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Upfront and Personal: Freeform eyes late-night entry, looks to enhance app

Afterrebranding in Januaryas Freeform (US),the former ABC Family network is actively monitoring its brand power.

Specifically,the network engaged in an online brand tracker survey of 2,000 people ages 14to 49 in February, aimed at assessing certain attributes. Networkperceptions of "wholesome," "family friendly" and "predictable"all declined, while terms such as "bold," "innovative," "modern,""cool" and "fresh" were on the upswing among itsmillennial-targeted audience, Freeform President Tom Ascheim said at its recentupfront presentation at Manhattan's Spring Studios.

Atthe Walt Disney Co.-ownednetwork's event, an overflowing and highly enthusiastic (sometimes evenscreaming) crowd heard about a spate of new additions and programming renewals.Media planners and buyers also learned that Freeform is eyeing a move intolate-night, expanding its commitment to short-form fare, and working towardrevamping its app to bring its content together in one place by summer 2017.

Thenetwork enters the 2016-17 upfront selling season with ratings momentum, as itranks as the top cable service among females 12 to 34 in primetimeseason-to-date, averaging 312,000 of those watchers, according to data fromNielsen Holdings.

Programming refresh

Junewill see new seasons of "Pretty Little Liars," "Baby Daddy,""Young & Hungry" and "The Fosters" on the schedule.This quartet also will be joined by a pair of new series.

DebutingJune 13, "Guilt" tracks a woman who relocates from Boston to Londonas she tries to help defend her sister, who has become the prime suspect in themurder of her roommate and a target of the press and social media. "Deadof Summer," premiering June 28, plays to 1980s' summer camp horror themes,as a season of first kisses and loves is disrupted by first kills.

"Ithink they will perform very well. Freeform is committed to puttinghigh-quality shows on the screen," said Ascheim in an interview followingthe presentation. He noted that the network, whose median age viewer is 25,appeals to those in "high school, college and the decade after that."

Docuseries"Cheer Squad," meanwhile, tracks a champion cheerleading team as itlooks to three-peat, while its members must balance their lives on and off themat during a two-week, nightly programming event, starting on Aug. 22.

SNL Image

Marvel's Cloak and Dagger
Source: Marvel

Nextyear figures to be a big one for Freeform, which will trade on Disney'spurchase of Marvel Entertainment,with the bow of "Marvel's Cloak and Dagger," a live-action adaptionof the comic story about the interracial romance between teenagers Tandy Brownand Tyrone Johnson, whose super powers move toward light and darkness,respectively.

"Beyond,"which received extensive sizzle reel play at the event, is a one-hour dramaabout a young man, who awakens from a coma after 12 years and finds himself inthe middle of a conspiracy, albeit armed with new powers. "Shadowhunters,"which scored the network's most successful premiere, will re-emerge for asophomore run replete with more demon fighting, vampires and werewolves.

Freeformhas also picked up "Famous in Love" from "Pretty Little Liars"executive producer I. Marlene King, with the new drama following a collegestudent who gets a starring role in a Hollywood film and then must navigatelife as Tinseltown's new "It" girl and the affections of her twoco-leads. The network will also air "The Letter," anunscripted relationship show in which four friends anonymously pen suggestionsabout how they can improve and transform their lives.

Asfor late-night programming, Freeform is developing "Later Bitches."Billed as "Sex and the City" meets late-night talk, the half-hourshow will mix pop culture commentary with celebrity interviews and champagnecocktails. "Alice," another late-night entrant, is a half-hour weeklyvariety-style platform showcasing experimental short-form content.

Thenetwork plans to up its ante overall in short-form, with content aimed atlinear, digital and social platforms.

Shortsare being developed for its perennial "25 Days of Christmas"programming stunt. "Rio Squad," created in collaboration with ESPNWand ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics, "highlights four women who havededicated their lives to sports." "My Boyfriend is a Robot" is afish out-of-water comedy between human and machine, while "Open Roads"focuses on the nonprofit organization that affords filmmaking wilderness campsfor high-school students. An interview series with Punam Patel, in which thecomedienne uses children's stories as a launching pad for conversations withcelebrities and influencers, is also in the works.

App upgrade

Thenetwork also wants to enhance its app, making it the vehicle where users willnot only be able to find its short-form fare, but view more of its linearcontent live or on-demand. The revamped platform, expected to be available bynext summer, will also enable fan contributions and facilitate social andadvertising interaction.

LauraNathanson, executive vice president of ad sales, said in an interview after theevent that having all the content in one place should appeal to viewers andadvertisers alike.

"Theidea is to make it easier for fans to go to one place, where they can snack on short-formand watch our shows in real time and comment about them," she said. "That'sgoing to be an awesome thing."