers, the CW might be more vulnerable online than other TV networks with broader, older-skewing audience bases. If teens are being conditioned to catch "Gossip" online at their leisure, that could lessen the lure of appointment viewing in primetime.
The CW will do what ever it takes to protect its freshman series. Monday's episode will be its first original installment in three months because of the WGA strike and its first in a new slot since moving from Wednesdays at 9 p.m. to Mondays at 8 p.m.
Ironically, the CW cited the success of "Gossip" as one of the reasons the series received a full-season pickup in October.