New York — The ABC Family network, home of youthful dramas “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Fosters,” said Tuesday it will change its name to Freeform this winter.
The rebranding reflects the Disney-owned network’s worries that its current name is a turnoff to its target audience of 14- to 34-year-old viewers.
“This is an evolution for our company that has been going on for a long time,” said Tom Ascheim, ABC Family president.
The changeover takes place in January. The company tested several different names but felt Freeform would describe and appeal to the audience it is seeking, young people heading out into the world and experiencing their first jobs and first loves, he said.
ABC Family’s ancestry dates to the 1970s as the Christian Broadcasting Network, started by Pat Robertson. It changed its name to The Family Channel in 1990 and was sold twice, first to Fox in 1997 and then to Disney in 2001, when it was rechristened ABC Family.
While changing the name, Ascheim said the network won’t change its focus or programming mix. Like many cable networks, ABC Family has seen declines, with its average prime-time audience slipping from 1.37 million five years ago to 970,000 this year, according to the Nielsen company. But it does better than other cable entertainment networks in capturing a hard-to-reach young audience.
“Maybe it’s time for a repositioning and a repackaging,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst for Horizon Media who worked at The Family Channel in the 1990s. “Setting a reset button is not that risky a move and is probably something that it is time for.”
He noted there have been many such rebrandings, particularly among the Discovery family of networks. TNN also changed its name to Spike and Court TV become TruTV.
The danger comes with regular viewers missing the connection, but Adgate said he expects ABC Family to heavily promote the switch.
Ascheim said the network’s current viewers have no problems with the ABC Family name. But people who don’t watch the channel regularly believe that it’s the home of more family-friendly programming.
“Pretty Little Liars,” the network’s top-rated program, follows four young women. “The Fosters,” about a mixed-race family led by two women, has received high marks by interest groups for its diversity. Upcoming new shows include “Shadowhunters,” about a girl who discovers on her 18th birthday she has the power to fight demons, and “Recovery Road,” about a young person dealing with addiction.
The network said it plans to double the amount of original programming over the next four years.
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