ABC Family Plots Big Scripted Music Push as Focus Shifts to "Becomers"

The younger-skewing cable network will double its original programming over the next four years as part of its year-round plan, with a scripted music drama from Christina Aguilera and a comedy from Irving Azoff in the works.
AP Images

ABC Family is shifting from targeting millennials to what it has dubbed "Becomers" as part of a rebranding of sorts to focus on music and the many "firsts" in the lives of its young adult audience.

As part of the push, the Disney-owned network is teaming with Christina Aguilera, Eva Longoria, Maker Studios and Pretty Little Liars boss I. Marlene King to develop its next round of original programming as the cabler, under president Tom Ascheim, shifts to a year-round model and looks to double its original programming over the next four years.

While not a shift in its target demographic of 14-34, ABC Family's strategy will continue to explore a life stage with Becomers focusing on high school, college and the decade that follows — where many of the estimated 69 million with a spending power in the trillions experience the most "firsts" — cars, apartments, jobs, love and heartbreak.

"We are renewing our focus on an especially vibrant and important part of the consuming public, whom we have named Becomers, and are committing to this life stage, rather than to a generation," Ascheim says. "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."

To that end, ABC Family will also relaunch its Watch ABC Family application in the summer with an updated look, feel and user experience that will better represent Becomers.

"For the last 10 or 12 years, ABC Family has made its mark by super-serving millennials while at the same time providing this broad reach of an audience. It's a great formula but the only thing wrong with it is that millennials are getting older," Ascheim told The Hollywood Reporter. "The oldest millennials are going to hit 40. This feels like it's about time. … We're facing a moment in time where there's a shift in generations through a life stage. We like to anticipate where the world is going and not react. We were leaders in hitting millennials first but not that millennials are exiting our world we want to be leaders in the place where we live."

Ascheim indicated that the "Becomers" push is as much of a rebranding as the network would be doing at the moment. For the past few months, Ascheim has been focused on aging up the network as it mulled a complete rebranding that could include a name change. "Never say never. We're focusing on this first," he told THR, stressing the plans to reconceive the Watch ABC Family app and increase scripted and reality programming while buying from outside studios as well as sibling ABC Studios.

"We are doubling our commitment to original programming and will serve their modern media habits with gusto by reconceiving our Watch ABC Family app as a marriage of content and fandom that will make it a vital part of their viewing habit," Ascheim says.

As part of the Becomers push, the network's on-air branding will be updated with a new color palette to represent the "conversational, immersive, unpredictable, immediate, emotional and fun" approach. The network says the new brand campaign presents its stars in a more relatable and less artificial way — with "a 'selfie' approach rather than a 'portrait' approach." (See an example, below.)

The new strategy will kick off in June with the return of flagship series Pretty Little Liars followed by the debut of procedural Stitchers on June 2; Melissa & Joey and Baby Daddy return June 3; The Fosters and Becoming Us bow June 8; new comedy Kevin From Work and reality entries Job or No Job, Monica the Medium, Startup U and Next Step Realty: NYC will join the lineup later in the summer as part of the net's largest programming slate in its history.

Looking to the future, ABC Family's new development slate also reflects Becomers with a mix of drama, comedy and unscripted entries with a heavy focus on music.

Drama Hearts and Clubs hails from EP Aguilera and celebrates the intersecting lives of young performers as they chase their dreams and fight demons in Las Vegas. With what is described as an "incredible soundtrack," the drama hails from Austin Winsberg (Gossip Girl), Matthew Rutler, Prospect Park and Lionsgate TV.

Ascheim compares Hearts and Clubs to Glee, with a more serious look at the life of a performer — and without the Fox musical's social-issue advocacy.

On the comedy side, Sold Out — an ensemble from ABC Signature Studios, the studio's low-cost cable arm — centers on a young band hitting the road for their first tour. The comedy will be written by Andrea Abbate (Young & Hungry, Accidentally on Purpose) and is executive produced by Irving Azoff with Todd Holland on board to direct the pilot. The comedy reunites ABC Family exec vp development Karey Burke with her former producing partner Holland. In what Burke describes as an "unprecedented" deal, Azoff will oversee casting of the band at the center of Sold Out, which will include original songs and a concert tour — taking a page out of both Glee and Nashville, with the network also looking to score a secondary revenue stream from digital downloads.

"For this audience, music is hugely important," Ascheim says. "We looked at our air and said, 'What's missing?' and we felt that music was — not only in the fiber of what we're doing in the shows, but you'll also start to feel a more relevant, current sound in some of the branding as well."

Taking the music push even further is We Heart Disney, a concert special in which pop stars will sing classic Disney songs. While the special — exec produced by David Foster and Nigel Lythgoe (American Idol) — will be taped live, it will be broadcast at a later date.

Meanwhile, drama Famous in Love, based on the novel by Rebecca Serle, follows ordinary college student Paige (The DUFF's Bella Thorne) as she gets her big break after auditioning for the starring role in a Hollywood blockbuster. She must now navigate her new star-studded life — and undeniable chemistry with her two co-leads — while uncovering the truth about what happened to a famous missing pop star. The drama hails from PLL's King and Warner Horizon TV. It expands King's relationship with the network after PLL, which network executives indicated could go beyond its previously announced seventh season.

On the unscripted side, new docuseries I Am Maker hails from Maker Studios and explores what it takes to become a successful YouTube star today. It follows a group of up-and-coming YouTube sensations who will live together and be mentored by the biggest Maker talent.

For its part, You’ve Got to Work It is based on the U.K. format and hails from ITV and EP Longoria. It follows eight unemployed girls from diverse backgrounds who get a crash course in the working world as they vie for seven job opportunities in seven different industries.

"An ABC Family show now is going to have the same core elements that ABC Family shows have always had: They are going to be filled with heart, they're optimistic, they are about something," Burke says. "We opened our arms a bit wider to the creative community and welcomed more voices into the building."

The network refresh comes as ABC Family recently ordered single-camera comedy series Kevin From Work — its most recent pickup from its last pilot crop — as well as Mortal Instruments spinoff and straight-to-series pickup Shadowhunters. They join a roster of programming that also includes new drama Recovery Road, due in early 2016, as well Young & Hungry, Switched at Birth, Chasing Life as well as drama pilot Beyond, comedies Gorgeous Morons (multicamera) and Tough Cookie (single-cam) and an increasingly populated slate of unscripted fare.

comments powered by Disqus