Family Time1/09/2012 12:01 AM Eastern
ABC Family network president Michael Riley had good reason to celebrate the new year.
In 2011, after 14 months with Riley at the helm, ABC garnered its best primetime viewership performance ever among total viewers, including key
adult 18-34, 18-49 and 12-34 demos — while posting its eighth consecutive year of overall audience increases, according to network officials.
The network also continued to reach its key millennial audience (12-to-34-year-old viewers) in record numbers, despite competition from such rivals
as MTV and The CW, with such freshman series as Switched at Birth —- which finished its summer run as the most-watched new summer cable show
among the demo — and Jane by Design, as well as veteran shows Pretty Little Liars and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
Riley sat down with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead to discuss the network’s ratings so far, its outreach to the influential millennial
audience and what the network has planned in 2012. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: When you came to ABC Family, what were your
goals and have you accomplished them?
MR: I would say that coming in, it was such a great time.
ABC Family at the time was really just coming up on six
years of consecutive growth. They’d had just a tremendous
amount of momentum, and I knew that coming in
I needed to seize the moment and capitalize on the momentum.
So the first thing we talked about was putting six pilots
into production. Our plan was to actually pick up three of
them, but as we got into looking at the pilots, all of the storytelling
was absolutely fantastic and we ended up putting
forth our most aggressive slate of content into production.
We put [on] five shows, which we had never done before.
And we ended up having our best summer on record.
We put [on] Switched at Birth, which is just really, again,
in the vein of groundbreaking shows for ABC Family, and
we just couldn’t be happier
with the performance over
the summer. We talk about
now our very own triple
threat when we think about
Switched at Birth joining
Secret Life of the American
Teenager and Pretty Little
Liars as this triple threat for
our millennial audience,
MCN: Millennials are kind
of, some people say, quirky,
to say the least. What did
you see in that audience
when the rest of the industry
is focusing on 18-to-49
MR: We say optimistic.
Here in the U.S., there’s
something like 86 million
millennials in that generation,
and that’s bigger than
Gen X and now bigger than
This is just anecdotal, but
my understanding is that as
you look at the future, more
and more marketers are
looking to these millennials
in order to spend us out
of the recession, so we look
at how to make sure that
we’re getting to them. And
so for us, being right at the
forefront of that is just fascinating.
And the other statistic
that we love is [that] as millennials age, these millennials
become a significant percentage of those core 18-
to-49 audiences. And I think by 2014, it’s something like
just under 70% of that key 18-to-49 audience will be millennials.
MCN: Why have you been so successful in reaching that
MR: I think as you look around the TV landscape, we
knew there was an opportunity. And so looking at what
we wanted to serve, we knew that this audience, which
was emerging, was important not only from a brand perspective,
but also from a commercial perspective.
So we really put into place a tremendous amount of research
about how to reach these millennials and what’s
important to them. And there are some fascinating conclusions
that come from that, actually. One of them, as everybody
is well aware, is they are just hugely tech-savvy.
So the first thing is making sure that we understand
digital technology and understand the technology that
they’re using. We spend a tremendous amount of time not
only understanding the technology, but also integrating
the technology into the storyline. So, Pretty Little Liars is a
great example of a show that
very much incorporates interactivity
right into the plot
But as we look at the millennials,
they’re also optimistic.
So actually all the
research that we see is that
they’re very much looking to
the future and they’re optimistic.
And for us what’s also
great is they are very family-
oriented. They want to
spend time with their families,
which is very different
from the previous generations.
MCN: But you’re not the
only network targeting
that audience. MTV and
The CW are both out there
with content that pushes
the boundaries of what you
would perceive would be
a typical teenager-themed
show. You guys have stayed
away from more controversial
MR: We love exactly where
we are. And again, it goes
back to the research and
our understanding of what
it is that millennials are
looking for. We love creating
discussion. We love the
idea of looking at how to
take family situations and
look at them in different ways. And so, as we look at how
we differentiate from our competitors, it’s very much
about taking the shows, really understanding who those
characters are, what those relationships are and displaying
MCN: ABC Family relies heavily on scripted content, as
opposed to some of your competitors, which tend to offer
more reality content. Is that something that you guys
will look to do down the line?
