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Freeform Makes Multi-Platform Pitch to Viewers

Freeform is finding ratings success with its holiday stunt programming on the linear channel while preparing to roll out several original series on both linear and digital in January.

The Walt Disney-owned network finished the first week of December as the 10th most watched cable network in primetime, led by its “25 Days of Christmas” movie programming lineup featuring the Home Alone movies, the Santa Clause films and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Overall during the first 10 days of December, the network is ranked second in primetime among all cable networks within its core adult 18-34 audience behind only ESPN, according to Nielsen.

Freeform president Tom Ascheim discusses in a recent interview the network’s recent linear ratings success while outlining Freeform’s multi-platform distribution strategy for its original shows, including the January returns of Grown-ish, Good Trouble and The Bold Type as well as a reboot of the drama series Party of Five (pictured) and new comedy series Everything is Going to Be OK. An edited transcription of the interview appears below.

Freeform president Tom Ascheim 

Freeform president Tom Ascheim 

How has Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas programming stunt been able to break through the clutter of holiday programming across the cable TV dial?

The world is really hard right now. We see what’s going on in the government, and there’s a lot of not good feelings in our country. People are looking for programming that serves as comfort food, and the lifeblood of our holiday programming in October, November and December has been comedy, both through familiar movies and with originals built around that content like our new reality series Wrap Battle. I think it's the blend of that programming and the diversity of the offering that makes us successful during this holiday period.

The network’s targeted youth audience views a lot of video content on the web. How are you reaching those audiences where they want to view and consume content?

We have the pleasure of using two platforms that work super strongly for us, but work differently. The linear network is up and strong and powerful, and a lot of that is from content that is familiar and packaged in a way that makes it interesting. Our core original series are also important on our network but they have a huge secondary life, especially on Hulu, in delayed and non-linear viewing. When you have multiple seasons of a series available on Hulu you can continue to recruit people to your brand and your content. Young people are very important in the streaming world, and that’s why it's great that our company is spending so much time and money in making streaming powerful, and we feel lucky to be part of that.

Can you see the network launching original content first on digital and then bringing those episodes back to linear?

We actually sort of do that now. We launch sneak peeks of our originals on Hulu frequently, and in January we’ll premiere the first episode of Party of Five on Hulu Jan. 1 before premiering the first two episodes of the series on Freeform Jan. 8. We also basically launch day and date episodes of our series on our network and on Hulu, so for us the shows are really launching on two platforms at once. When we market our shows we tell viewers to watch on either Freeform on Hulu because we’re happy with both. The convenience of having them on both platforms at the same time is that we can market both with one set of marketing dollars. We can drive viewers to whatever platform they wish to find [content] on, but we can do it in one window. We think [the platforms] reinforce each other in ways that we think is good for both of us. 

GLAAD recently recognized Freeform as one of the top three cable networks offering the most LGBTQ characters in original programming. Do you ever worry about a backlash from some viewers who may still be uncomfortable with seeing such portrayals on screen?

The great thing about young people is that they are the most diverse generation ever, and will continue to be so. They are much less fixated on [labels] -- they don’t do black, white, straight, gay. They are a fluid generation, and so much of the population at this point is a blend of so many different things. Everybody has a relative who is somewhere on the fluid spectrum, so there’s a sense that this is normal to our audience. So I think what feels like a big deal to an older generation is not a big deal to our kids. We get a lot of joy from our community of young people, even if they are not represented by one of the stories that is in one of our original [series]. They feel like they get to see the world as it is and not as it’s often depicted on TV.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.