Freeform Wants to Redefine What a Network Can Be for a Young Adult Audience

Blends linear and digital viewing for a curated TV experience

Cloak and Dagger, one of Freeform's new series based on Marvel comics, features two unlikely heroes from different backgrounds. - Credit by Freeform/Alfonso Bresciani
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Entering the second year under its new name, Freeform is all about rethinking what a TV network means to a young adult audience. Freeform’s upfront presentation this year expands on announcements the network made in 2016 and is based on much of what it learned in the past year.

The network formerly known as ABC Family is working with other Disney titles, including upcoming shows from Marvel and ABC Studios properties (as it highlighted at last year’s upfront presentation.) Overall, Freeform wants to show advertisers the different reasons its viewers turn to the network.

Young audiences are watching The Little Mermaid or Frozen for the first time, but some people tune in for nostalgic reasons. This can be seen in Freeform’s monthly “Funday” programming, which will now air on a weekly basis. The team at Freeform wanted to help provide a little comfort and stability in a world currently obsessed with the ephemeral.

“Kids want permanence,” Tom Ascheim, president of Freeform, told Adweek. “Our programming gives them something to latch onto.”

Freeform’s viewers watch the network’s content in both linear and digital formats. Last year, Freeform released all episodes of new series Beyond at once, encouraging binging. The show had 30 million views with a decreased ad load of four to five ads per hour of programming. While 1 million people watched all 10 episodes in the first week after its release, a majority of people watched the series on a mix of TV and digital platforms.

This blend of linear and digital viewing options ends up creating a curated TV network experience for young viewers, according to Ascheim.

Cloak and Dagger, which was described as “Romeo and Juliet meets superheroes” is joining Freeform’s existing slate of programs, as the network previously announced. Another Marvel property being developed for the network is a show called Warriors, in which a ragtag group of not-so-great superheroes led by Squirrel-Girl tries to make it in the world.

A show called Fairytale Weddings will showcase the thousands of couples who get married, renew their vows or celebrate their relationship every year at Disney parks around the world. Another special, Decorating Disney, will show fans how much effort it takes to transform the parks overnight from holiday to holiday.

"As we reincarnate traditions, we’re also reimagining what a network can be."
Tom Ascheim, president of Freeform

Over 100 million people tune in to Freeform’s “25 Days of Christmas” every December, during which modern classic holiday movies air in the days leading up to the 25th.

This year, Freeform is announcing that original movies are joining those classics. Angry Angel (a working title) from one of the producers of Annie will feature a rebellious angel trying hard to do good deeds in order to get into heaven. Another holiday-themed movie, a sequel to Life-Size from the ’90s, will star Tyra Banks.

“As we reincarnate traditions, we’re also reimagining what a network can be,” said Ascheim.

Although the network won’t have Pretty Little Liars, showrunner I. Marlene King is launching a new series starring Bella Thorne called Famous In Love, which follows a college student’s stroke of luck in a walk-on audition for a huge movie. The network will release every episode at once for digital viewers.

Photo: Freeform/John Medland

Other new dramatic shows include The Bold Type, which is set in a Cosmopolitan-like environment and is based on Joanna Coles’ time as editor there, and Siren, an hourlong drama that will “do for mermaids what Twilight did for vampires,” according to Ascheim.

For comedies, there’s Alone Together, a series executive produced by The Lonely Island trio of comedians that’s focused on a pair of friends who make a commitment to never be together romantically, and Sticks, the network’s first original animated pilot from producing duo Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson that Freeform is touting as a Daria-meets-Girls show from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios.

Freeform also is announcing a multipicture partnership with People magazine to develop scripted, original movies from celebrity biopics to inspiring human-interest stories. Additionally, Freeform’s Summer Fling is the network’s first fan festival and will debut in the summer of 2018 with panels, performances and meet and greets.

A nonscripted series called Hollywood Movie Night with Karlie Kloss (another working title) will feature Kloss and her friends providing commentary on their favorite movies.

Freeform is also entering the late-night talk show arena with a show from comedian Iliza Shlesinger that was given a six-episode order earlier this month. Shlesinger is also the host of the upfront event.

Freeform wants to continue to assure advertisers of its trustworthiness as a legacy brand backed by Disney content that also can provide viewers with a variety of content and ways to view it.

“We will continue to make this a trusted environment for our advertisers and our consumers,” Ascheim said. “Last year’s upfront was all about promises of what was to come, and this year, we’re able to say we can deliver on them.”

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.