With a new corporate structure in place designed to stimulate sales, ABC execs made the case that the company’s networks are more integrated and potent than ever. In a sign of increasing integration of TV network brands, Freeform joined the upfront mix for the first time.
Rita Ferro, ad sales president at Disney-ABC Television Group, acknowledged the staff realignment (which came with some layoffs) during her remarks at the top of the show. “A year ago, I told you that we could, and would, do better,” she said. With sales forces aligned with those building direct-to-consumer offerings and teams guiding programming strategy, she said, the company is now “resourced to win.”
The “Disney Difference,” a cross-company sales initiative highlighted earlier in the day at the ESPN upfront, is starting to show signs of new opportunity for ABC, Ferro said. “We found that customers who were exposed to custom content featuring our IP generated double-digit lifts” in awareness and purchase intent, she said. ABC, which execs said was the broadcast network with the most live viewing (not just because of awards and reality competition shows but also because of news and syndication. “We deliver reach,” Ferro declared. “We deliver engagement and, most importantly, we deliver results across a multitude of dayparts, in both live and on-demand viewing.”
While Ferro made glancing references to technology tools and experimentation with ad units, her pitch was noticeably less involved than those of her ad-sales colleagues at NBCUniversal and Fox. “We are going to do great things this year,” she told ad buyers.
Tom Ascheim, president of Freeform, touted the network’s strides since its rebrand from ABC Family two years ago.
“We have really hit our stride,” Ascheim said. Season to date, the network leads among women 18-34 and also is generating the most social conversation of any cable network for the seventh straight year. “We have articulated a new brand promise for our creators and our viewers. Freeform: A Little Forward,” Ascheim said. The tagline “evokes the attitude and power of our audience as they barrel toward adulthood.” The exec criticized unnamed rivals trying to reach the Freeform demo. “In trying to reach them, our competitors often use shortcuts, opting for crude rather than clever, being gross instead of great and in the process creating a questionable commercial environment for all of you. As the young-adult brand for the Walt Disney Company, we go the other way. We know popularity and success come from originality.”
While Fox execs yesterday talked openly about their “New Fox” future, no one on the Disney team took on the elephant in the room: the company’s pending acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets. Ascheim’s remarks about rival networks opting for un-Disney-like traits like “crude” and “gross” recalled the larger uncertainty swirling around the integration of some of the Fox assets and whether edgier film and TV operations can become truly Disneyfied.
Jimmy Kimmel didn’t hesitate to go there, of course.
“Our company is in the midst of negotiations to buy Fox,” he said during his trademark roast, which would not have been suitable for Freeform. “It seemed like a done deal, and then last week Comcast, like the surprise ex-boyfriend who shows up on the Bachelorette right before she gets engaged, Comcast shows up and weasels its way into our business. We got peacock-blocked, is what happened.”