ABC Family is changing its name to Freeform in January, the first time in two decades the network will not carry “Family” in its name after morphing from the CBN Family Channel in 1998.
It’s a big brand bet for the Disney-owned TV network, as it strives to appeal to a broader audience of “becomers”—its term for those ages 14 to 34.
“Freeform evokes the spirit and adventure of our audience,” said ABC Family President Tom Ascheim in a statement, as reported by CNN. “Freeform will deliver new, exciting original content as well as all the favorite shows our viewers already love on ABC Family.”
The channel has suffered from identification with family content to the exclusion of other fare. Ascheim believes the name change will help maintain core viewers while attracting new ones.
ABC Family was on point 11 years ago when it jumped on the millennial bandwagon, but now its focus shifts to the becomes demographic—2 billion worldwide, 69 million in the US, with an estimated spending power in the trillions.
The network defines becomers as “in high school, college and the decade that follows and are navigating the wonderful, fun, exciting, and scary time in life when you experience the most firsts—first car, first apartment, first job, first love, first heartbreak—all the firsts that exists between who they are and who they want to become,” according to a press release. “Becomers represent a life stage rather than a generation.”
Nigel Cox-Hagan, Disney SVP marketing, creative and branding, said, “The Freeform brand will be very much nestled in the Disney ethos—full of optimism and imagination,” reports Fortune. “It also makes room for access on multiple platforms and screens.”
The network will reprise original series Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters, Young and Hungry and Baby Daddy in early 2016, and premiere original series Shadowhunters and Recovery Road.
Disney Publishing Worldwide will create new content to complement Freeform across multiple book formats under a new imprint with the same name, Freeform.
Some are critical of the new name. “From a business perspective, this change is understandable,” reports Forbes. “But Freeform, a clunky and focus group-sounding moniker, isn’t the name the network is looking for, and this blatant appeal to timeliness and youth could quickly alienate the kids it is trying to reach.”
The network has weathered a series of name changes from its launch by Pat Robertson in 1977 to being known a decade later as the CBN Family Channel, followed by The Family Channel and Fox Family. Now, ABC Family’s 94 million homes are going Freeform.
Time will tell how well the name plays out but Forbes predicts that “eventually ‘Freeform’ will sound as ill-fitting as ‘Family’ does now.”