What does ‘family’ mean to the American People? This is a question that ABC Family should have asked themselves before deciding to give their network a name that their content cannot match. The television network ABC Family slowly made a transition further and further away from shows and films that could be considered family friendly. Due to backlash against racy material on the show, ABC Family rebranded and renamed themselves ‘Freeform’ in 2016. The networks rebranding shows the power of parents, importance of a name, and how to transition a network.
The first insight into ABC Family changing was the series Secret Life of an American Teenager that was released in 2008 and told the story of a fifteen-year-old girl who got pregnant out of wedlock.
The show aired for five seasons and showed the highs and lows of raising a child as a teenager. In the second season, the main character becomes pregnant again with a different father than her previous child and her friend also has an unplanned pregnancy. The show insinuated that American teenagers are common for having children at age fifteen, and that it is okay and normal to be pregnant in high school. Instead of preaching to practice safe sex, the show continuously showed teenagers getting pregnant. In “The Nickelodeon Brand” Banet-Weiser quotes the vice-president for MTV saying “the more often that we are in touch with them and in contact with them; then translating what they’ve told us and what kinds of issues they’re dealing with; the more often that we hit a home run” (p.71). The interesting thing about this particular series was that it was, at its time, a top rated show on television, which begs the question about how many American teenagers are dealing with these issues and if they found the show relatable. While the show clearly struck a chord with a certain audience, it was also the peak of criticism when it came to the network no longer being a family network.
Moms were the biggest reason the network realized they had to change their name. This is obvious as Sarah Banet-Weiser talks about how “children are often situated as innocents in need of protection – often (indeed, especially) from the media” (p. 70). Most parents would see a lot of ABC family television series as too grown up for their preteen and teenage children. There was multiple TV series that discussed very progressive and, to some parents, inappropriate issues. For example, the television series Greek which followed Greek life on a college campus and openly talked about sex, alcohol, and drug use. There have also been multiple shows that feature same sex relationships and transgender couples. The group “One Million Moms” started a call for action to stop ABC Family from “attempting to desensitize America’s youth.” Weiser (2007) points out that “the actual physical and intellectual development of children – the definition of childhood – is charted, mapped and in some ways defined by how the market characterizes this development” (p. 73). If a network like ABC Family can influence the development of children, it is important for parents to know what their children are watching.
Interestingly, the primary audience for ABC Family ranges from ages 12 to 34 according Business Source Complete. This age group could still be described as family friendly, but the shows are not necessarily age appropriate for this range. Network president, Tom Ascheim, said “Our core viewers know what to expect from our context, but among nonviewers, there’s a very different perception of our brand. We over indexed on two adjectives: one was family friendly and the other was wholesome. It led us to believe that the huge perception gap is based on our name.” I find it interesting that the network realizes that it is no longer family friendly and that they can’t keep the name they have if they want to stop facing criticism. The power of using the word ‘family’ is that people expect a certain type of entertainment.
The new name Freeform was advertised as “New Year. New Name. Same stuff you love.” which emphasizes their marketing towards brand loyalty. While Freeform can rely on their avid watchers to continue to watch their favorite shows the new name gave them an opportunity to advertise to a larger age group. With a new name, the network no longer has to worry about keeping up a family friendly facade. They are now “free to go in a line that is nowhere near straight” and ABC Family can “break free” as their advertisement video states. Freeform symbolizes the network freeing themselves from any previous responsibilities that prevented them from taking their shows in a new direction.
Every year around Christmas time ABC Family did a countdown to Christmas called “25 Days of Christmas” and Freeform is continuing this tradition. Although, this year the network is including movies that are for an older audience such as the movie “The Holiday” and “Just Friends.” They are also advertising “Funny or Die” clips which will be airing in between commercials that showcase some inappropriate jokes.
All in all, this transition of renaming their network seems to have had an overall positive effect on ABC Family and their family of networks. Freeform now airs a show that is a spin-off of ABC’s Bachelor and Disney Channel is now the main source for family friendly content. There is no longer a threat of airing something that their audience won’t approve of because they have now established that their primary audience is meant to be for ages 14 and up.
Banet-Weiser, S. (2007). The Nickelodeon Brand: Buying and Selling the Audience. Kids Rule! Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship. (69-103). North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Gonzalez, S. (2015, Oct. 6). ABC Family won’t be ABC Family much longer: Network is changing its name. Mashable. Retrieved from: http://mashable.com/2015/10/06/abc-family-name-change-freeform/#rtSaPrUtukqg
OMM. (2016, Nov. 21). ABC Family Continues to Produce Anti-Family Programs. One Million Moms. Retrieved from: http://onemillionmoms.com/current-campaigns/abc-family-continues-to-produce-anti-family-programs
Scribner, H. (2015, Oct. 7). By changing its name, ABC Family clarifies it’s not family friendly. U.S. & World. Retrieved from: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865638502/By-changing-its-name-ABC-Family-clarifies-its-not-family-friendly.html?pg=all
Villarreal, Y. (2015, Oct, 6). Don’t call it ABC Family anymore, the network is changing its name. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-abc-family-changing-name-20151006-story.html