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ABC Family Channel To Change Its Name To Freeform Network


Now, this day, the cable channel ABC Family will change its name to Freeform, dropping the word family from the title for the first time in more than 25 years. It is a sign of bigger change. Competition has forced today's TV channels to hone in on their most important viewers. Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It's available in more than 90 million homes and has a name tied to one of the biggest corporations in media. So why is ABC Family doing this?


VANESSA MARANO: ABC Family is becoming Freeform - a new name.

DEGGANS: Vanessa Marano, star of the channel's hit drama "Switched At Birth," explains the new name to young viewers like this.


MARANO: Freeform means no boundaries - but the good kind of no boundaries, not the kind that leave you screaming, boundaries, dude, when your roommate walks around your apartment without pants.

DEGGANS: Tom Ascheim, president of the channel, explained the change to a roomful of journalists who cover TV. He said they were trying to grow their audience of young viewers who were at a certain moment in their lives. These viewers are moving from childhood to adulthood. Ascheim says their age is, quote, "between your first kiss and your first kid," and he labels them becomers (ph).


TOM ASCHEIM: For our young audience, it is important almost always for them to feel like they've discovered something on their own. It is the essential quality of being young.

DEGGANS: In other words, for Snapchatting teens and 20-somethings, a channel with the name ABC or Disney isn't exactly cool. It also reflects the channel's more explicit themes. Today's launch of Freeform includes a new season of the drama "Pretty Little Liars," a show once called "Desperate Housewives" for teens. And a new show starting later this month, "Recovery Road," features a teenage addict in rehab. It's a long way from where the channel first started.


DR JOHN: (Singing) ...Latch on to the affirmative - the family channel, yes indeed.

DEGGANS: Founded by televangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, it was known as the Family Channel for much of the 1990s, then bought by Fox and renamed Fox Family Channel at the end of the decade. In 2001, Disney bought it and renamed it ABC Family. But thanks to a provision from its original sale, the channel always aired Robertson's religious talk show, "The 700 Club." And Freeform will keep airing it. It's an awkward arrangement, as a channel owned by one of the most storied companies in media tries to recast itself as a revolutionary upstart. And it's an open question whether the name Freeform is really distinctive enough for this kind of makeover. Still, in an industry where standing out in a growing crowd is the biggest challenge, refocusing on your audience before trouble strikes just might be the smartest move of all. I'm Eric Deggans.


THE PIERCES: (Singing) Got a secret, can you keep it? Swear this one you'll save. Better lock it in your pocket, taking this one to the grave. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.