ABC Family Clicks With Flicks

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Optimism is paying off for ABC Family, claiming the title of top ad-supported original movie TV franchise for 2007-08 to date. 

Not optimism about the upcoming upfront ad-sales auction, though ABC Family CEO Paul Lee is confident there, too. Coming off a 2007 upfront in which his network reported achieving a 15% price increase, Lee was in New York last week conducting some of those new upfront pitches. “It’s a good time for us,” he said after returning to Los Angeles Wednesday night. “Cable’s up and we’re up pretty dramatically, so it’s a fun time to be out selling.”

No, the optimism he’s really talking about resonates from the Disney-owned cable network’s target audience of “millennials,” which Lee puts at ages 14 to 28.

Network research finds they are “really much more optimistic than the previous two generations,” Lee said.

Everyone knows young folks multitask and socially network, but the optimistic outlook is what’s really interesting, Lee said. ABC Family responds with “scripted shows that have humor, but a lot of heart and a lot of optimism.” Shows like Greek,Kyle XY and Lincoln Heights.

And with original movies like April 20’s modern fairy-tale Princess, which won its timeslot (8-10 p.m.) with 3 million total viewers and ranked second among females ages 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 12 to 34, Disney ABC Cable Networks Group researchers say. It led the timeslot with teen viewers (494,000/2.0 rating) and female teens (447,000/3.7 rating).

“Our movies really have been [launching] 12 months a year since I’ve been here and that’s just a huge asset to us and our advertisers,” said Lee, who came over from BBC America about four years ago.

Season to date, ABC Family’s seven movies lead ad-supported cable networks in adults 18 to 34 (794,000/1.2 rating), adults 18 to 49 (1.6 million/1.2 rating), women 18 to 34 (588,000/1.8 rating) and women 18 to 49 (1.1 million/1.7 rating), according to Disney.

ABC Family’s best-ever telecast, the December flick Holiday in Handcuffs, was cable’s top original movie of 2007-08 so far in women 18 to 34 (1.2 million/3.6 rating) and women 18 to 49 (2.2 million/3.4 rating). And it ranked second out of nearly 60 films on ad-supported cable among adults 18 to 34 (1.6 million/2.4 rating) and adults 18-49 (3.3 million/2.5 rating), all according to a Disney analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

While the summer typically was a time when ABC Family eased up on movies and introduced new series, this summer the network will keep to its strategy of an original movie “event” every month.

Coming up, Lee points to original flicks The Circuit, with Michelle Trachtenberg (premieres Sunday, June 8), a father-daughter story set on the stock-car race circuit; and Picture This, with High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale (Sunday, July 13), about a girl who averts being grounded, and missing a date of a lifetime, partly by using a video phone to outsmart her dad (Kevin Pollack).

“We really get the chance to get great talent in and to do what we think are great romantic comedies,” Lee said.

Lee says ABC Family – once derided as a costly mistake for Disney when then-chairman Michael Eisner’s company bought and converted it from Fox Family Channel – has become “a huge asset” for Disney. It bridges the gap between hugely successful Disney Channel and the ABC network, has had five consecutive years of revenue growth and “is a top 10 network in every single demo,” he said.

Getting back to the theme of optimism, Lee said he’s no sociologist but “I do think it’s interesting that three optimistic brands are doing well at this time.” Five years ago, the shows with buzz were ones like The Sopranos on HBO and The Office on his then-network BBC America. “I do think this is a moment where people love great escapist storytelling, and I think that Disney Channel, ABC Family and ABC do it better than anybody else”

“I think also people are sick of bad news,” he said. “They want to go to entertainment and they want to enjoy it and they want escapism. I think Grey’s Anatomy [on ABC] gives that, I think Greek gives that and I think [Disney Channel’s] Hannah Montana gives that.”

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