A version of this story first appeared in the July 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
ABC Family is looking to tighten its viewership focus. On the heels of the July 8 exit of Kate Juergens — a top architect of the network’s millennial brand — and a restructuring under new chief Tom Ascheim, the network known for teen smash Pretty Little Liars wants to age up how it is perceived and lure more 20-somethings. ABC Family’s median viewer is 29, which dips to 25 for original programs.
Ascheim, a former Nickelodeon exec who took over in December, tells THR his five-year plan is for ABC Family to be seen as a young-adult network instead of one that caters to families with kids. He plans to increase scripted fare and add more unscripted, starting in October with hidden-camera show Freak Out. “When we hit that 20-something person, I think we’re really on target,” Ascheim says. “When we’re deeply teen-focused, it feels like we’re a little bit young. So we’re trying to get from high school to college and then from college to graduate school.”
Year to date, ABC Family is up 1 percent in total viewers (1.1 million, live-plus-7), but its gross ad revenue dipped from $523.4 million in 2012 to $515.7 million last year, per SNL Kagan (though it will top both in 2014). “Our network feels less young adult than we want it to,” Ascheim says. “What we want is greater audience concentration, more than we really want to move the average.”
Ascheim’s plan also calls for the network to de-emphasize its focus on acquired programming — which includes The Gilmore Girls, Reba and The Middle — as it hopes to even out the network’s age distribution. Former Style Media president Salaam Coleman Smith has joined the network to lead its recently restructured business strategy, planning and development, and scheduling and acquisitions unit as exec vp strategy and programming. She reports to Ascheim.