ABC Family is changing its name. Starting in January 2016, the Disney-owned TV network targeting younger viewers will be known as Freeform. The network will begin promoting the new branding right away, committing tens of millions of dollars to getting the word out, while the new logo will be unveiled in a few months.
This will be the first time in 27 years that the cable channel won’t have “family” in its name. Launched in 1977 by Pat Robertson, it was named the CBN Family Channel in 1988 and kept the word in as it went through various ownerships, named The Family Channel, Fox Family and then ABC Family. It was believed that there was a clause in the original sale by Robertson that would forbid any future owners from dropping the word “family” from the name though an ABCF rep said that there is no legal obstacle standing in the way of the network changing its moniker to Freeform. Another vestige from the early days of the channel, Robertson’s talk show The 700 Club, will continue to air on the rebranded network.
ABC Family’s decision to go for a new name was triggered by a gap in perception, said ABC Family President Tom Ascheim, noting that, according to research, core viewers understand the younger, social-media active brand while non-viewers associate it with wholesome and family-friendly programming. “We wanted to harmonize our content and out brand,” he said. “By achieving that harmony, we would be much better positioned to keep our core viewers and add new viewers.”
Despite dropping the ABC moniker which ties it to the Disney universe, “the Freeform brand will be very much nestled in the Disney ethos — full of optimism and imagination, said Nigel Cox-Hagan, ABCF’s SVP Marketing, Creative and Branding.
The network considered some 3000 names, with Freeform standing out in testing, Ascheim said. “Freeform evokes the spirit and adventure of our audience,” he said.
Cox-Hagan added that the new name also speaks to the fact that the network’s programming is now available on any platform and screen, with viewers encouraged to participate.
By melding two words, free and form, freeform is reminiscent of some of the top social media/video brands whose monikers have a similar structure, facebook, snapchat, youtube. That was not intentional, according to ABCF executives. “It was more about creating a name that can exist on every platform,” Cox-Hagan said.
ABC Family plans to use some of its top franchises, including flagship drama Pretty Little Liars and the popular 25 Days of Christmas holiday event, to promote the new branding. Additionally, there will be a big campaign around new drama Showdowhunters, which will be “ambassador for the new brand,” Cox-Hagan said.
Once focused on millennials, ABC Family in April announced that it would now be targeting a new category viewers, “becomers” as some of its viewers were aging out of the millennial demo. Becomers a life stage rather than a generation, including young people aged 14-34 who are in high school, college and the decade that follows and are navigating the time in life when you experience the most firsts – first car, first apartment, first job, first love, first heartbreak.
While the focus will be on becomers, Freeform will also keep popular programming for the entire family, such as 25 Days Of Christmas. “We want to be inclusive; the idea is to center on young people but include families as becomers have families,” Ascheim said.
Freeform also will continue the ABCF programming push announced this April to double the network’s original programing over the next four years. with more series pickups and renewals expected later this week.