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ABC Family Detaching From ‘Hallowed’ Brand Associations with Freeform Name Change

ABC Family president Tom Ascheim came to the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Saturday prepared to defend the decision to change the cabler’s name to Freeform as of Jan. 12.

Ascheim said the moniker makeover was the result of months of research and focus group studies. They went through thousands of options before settling on Freeform, a process he called “tireless and tiresome.” The goal is to evoke a sense of freedom, spontaneity and unrestrained attitudes that reflect the coming-of-age experiences of the cabler’s target demo of so-called “becomers” — which Ascheim described as the age range “between your first kiss and your first kid.”

Freeform, Ascheim argued, also reflects the “moment in our media heritage we’re all experiencing where content is coming in every shape, size and format on every screen. (Freeform) seems to promise to deliver on that expectation that our young audience is having.”

Ascheim was pressed on why a prominent TV network would lose its association with Disney and ABC. Ascheim said the rationale was that Freeform sounded more like a fresh, hip destination for younger demos.

“Detaching ourselves from hallowed brands felt like a way to make sure that newness and freshness were part of the qualities that went with Freeform,” Ascheim said. “And research has borne that out.”

Ascheim was quick to note that behind the scenes, Freeform retains all the benefits of that come with being part of the mighty Mouse House. “Under the hood, we’re going to have even more important relationships with our (colleagues) at ABC” now that it has lost the “Family” descriptors from its name.

The name change, he added, was especially crucial for drawing young viewers who may be tuning into Freeform for the first time in the coming years.

The name tested well in all of the company’s research, although Ascheim acknowledged that the participants were not asked about whether Freeform was a good fit as a new name for the existing ABC Family. “We didn’t want to prejudice them by asking whether it’s a good name for ABC Family,” he said.

The relaunch of Freeform also coincides with the reintroduction of the cabler’s authenticated broadband app, now dubbed Watch Freeform. Ascheim said the app has been revamped to emphasize “mobile first” as the preferred viewing option for so many of its younger viewers.

“It begins a new area for us where digital will be of equal importance to what we do in the linear world because that’s where our audience lives,” he said.

But the app remains largely tethered to authentication, meaning that users have to have a traditional MVPD subscription to access the content. Ascheim said that with the relaunch there will be more content “in front of the wall than there’s ever been, but you will inevitably have to authenticate it at some point in the process because that’s part of how our business works.”

Freeform has a host of stunts planned to herald the Jan. 12 transformation. The cabler will offer a marathon of its signature drama “Pretty Little Liars,” leading up to the show’s season 6B premiere, followed by the launch of Freeform’s first foray into fantasy drama, “Shadowhunters.”

On the app Freeform will mount a “virtual tailgate” party and offer streaming via Periscope and other platforms of musical performances and celebrity shout-outs marking the name change. Freeform is also offering fans the chance to submit to an analysis of their social media profile that will be converted into “digital art” and in some cases “wearable art,” Ascheim said.

Skeptical reporters immediately pounced on the prospect of Disney mining valuable consumer data from the effort, which Ascheim was quick to douse. “This one is just a present for the audience,” he said. “We are not doing this particularly in a mercenary fashion.’

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