ABC Family Changing Its Name to Freeform

The evolution of ABC Family continues.

In its latest rebranding, with a focus on what the younger-skewing Disney-owned network calls "Becomers," the cabler will be renamed Freeform beginning in January with the return of staples Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters and new series Shadowhunters and Recovery Road, among others.

The new moniker, ABC Family president Tom Ascheim says, is meant to better cater to new viewers who fit its target demo of viewers ages 14 to 34 — or Becomers, the evolved millennials who are an estimated 69 million strong in the U.S. (The term was created to reflect the "firsts" that exist in the post-college decade — think car, job, heartbreak — between who viewers are and who they want to become.)

"In many ways, this feels to us like an evolution — not a huge change," Ascheim tells THR of the network that ranks first among women 18-34 in primetime. "If we wanted to grow and reach new people, we couldn't have this very narrow sense of who we were and hope to attract new consumers. In an attempt to build on our strength and attract new folks, we thought it was time to change our name."

Ascheim, senior vp marketing Nigel Cox-Hagan — who boarded a year ago — and their team sifted through nearly 3,000 different names and tested a dozen finalists before locking in on Freeform. 

"It really spoke to these three core parts of our essence: the audience, this idea of becoming a Becomer," Ascheim says. "This moment in media, where it was not just a linear moment but a back-and-forth one between the audience and content maker, because they, too are content makers; and it seemed to evoke an emotional response in us and our creative selves and made us feel like we would be able to convey the spirit of Freeform to the audience — and they'd want to play along with us."

With the change, the network will for the first time in two decades be without the term "Family" in its name after evolving from the religious-tinged CBN Family Channel in 1998. (Religious fare that has been a staple on the network, like The 700 Club, will continue to air.) It's a change that Ascheim says needed to be made after consumers who weren't familiar with ABC Family viewed the cabler as one that targeted parents with small children. "And that really isn't the content we put forth," Ascheim says, noting that Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters and upcoming franchise titles Shadowhunters and Recovery Road will also reflect the network's focus on Becomers. (PLL, for example, will jump five years to focus on the post-college set.)

"We wanted to create some harmony between our target audience, content and our brand and, thus far, it has felt like we only had two out of the three," says the exec, who joined in December 2013. "We had the audience and content linked up, but the name was lagging a bit. This allowed us to create a holy trinity between the three, and 'Family' didn't seem like the easiest way to get that across."

The move is part of a wave of changes at ABC Family under Ascheim as he looks to double the network's original programming in the next four years.

The name will officially launch in January, though on-air marketing (like the video above) with stars who fall into the Becomers category and social media will start Oct 6. Check out an early look at the marketing push below.