The Disney-owned ABC Family network will become the Freeform network Tuesday (Jan. 12). It’s just a name change, not a wholesale brand overhaul, but there’s bound to be some confusion in some of the more than 94 million households the network reaches.
Here are six things to know about the ABC Family moniker makeover
The name-swap isn’t a panicky ratings-related ploy.
“Often when companies decide, at least in the television world, to change their name, they’re solving a big business problem,” said Tom Ascheim, the network’s president, previewing the name change during the Television Critics Association 2016 Winter TV Tour in Los Angeles. “Ratings are down. Money stinks. They need to recruit an entirely new audience. We, thankfully, are suffering from none of these particular ills.”
Overall, ABC Family ratings are down a bit in prime time, as they are at many networks. But Ascheim cited the network’s continuing ratings success among teens and women ages 18-34, its ability to generate loads of social-media chatter and the annually popular “25 Days of Christmas” holidays-programming package as signs of robust health.
“So, why mess with a good thing?”Ascheim said. “We, like any business, need to grow. And growth only comes from two places: You make your core customers happy, and you get new customers.”
If you’re younger than a Millennial but old enough to care about ABC Family fare like Pretty Little Liars and The Fosters and you don’t watch ABC Family, this new name is for you.
Research shows that its core young audience is very happy with the network, Ascheim said.
“They love us, and we love them back,” he said. “We talk to them regularly, and we ask them questions. And they fill out surveys on our behalf, talking about us. And we over-index on a wide array of really blush-inducing attributes.”
Among non-viewers in the same age range, though, “wholesome” and “family-friendly” are the words that come to mind – and accordingly over-index in audience research — when they think about the network soon to be formerly known as ABC Family.
“We’re delighted to be family-friendly and wholesome,” Ascheim said. “But it’s kind of specific, and it’s not particularly representative of who we are.”
Who Freeform is is the TV home for “Becomers.”
That’s a demographic category coined by the network last year.
“It’s a life stage,” Ascheim said. “It’s that place between childhood and adulthood. Proverbially we say between your first kiss and your first kid. Kind of starts in high school, goes till, I don’t know, when you’re 20 or something, maybe 30.”
Becomers “really are in formation kind of freely,” Ascheim said, so the name Freeform “seems to speak to our target in a really specific and wonderful way.”
“It also elicits this moment in our media heritage,” Ascheim added. “It’s a time when we’re all experiencing content coming in every package, shape, size, format, and on any screen. It oozes from place to place and form to form. And Freeform seems to promise that we will be able to deliver on that expectation that our young audience in particular is having.
“Lastly, Freeform evokes a mood, a sense of spontaneity, creativity. It’s a place where the parties are better. It’s a place I know that I would like to spend a lot of time, and I’m sure our audience is going to want to spend a lot of time, too.”
A lot of new names were considered.
“We went through thousands of name,” Ascheim said “It was tiring and tiresome, but we found a name that we really love that did really well in research, which is great.”
The 700 Club stays.
An increasingly incongruous remnant of the network ownership deal done between the Christian Broadcasting Network and Fox in the late 1990s, Pat Robertson’s flagship show will still air on Freeform. The deal turned CBN’s Family Channel into the Fox Family Channel. Fox sold the network to Disney in 2001, so the retiring name ABC Family is as old as the younger end of the Becomer bracket.
Freeform’s family tree is pretty gnarly, as The 700 Club reminds its viewers daily, with repeats. ABC Family long ago added a disclaimer to Robertson’s show, and Robertson will not likely be locking down on the all-day Pretty Little Liars Tuesday marathon (capped by a new-season premiere episode in the evening, followed by the premiere of the new drama Shadowhunters) that inaugurates the new name.
Or the network’s upcoming series about Nicki Minaj’s formative years.
“Nothing about our name change affects our relationship with The 700 Club,” Ascheim said. ”We don’t actually particularly talk to them a whole lot about our programming strategy. We update them every so often. I imagine they might have made different choices, but that’s the nature of our relationship. We don’t have to worry about each other’s choices.”
Your household’s DVR is way ahead of you on this, young Becomer.
“DVRs are smarter than we are, and they will find their way to the right shows,” Ascheim said. “They’ll record Pretty Little Liars and Shadowhunters independent of what we call the channel.”