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ABC Family Unsure of Its Baseball Future

Despite hitting a ratings home run with its coverage of the Major League Baseball playoffs, ABC Family may balk at bringing such games back next season.

The network's 10 2002 Division Series games (compared with the nine that aired on predecessor Fox Family last year) connected on many measures. According to Nielsen Galaxy Explorer data supplied by the network, ABC Family scored a 5 percent gain in its household rating (2.3 vs. 2.2); grew 13 percent in total viewers (2.65 million vs. 2.35 million); advanced 25 percent among adults 18 to 49 (1.0 vs. 0.8); and was ahead 23 percent with males 18 to 49 (1.6 vs. 1.3).

From a household perspective, the high point came Sept. 30, when its coverage of American League Division Series Game 3 between the New York Yankees and Anaheim Angels posted a 3.9 rating and attracted some 3.34 million viewers. Its final MLB telecast — Oct. 6's decisive Game 5 of the Minnesota Twins-Oakland Athletics ADLS, which pushed the Twins into the American League Championship Series against the Angels — delivered a 3.1 rating and some 3.69 million viewers.

"We were very happy with it," ABC Family executive vice president Tom Cosgrove said. "We were up across the board in demos — as much as 25 percent in men 18 to 49. The real positive of baseball is that it allowed us to introduce an audience to the channel that may not have been there before."

The network's baseball ratings gains came amid some scheduling confusion that had divisional playoff game coverage stretched across three different outlets — ABC Family, FX and the Fox broadcast network — over a seven-day period.

"Between the combined [marketing efforts] from our assets inside Disney and from Fox, baseball fans knew where to find the games," Cosgrove said.

Yet despite the strong performance, the network may not air the baseball package next year. While ABC Family retains the rights to postseason games that had been featured under the Fox Family moniker, its parent Walt Disney Co. can choose to move those games to another service — likely ESPN.

In fact, the 24-hour sports network produced and branded ABC Family's telecasts, and handled all ad-sales efforts for those games. Disney bought Fox Family from News Corp. and Haim Saban last October for $5.2 billion.

Hard Demo Fits

Baseball brings in new viewers, but it doesn't necessarily fit the 18-34 demographic the network is attempting to reach, according to Cosgrove.

"While there are a lot of benefits, as we move forward and build the brand of ABC Family by going after a younger, social 18-34 channel, baseball is less of a fit on the channel," Cosgrove said. "As of now, it's still part of ABC Family, but we'll revisit it next year."

In an effort to reach that younger demo, Cosgrove said the network will offer a mix of original programming and repurposed shows from sister broadcast network ABC.

On the repurposing side, starting Oct. 26 the network will roll out a primetime block of ABC programming on Saturday nights, dubbed ABC Plus. Cosgrove would not reveal which ABC shows would be included. Industry sources, though, indicated that Life With Bonnie
is likely to resurface.

Along with the repurposed episodes — which air days after their ABC premieres — Cosgrove said the block will feature added bloopers, interviews and never-before-seen footage that isn't available on the broadcast network.

"We're going to do it in a way in which offer viewers programming they can't get anywhere else," Cosgrove said. "The goal is to give [repurposed] programming a different life so that you can watch it on both channels, but get something extra when you come to ABC Family."

Along with several original specials, ABC Family in January will debut My Life as a Sitcom, a new original series that will pit families against each other to determine who will win a chance to appear in a real sitcom on the network.

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.