On January 12, 2016, ABC Family officially became Freeform. This change came as quite the shock to some, and normally when a network is rebranding, it is because they are failing. But, this was not the case. Despite the rebranding and change of unmistakable name, that was announced early October of 2015, the same television shows would be aired. They will even keep their 25 Days of Christmas, Harry Potter Marathons, and Disney movie showings. Apparently this evolution of the network had been in the works for 10-12 years, according to network President, Tom Asheim, and the only thing left was to drop the name that the network had outgrown.
So the big question is why change? ABC Family’s viewing demographic was changing and the main audience attracted was no longer those looking for the family-friendly show that the network had been so well known for. Over the past decade, the shows had been beginning to shift towards more teen and young adult content, which is part of the evolution that had been going on mentioned earlier. ABC Family decided to capitalize on the large group of millennials that make up a large part of television viewers in the country. The network’s core audience is viewers ages 14-34, which is an approximated 69 million people target audience. Can you say “Cha-ching”?
When rebranding, the network wanted to follow this huge market and keep up with the millennials as they grow older. They wanted for the network to move past this traditional family viewing and towards its target market of “Becomers”. These “Becomers” are people ages high school to thirty’s, who are asking themselves “Who am I becoming?” They decided to coin this stage of life the “Becoming” stage and those going through it “Becomers”. It is important for them to reiterate that this is a stage of life and not a generation, because they want to follow their viewers from their “first kiss” to their “first kid”.
The network had three main goals for the new name. They, first, wanted to really promote this idea if “Becomers” and the stage of life represented with Freeform. Second, they needed to capitalize on the crossing over and overlap from multiple platforms such as the many social media sites that content is discussed on or the multiple mediums and devices that viewers can use to access and watch Freeform content. The last goal for them was to really make the viewers feel something, and hopefully they would make them feel something positive, such as spark this feeling of “Be you”, “Be Bold”, “Find Yourself”, and so on. This really dives into the meaning behind the word “Freeform” and having no boundaries and making life your own.
Of course, the biggest issue for the network was going to be brand awareness. For such a recognizable name to be changed to something completely new and unrelated is a big risk. They jumped on top of the marketing campaign right after the announcement in October and ran promotional ads heavily until January 12, especially through the 25 Days of Christmas that attracts a lot of viewers. They also pushed the social channels really hard with a hashtag to connect with millennials and a Gorilla marketing campaign that used fans’ user generated content the promote the name change for them. People are more involved than just watching the shows they love, they immerse themselves in the atmosphere and community of fans of the show through social media and networking sites by sharing opinions and favorites about the show. The fans were able to describe what the word “Freeform” meant to them to help express the representation behind the new name and what it stands for. One thing they really had to stress to people was that the stuff they loved on ABC Family would still be there. And so far, it looks like the transition has been very successful and well received by viewers.
The last thing I found very interesting about the change is to look back and see exactly how much the channel has changed even over just the past ten years. This promo video from 2006 really promotes the family oriented shows and the feelings the occur in the shows, some of which in the video shown are Lincoln Heights, Wildfire, Beautiful People, Gilmore Girls, Fallen, and Kyle XY. This promo video previewing what Freeform will be showing in 2016 focuses more on independence and young adult storylines. Some of the shows in this video are Shadowhunters, The Fosters, Baby Daddy, Recovery Road, Young and Hungry and Pretty Little Liars. The content of the shows and the storylines have indeed evolved over the years as their core audience has changed. The shift is not something that will stop the network, because they will continue to roll with the punches, go with the flow, or you know…be #Freeform.