ABC Family is a network owned by the Disney-ABC Television Group owned by the Walt Disney Channel. The name gave off the idea that the network was supposed to be for families to enjoy movies and television series together. Due to all of the criticism the network faced, they rebranded and changed their name to Freeform which became effective on January 12th of this year. Before that though, the network launched in 1977 as a religious programming network. It changed to become a family network in 1988 and remained had a variety of names that contained the word “family” in it based off of the network that owned it. It was owned by Fox for a while and then finally became ABC Family in 2001. Though different networks owned it, audiences assumed it was a family-friendly network with family-friendly content.
The network featured holiday themed programs that are family-friendly, but that is only a few times year for small portions of the day’s programming. For example, every Halloween they do “13 Nights of Halloween” and “25 Days of Christmas” where they play popular family favorite films of those holidays. They even do Halloween and Christmas specials of their own shows. These blocks of holiday themed movies they play are something that families can look forward to watching together each night after a long day of school and work, especially since they can plan according to the full schedule that comes out weeks in advance. Since some of the movies that are aired for this campaign are for an adult audience like “Holiday in Handcuffs, families can opt out of those and watch others like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or Santa Clause instead when they see the schedule. It gives a sense of anticipation and excitement to their viewers. This is one of the only family-friendly entertainment they provide though.
While the children are watching these movies on this network, they may see ads for the other shows that may not be as family-friendly as the holiday movies they are watching. These relates back to the excerpt, The Nickelodeon Brand: Buying and Selling the Audience by Sarah Banet-Weiser, that we discussed in class. We are currently in the digital era where children are exposed to the media more than ever before. She highlights an important idea when she states, “As new media use ranging from the Internet to digital technologies to file sharing becomes normalized within youth culture, children as ‘experts’ of the media occupy a position of agency that challenges the historical (and federally legislated) stance of protecting children from the media. Children increasingly use the media as producers themselves in a culture where DIY (Do It Yourself) cultural production is more accessible and common” (Banet-Weiser, p.70). Children are exposed to these ideas and issues by the media and are more likely to be intrigued to watch them if they think it is okay because it is on a “family-friendly” network.
ABC Family has many shows that are their own. A majority of these shows are extremely controversial because they contain content that may be inappropriate for children and young teens to be watching. It aired in 2007 for a four season run until 2011. The show was about college students in Ohio, that were involved in their university’s Greek system. Alcohol and sex are two topics that are displayed in the show often, which many parents didn’t find appropriate to be on a family friendly network. In addition to this, the logo of the show is a Red Solo Cup, which is sometimes seen as a symbol to represent alcohol consumption. Another television series on ABC Family that featured similar storylines of sex and alcohol was The Secret Life of an American Teenager. Parents found this show even more controversial because it was set in high school, so the characters were doing all of these things, but at an even younger age. This show aired from 2008 until 2013. The plot of the show begins with a fifteen-year old girl returning from band camp to find out she is pregnant after having sex there, and now has a different boyfriend. Obviously these shows contain real life problems, but if ABC Family is supposed to be for family friendly content, then is it the right network to project this show on? An article from the Los Angeles Times described why the show should not be intended for a family audience. “It is almost all about sex — and a little bit about family, but the subject there is largely sex, as well, and why it’s not for the young. The sexually active kids we meet are either made unhappy by having it, or they’re having it because they’re unhappy” (Lloyd, 2008). The key idea here is that it is not for the young. Other shows on ABC Family, such as Pretty Little Liars, Switched at Birth, and The Fosters feature some of the same topics for their storylines as well making the network overall not very family-friendly.
Once again, this reverts back to an idea from Banet-Weiser’s article. “Within this ideological framework, children are often situated as innocents in need of protection—often from the media” (Banet-Weiser, p. 70). Parents may often feel that they need to protect their children from watching these shows with such intense topics. This made many people wonder then, if most of the content they are providing is for an adult audience, then why keep “family” in their name? This is one of the main reasons why they finally changed their name to Freeform. It is a much better suited name for the network and expresses the brand image they and target audience of ages 14-34, who are referred to as Millennials. Now that the name has been changed and audiences are being warned about the content the network is providing, they don’t have pressure to be providing family-friendly content.
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.
Times, L. A., & Lloyd, R. (2008, July 1). Sex-crazed teenagers. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jul/01/entertainment/et-secretlife1