Queue And A

Freeform Is Starting to Look Less Like a Cable Channel and More Like a Streaming Service

Where to Stream

Famous in Love
  • Amazon
  • More Options

Cable networks are finding themselves in the position of competing with streaming services, and that’s even more true with networks that are programming shows for younger viewers who are more prone to blow through an entire season of a series in a few sittings than the post-millennial elders are.

Freeform, which rebranded from ABC Family in January 2016 and is popular with young female viewers, has gotten in one the binge game with two shows — dreamworld thriller Beyond in January and Hollywood soap Famous in Love earlier this week — that have aired weekly on cable and all at once on digital.

After Freeform’s upfront presentation Wednesday in New York, Decider caught up with Kenny Miller, the network’s senior VP for digital and product, to talk about the networks’s development into a network with one foot in cable and the other in streaming.

DECIDER: When you premiered Beyond in January, had any of ABC’s cable networks binge-released a full season of a show?

KENNY MILLER: None of the Disney/ABC networks had done that before, so Beyond was a first for us.

What were the factors that went into deciding to do that?

With our focus on a younger audience, we’re really interested in how we maximize our digital audience. We wanted to understand what viewers were interested in seeing and get real data on what happens when we did that.

Is the long-term plan to shift toward binge-releasing every series?

We’re looking at a lot of different options. What we’re more interested in than binging, necessarily, is the stack. We want to make all of the episodes available so that people can always catch up. The binge is really just one way to launch content. We want to distinguish binging a launch strategy from binging as a consumption pattern.

Freeform president Tom Ascheim said Wednesday during the network’s upfront presentation that binge viewers are more engaged socially and more engaged with advertisers. What does he mean by that?

That’s from a couple of different studies. It’s interesting about the social aspect of binging is that when you get to the end of watching an episode, what do you do? There’s a natural moment where you look at each other and say, “Do we watch another one?” There’s an interesting social commitment with shared on-demand viewing that’s an interesting phenomenon, and we’re looking more into how on-demand viewing affects the social nature of television.

Famous in Love premiered Tuesday night. Do you have digital data yet for that? Was it a bigger or smaller digital premiere than Beyond?

We’re still pulling that together. I’ll think we’ll have a much more data — the digital, the social pop, the linear ratings — in another week or so. We launched Beyond on January 2 at midnight, and we launched Famous in Love on digital simultaneous with the linear premiere on Tuesday night and we also launched Famous in Love on the ABC app, so it’s not going to be apples to apples until we have a longer period to compare.

FX and AMC have both been experimenting with putting their other networks’ shows on their mothership apps. Is that something you’re seeing across the industry?

Yes. Users have a certain loyalty to certain platforms that they watch, so being on multiple platforms is a smart strategy.

You have Iliza Schlesinger’s late-night show Truth & Iliza starting in in May. Will that launch simultaneously on digital?

It will, and we’re also working on a clip strategy. We think there’s a lot of potential for clips in different parts of the ecosystem.

Are you modeling how to do a late-night show at all around what Jimmy Kimmel Live! has done on ABC’s platforms as far as marketing, release pattern, etc.?

Kimmel has obviously been fantastic at that, and it’s been great to have access to that digital team to help us understand those things.

Are you expecting to substantially increase your number of original hours of programming this year and again next year?

We’ve definitely upped our investment, and you may have seen the new trailers for some of the upcoming shows. We’ll have a lot of unscripted and specials in addition to the scripted, and we’ll have Iliza’s show that we didn’t have last year.

You don’t have the early seasons of Pretty Little Liars or The Fosters on your digital platforms. Would you rather have those seasons back from Netflix or at least share them with Netflix?

That’s more of a Business Affairs question, but we would love for those shows to be more visible.

Is Hulu your only gateway for new programming outside of the cable bundle?

There are a lot of points of access — the cable set-top box, endpoints like Xfinity.com, Freeform’s app, Freeform.com, the ABC app — but Hulu is the only point outside of the bundle. The digital MVPDs [like DirecTV Now and YouTube TV] that are launching are also interesting. Those are technically the bundle, but those are different kinds of distribution points.

The Bernstein research firm did a focus group that said cord-nevers are not interested in subscribing to a bundled package of channels? Is that going to be a limitation for Freeform going forward? Do you have to figure out a way to get programming to people who don’t want to be in the bundle?

That’s still to be seen. We get a lot of usage within the bundle currently, and we’ll see where it goes. Those predictions are hard to make. The digital services are just getting started, and we’ll have to give them some time to grow.

I’m sure you can’t speak to Freeform or ABC, but are you seeing networks across the industry take steps to launch freestanding SVOD services?

I think the question is how many apps users actually want. With cable, people watch 14 or 15 channels per person. In the digital world where the user experience and scale are different, that number is probably going to be a lot lower. The nature of scale is different in the digital world and doing an SVOD may be limiting, so I think it depends on the network’s aspirations.

You have a background with social apps. Are you working on applications for increased social functionality for Freeform?

We definitely have aspirations for differentiating our viewing experience overall and defining what it means to consume content on Freeform. We’re going to change things up and try new things, so what we’re doing today may be different that what we’ll be doing tomorrow. We want to experiment to find the right answer.

What would more social functionality mean in a more general sense? Does that mean viewers talking to each other or doing more platform-specific things?

It’s about having more of a sense of audience on our platforms. Users post things to other platforms all the time, and they don’t need much help doing that. I think giving them a more differentiated experience — more fun, more engaging — is where you’ll see us go.

ABC is part of Apple TV’s TV app that shows you when new episodes of shows are available to watch, but Freeform’s app does not work with that. Is that coming?

That’s coming shortly.

Are there other platform developments that you anticipate coming before the end of this year?

We’re on all of the big platforms now, and we’ve been working for the last year toward ubiquity on the digital platforms that matter the most. The job now is working more on user experience and how ad loads affect viewership. We’ll be focused more on the viewing experience than on features.

I thought the ad load on Famous in Love was pretty manageable.

I think there’s a lot of room in there to redefine what ad-supported television means in a way that can be really positive for users and for advertisers and for creators.

Bella Thorne from Famous in Love is in one of the ads that’s running during the series.

Having stars in some of the ads is interesting, but it’s more about how we take responsibility for the user experience during the breaks. We want that to be a great experience.

The Beyond renewal came pretty quickly after the premiere. Are you waiting for particular metrics for Famous in Love, or is that renewal something that will either happen or not happen on its own terms?

There are a lot of different factors that go into making second-season decisions, and getting the digital data will help us make those decisions with more confidence. We know that fans like for networks express confidence in a show by picking it up for a second season, so we like to do that as quickly as possible.

The overnight number for the Famous in Love premiere was a little soft at 0.3. Is that what you would have expected, or do you think that reflects the number of viewers going to digital?

For us — for women 12 to 34 — it was the biggest debut of a new series since The People vs. O.J. Simpson premiered 14 months ago. So the people in our demo are sampling and we hope will adopt the show, and I think that’s why you have to have the digital ubiquity and a good user experience to launch for that audience.

Scott Porch writes about the streaming-media industry for Decider and is also a contributing writer for Playboy. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottPorch.

Stream Famous in Love on Hulu

Decider

Get the Newsletter.

Sign up for news, stories, offers, and more, all from Decider's Webby Award nominated newsletter.

By clicking above you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

X