ABC Family is rebranding the network and stripping out the family in the process.
The network will be rechristened Freeform in January as part of the company's strategy to zero in on what it calls "becomers," or 14-to-34 year-olds who are in the life stages of firsts, everything from their first kiss to their first kid.
Tom Ascheim, president of ABC Family, said the name Freeform captures the essence of the "becomer" audience and reflects the way they consume and generate content.
"Our core audience expects to be just as much a producer as a consumer and the name invites participation," he said.
A "becomer" is also on a journey of self-discovery first and foremost, Mr. Ascheim said. And while family continues to be an important part of that, "family programming" typically connotes shows suitable for parents and smaller children, which isn't the type of content ABC Family airs.
Mr. Ascheim said two-thirds of its target audience who are not currently watching the network have the perception of ABC Family as a wholesome channel that's family-friendly. "In order to grow we saw we needed to close the perception gap," he said.
"Freeform bridges the brands associated with the Disney Channel and the adult brands like ABC and ESPN inside the company," Mr. Ascheim said, noting there needs to be something in between.
ABC Family's viewership is following the trend in the overall cable space, with its total audience down 8% averaging 1.2 million in prime-time year-over-year. It's also seen about a 7% decrease in the 18-to-34 demographic.
In an effort not to alienate its current fan base, Mr. Ascheim said the network will utilize its biggest platforms to introduce the change.
The network will roll out marketing for the rebrand during the its tent-pole event, "25 Days of Christmas." It will then relaunch as Freeform in January timed to the new seasons of its popular shows like "Pretty Little Liars" and "The Fosters."
Mr. Ascheim admits ABC Family has not been as easy of a sell to advertisers as it would like at times. He notes "becomers" are an important target for brands because it is the life stage where these consumers start to develop brand affinities.
ABC Family has been gradually reinventing the channel over the last few months. This includes evolving the on-screen appearance to be more flexible and allow for variability in design, said Nigel Cox-Hagen, senior VP-marketing, creative and branding, ABC Family.
Ultimately, the goal is to make the soon-to-be Freeform reflective of the viewers' sensibility and much more of a participatory network.
In conjunction with the rebrand, the network will also introduce a user-generated campaign inviting fans to submits photos and videos that express the word Freeform in a way that is inspired by their own lives and passions. User submissions may be incorporated into the ongoing launch campaign.
This is the next step in ABC Family's evolution. During the upfronts ABC Family announced it would double the number of original programs over the next four years.