MR: We love the success that we’ve had in the drama
genre. Over the last couple of years, we’re very excited
about the comedy genre. So Melissa & Joey was a huge
breakout hit last summer for us. It just does a tremendous
job. We feel very fortunate that we have two of the
longest-standing sitcom actors in a millennial show on a
millennial channel. And we feel with Melissa & Joey that
we couldn’t be happier from a comedy standpoint.
And, as you mentioned, we’re really looking at other
genres. We are always very, very open to seeing what’s
next. And I think reality is something we very much want
to take a look at. We’re just in the process right now of sort
of figuring out how does reality fit at ABC Family, and so
that’s coming up.
MCN: ABC Family has concentrated its big series
launches in January and during the summer. Do you
see a time when you’ll have originals going throughout
MR: We do. We’re focused on where we are right now. So
as you mentioned, the summer — we opened up a third
night of original content in the summertime, which is our first time we’ve ever done
that this past summer. So we
talk about a record number of
series on air, we talk about a
third night of original content
and we had our best summer
and our best year to date. So we
feel very fortunate about that.
As we look to 2012, we’re
launching four series in January,
a second night on this Tuesday
night [Jan. 10], which we’ve never
done before either. And exactly
to your point, we’re focused in the
space that we know well and then
we’re looking at how do we then
continue to have original content
on for more times of the year. For
us, we’re in a very fortunate position
where we have this great
combination of fantastic original
content as well as great acquisitions
and events that drive a
number of our events in the fall.
MCN: Not everything proved to
be successful in 2011. Two new
series, The State of Georgia and
The Nine Lives of Chloe were
cancelled after their summer
MR: We loved the storytelling
and we loved the cast for both
shows. So we loved it so much.
We just needed to make some
choices. … But it just somehow
didn’t come together in the way
that we wanted it to come together.
MCN: How many original movies
will ABC Family air in 2012?
MR: It’s interesting, actually. For
us, we’re really looking at making
sure that the movies themselves
can anchor the stunts
that we’re doing. So what we’re
very much trying to do is look
at our movie structure and say,
how is this going to be complementary
to our series and to our
events. We’ve done just a great
job at [the] “25 Days of Christmas”
[programming stunt] and
we have a wonderful history of
ABC Family, wonderful romantic
comedies at Christmastime,
which really brings in a great,
broad audience as well as our
key millennial space.
And then as we looked at our
“Campus Crush” [stunt] last summer,
we did a really fun movie
called Teen Spirit, which was
very much about back to school
and the prom. Also last summer
we looked at a movie which we’d
never really done before called
Cyber Bully. Cyber Bully was very
much something that’s not only
important to our millennial audience
but, obviously, this whole
idea of c yber-
So it really is
looking at focusing
a great spectrum
We’re not looking
to just do
It really is making
at the right
time we’re doing
to our millennials.
MCN: With the whole “TV Everywhere”
discussion, how important
is that for your audience, to
be able to access the content
online and in other areas?
MR: It’s incredibly important.
TV Everywhere is such a great
opportunity for us to work with
our affiliates, in order to make
sure that our content can be
wherever it is that millennial audiences
want to consume it.
As you well pointed out, one
of the things we talked about at
the beginning is this whole idea
of [how] millennials consume
content wherever, whenever and
however, and they don’t necessarily
differentiate very much. So
[it’s] a very, very important piece
of our puzzle.
MCN: From your perspective,
what are the most critical issues
that face the cable industry and,
specifically, cable networks?
MR: There are so many channels
launching so much content
now. I believe the golden age of
television is right now. There has
never been as much content getting
created as right now, and I
just think that’s
for us, [with] a
really well defined brand.
We need to
make sure that
what our market
for and what
wants from us.
We need to be
we need to
make sure that
we are creating models that really
make sense in order to get
original content to our viewers
and to our consumers.
But I actually start from a very
optimistic place, which is I just
think it’s such a great time to be in
TV because there is so much going
on. And there’s just a wealth
of content for so many different
genres, and that’s what’s exciting.
More television is watched on more
screens today than ever before.
And I think that says something.