With 62 hours and counting, president Tom Ascheim took the stage at the Television Critics Association and explained why he believed the move was necessary. In doing so, he also acknowledged that the decision to move away from a differentiated, successful brand name had many in the industry scratching their heads.
“Often when people in the television world decide to change their name, they’re solving a big business problem,” he admitted. “Ratings are down, money stinks, they need to recruit an entirely different audience.” But his younger-skewing network was suffering from none of those things. Instead, ABC Family is coming off its best financial year on record and has remained No. 1 in its core women 18-49 demographic for the second consecutive year.
“So, why mess with a good thing?” he asked, and then answered: “We, like any business, need to grow, and growth only comes from two places: You make your core customers happy and you get new customers.” What he found in the extensive research that had been done over the past year is that his core viewers are, indeed, very happy; but that the other two-thirds who don’t watch the network have a starkly different sense of what ABC Family is about. The latter, he revealed, over-index in only two attributes: “family-friendly” and “wholesome.”
“We’re delighted to be family-friendly and wholesome, but it’s kind of specific and it’s not particularly representative of who we are,” he said of a network best known for juggernaut Pretty Little Liars. “And any great brand wants to create harmony between your audience, the content and your name, so we needed to do something [to close] this gap in perception between users and nonusers.” Freeform, per the network’s research, could do that.
Ascheim believes the new name not only elicits the moment of transition in the medium and a sense of “creativity” and “spontaneity” but also evokes that younger 14 to 34-year-old audience, whom he’s dubbed “becomers.” He added, “becomers really are in formation, kind of freely, so it seemed to speak to our target in a really specific, wonderful way.”
Nearly 3,000 other names were considered in that process, with a dozen finalists tested before landing on Freeform. Among those previously considered: ABC Freeform and Disney Freeform, but ultimately Ascheim and his team decided that the network would benefit from detaching itself from those “hallowed brands” in this incarnation. “For our young audience, it’s important for them to feel like they’ve discovered something on their own,” he explained. “It’s the essential quality of being young.”