Article by Monica Couvillion | esPResso Staff Writer
ABC Family recently announced that in January 2016, the network will be undergoing a name change from the familiar ABC Family moniker to Freeform. The network explained in a press release that while their programming will remain the same, the name change is aimed at positioning the station as less of a “family-oriented” channel and re-focusing their programming to an audience that they’ve noted as “Becomers”; viewers between the ages of 14 and 34.
This change follows a decision made by ABC Family executives to note their changing demographics. “For us, this doesn’t feel like a radical departure, this is an evolution,” ABC Family president Tom Ascheim explained. “For the last 10-to-12 years, we’ve been targeting young people, Millennnials, and then something happened. Millennials started getting older. The oldest ones are nearly 40. So do we follow Millennials or stay with the ‘life stage’ that got us here?”
Arguably the most popular ABC Family program, Pretty Little Liars, has becoming increasingly risqué since it began in 2010. In January, the show will undergo a five-year time jump and show the characters who have been in high school for the past six seasons as post-college adults. The network name change will go into effect around the same time Pretty Little Liars introduces this time jump, an interestingly timed departure from the show’s theme for the last six seasons.
While scheduling more mature material under the name change may be what the network is hoping for, many people are confused by the change. Although Freeform as a name does not elicit the same wholesome values that the “ABC Family” label suggested, it does not necessarily suggest a new, cohesive message for the brand. Stripping the network of the trusted ABC Family name that has been associated with the channel and programming for over 30 years has shocked and confused many fans. The lack of positive response to the change may not mean good things for the channel.
According to a U.K.-based study cited in Slate, “corporations showed that name-changers underperform compared with the overall stock market by almost 10 percent over the three years following the switch.” The channel’s re-branding may cause confusion and a distrust among lifelong fans which could significantly decrease their viewership. However, the designation that these “Becomers” are the new audience for the network’s programming may indicate that the channel hopes to draw in new viewers and is less worried about retaining an audience moving forward.
The name “Freeform” will go into effect January 2016 and will essentially introduce a new face to the channel’s programming. Fan reactions so far have not been cohesively positive. However, it remains to be seen whether fans will feel more at-ease once the name is officially introduced. Moving forward, 2016 will certainly be an interesting year to follow the channel as it transitions from a family-associated network to a completely new brand image.