ABC Family’s name change to Freeform is smart.

ABC Family Is Smart to Change Its Name. Maybe Other Networks Should Follow Suit, Too.

ABC Family Is Smart to Change Its Name. Maybe Other Networks Should Follow Suit, Too.

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Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 6 2015 5:32 PM

ABC Family Is Smart to Change Its Name. Maybe Other Networks Should Follow Suit, Too.

Pretty Little Liars.

Photo by Eric McCandless/ABC Family - © © 2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

ABC Family is “ABC Family” no more. The network has chosen a new name, in the hopes of shedding what it seems to have deemed an unfairly wholesome reputation: “Freeform.” “Our core viewers know what to expect from our content,” Network President Tom Ascheim told LA Times. “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.” Ascheim told LA Times that the network is shifting its focus away from the millennials, whom they’ve successfully courted for over a decade, and instead looking at people ages 18 to 34—a life stage they describe as “becomers.”

Indeed, the days are long gone when squeaky-clean programming ruled their lineup. Glossier shows like Pretty Little Liars now dominate instead. One of the network’s recent shows featured a protagonist who was fresh out of five years in juvie. The network has changed a lot—including its name, multiple times—since it was founded in 1977 as an arm of the Christian Broadcasting Network. (The 700 Club, a Christian talk show and one of the network’s oldest programs, still airs on the network.) Back then, it was called the CBN Satellite Service. The name morphed to CBN Cable Network, then to CBN Family Channel, then to the Family Channel (FAM). Over that time, the channel gradually folded more and more secular programming into its lineup—when it became the Family Channel in 1990, only 25 percent of its schedule was devoted to spiritual programming. In 2001, it became ABC Family.


Since then, the network has been inching toward edginess, pushing against the constraints of its family-friendly rep. In 2006, ABC Family adopted the slogan “A New Kind of Family,” and introduced programming like sci-fi drama Kyle XY. In 2007, we got the bubbly college-centric series Greek, and in 2008, the trailblazingly sympathetic portrayal of teen pregnancy in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Then, in 2010, Pretty Little Liars made its debut.

Most TV networks, needless to say, have names boringly derived from some combination of the initials of the corporations that own them. Even "The CW," which has a kind of teen-slang ring to it, is a mash-up of the first letters of CBS and Warner Bros. In an age of TV abundance, in which there's so much competition among networks and streaming services, it seems like a savvy self-differentiator to choose a network name that really captures your demo-targeted vibe.