TV Upfront

Upfront: ABC Family Is All Growsed Up

Cable Network Plots More Adult Fare for its 'Becomers' Audience

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'Pretty Little Liars,' a crew of 'becomers' if ever there was one.
'Pretty Little Liars,' a crew of 'becomers' if ever there was one. Credit: ABC Family
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ABC Family is staying out past its curfew, prepping a slate of decidedly adult fare in a bid to cause a stir with a cohort of young women it characterizes as "Becomers."

As part of its Tuesday evening upfront presentation in New York, the network that brought you "Pretty Little Liars" and "The Fosters" told media buyers that rather than target a standard demo, it would focus on "Becomers," a catchall for women in the many transitional states that mark the passage from adolescence to adulthood.

"'Becomers' are exploring and establishing who they are becoming -- personally, professionally and romantically -- they live in that magical and messy place between their first kiss and their first kid," said ABC Family President Tom Ascheim, by way of introducing the new construct.

Mr. Ascheim went on to add that the network's ideal viewer is "navigating the wonderful, fun, exciting, and scary time in life when you experience the most firsts -- first car, first apartment, first job, first love, first heartbreak­ -- all the firsts that exists between who they are and who they want to become."

For buyers less swayed by euphemism, the "Becomer" crowd is roughly between 14 and 34 years old and consumes around four hours of TV per night. When compared to traditional Nielsen demos, that 20-year span appears to make perfect economic sense. Based on the industry currency of "C3," or commercial ratings over three days after they first air, ABC Family is the season's top-rated ad-supported cable network among women 18 to 49 (averaging 393,000 per night) and females 12-to-34 (331,000).

"Becomers" aren't particularly different than ABC Family's prior demographic target, which was at heart women 18 to 34. But networks are increasingly trying to poke some holes in the demographic boxes they began with, letting in advertisers that might not have felt excluded before. The question is how often media buyers strike upfront commitments based on a network-conceived psychographic, as opposed to the segments with which they and their marketer clients are familiar.

There are approximately 69 million "Becomers" in the U.S., and their combined spending power is estimated to be in the trillions, said Laura Nathanson, ABC Family exec VP of sales and marketing.

Nathanson added that ABC Family would help its clients gain more qualitative insights about its audience by way of the "Becomer Insight Group," or BIG, a new proprietary research unit charged with "using data to get closer to consumers." A third-party vendor is helping assemble a national panel of 5,000 to 10,000 "Becomers," Nathanson said, calling BIG an "opportunity to develop an ongoing dialogue with our viewers."

Year-round originals
Over the course of the next four years, the network will double its investment in original scripted and unscripted series, a move that will allow it to embark upon a year-round programming schedule. Among the first new shows that are set to premiere on ABC Family are "Stitchers," a covert ops procedural (June 2); "Becoming Us," an unscripted show that focuses on a teenager coping with his father's gender transitioning (June 8); and "Kevin From Work," a single-camera comedy about unrequited love and thwarted ambition.

The supernatural thriller "Shadowhunters" arrives in early 2016, as does the drying-out drama "Recovery Road." Eight other projects are in various stages of development, including the recently announced pilots "Gorgeous Morons" and "Beyond."

Season 6 of "Pretty Little Liars" bows June 2. The kicky ensemble mystery/melodrama is ABC Family's most-watched and highest-rated show, averaging 2.01 million viewers and a 0.9 rating in the adults 18-49 demo.

Lastly, while it's been saddled with the homey moniker since 2001, ABC Family is taking steps to further distance itself from a brand that connotes co-viewing and intergenerational warm fuzzies. To that end, the network is rolling out a new brand campaign that leans heavily on its vertiginously-cheekboned young stars and a tag line that invites viewers to "Become with us."

ABC Family generates north of a half-billion dollars in annual ad sales revenue, per SNL Kagan estimates. The network is distributed in 94 million homes nationwide.