TV Upfront

Freeform Lives Up To Its New Name By Experimenting With Content, Ad Formats

'25 Days Of Christmas' Gets Ad-Free Shorts

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Just three months after changing its name to Freeform, the network formerly known as ABC Family is making its first foray into late-night, introducing a fan festival, creating short-form content and revamping its app to become a more robust hub for content and social interactions.

The changes will all be part of Freeform's upfront pitch to advertisers on Thursday evening, its first as the rebranded channel.

In an effort to live up to its new name, Freeform is reimagining the formats and distribution of its content, as well as how ads will live across its linear and digital properties.

Traditionally, the destinations to watch shows live and the places to go to catch up on programming have been different, said Tom Ascheim, president, Freeform. "In some cases, we are getting more viewership for our shows off streaming platforms than our own because the experience is better," he said.

To amend this, Freeform is expanding its digital platform with more live and on-demand content, short-form video, fan contributions and social conversations.

Over time, the new offering will give the audience choice and control over how and when they consume content, allow them to binge and stream, customize playlists of their favorite episodes and scenes, interact with advertising and even be a part of the development process.

Freeform is working with distributors to make the process for accessing its apps easier and include a deeper library of content. Similar to other cable channels, Freeform is also exploring ways to make advertising less interruptive and more customizable.

"As we innovate how we make and deliver content it would only make sense to do this with our ads also," Mr. Ascheim said.

Freeform will add short-form content to its "25 Days of Christmas" lineup, for example, providing advertisers the opportunity to sponsor these shorts, which will air with limited or no commercials.

"One reason we are creating different formats of shows is so that we can do different types of advertising," said Laura Nathanson, exec VP-national ad sales, Freeform. "We want to make advertising a positive part of how people use the brand."

Freeform will expand into late-night with a panel talk show, which will feature women discussing news, politics, food and entertainment, as well as other topics.

It will also introduce its first short-form series, currently titled "Alice," which will "house the oddity in life," with short-form animation, scripted content, as well as other types of content, Mr. Ascheim said.

Freeform is also developing a live festival called Freeform Fest, slated for summer 2017, which will celebrate TV, music, art, comedy, fashion, film and digital media. The event will include performances, interactive art, food, side-shows and other activities. "The world has gone so virtual that in-real-life seems more valuable, especially to young people, than ever before," Mr. Ascheim said.

ABC Family officially became Freeform in January, and just six weeks after the re-launch, Mr. Ascheim said there was already a surprising shift in perception. The network went from being described as "wholesome," "family friendly" and "predictable," to "fresh," "bold" and "innovative," he said, citing internal research.

This summer, Freeform will air "Dead of Summer," which Mr. Ascheim said combines horror and summer fun, and "Guilt," a mystery about two college students who travel abroad to England where one is killed. Mr. Ascheim said these series "push boundaries for us."

Other new programming includes a cheerleading docu-series, "Cheer Squad"; sci-fi series "Beyond"; and unscripted series, "The Letter." "Switched at Birth" will air its fifth and finale season in 2017.