Cable TV Upfronts 2009: ABC Family Rides High

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Cable TV Upfronts 2009: Complete Coverage From Multichannel News

ABC Family will head into its upfront presentation to advertisers this week with ratings momentum as it seeks to reinforce its programming appeal to its core millennial audience.

The network finished its best quarter ever in several audience demos, including total viewers (1.4 million viewers) and its target 12-to-34 “millennial” audience (640,000 viewers), according to Nielsen Media Research.

Driving the network’s ratings push are its original scripted series, led by freshman drama series The Secret Life of the American Teenager. The series, about a young teen dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, finished its first season last month as the network’s most-watched series ever, averaging 3.9 million viewers and consistently outdrawing Gossip Girls on broadcaster The CW in head-to-head competition, according to the network’s president Paul Lee.

ABC Family’s family-targeted movies are also burning up the ratings charts. The network’s Jan. 18 premiere of Another Cinderella Story was the top cable movie for the quarter, drawing 5.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Lee attributes the network’s ratings success to its ability to successfully reach its core millennial audience with content that they and their parents can identify with.

“[Millennials] are optimistic, they make decisions by consensus, and they’re diverse — but most importantly they love family, which is great for our name and the brand,” he said. “They may define family differently — it’s not Ozzie and Harriet, but rather a much messier, more passionate, more fun, more real family,” he said.

From Secret Life’s young mother to a young man’s coming of age in a school fraternity in the hit series Greek, to an African-American policeman who moves his family back into his old urban neighborhood in Lincoln Heights, ABC Family deals with a variety of non-nuclear family situations. But the overriding theme is one of family support, according to Kathleen McGee-Anderson, executive producer of Lincoln Heights.

“They’re speaking to a millennial audience — that new generation of audience that’s out there that looks totally differently at our multiethnic culture than generations previous,” said McGee, whose Lincoln Heights is the only drama series on television featuring a predominately African-American cast.

ABC Family will team with The Boys Club Of America on a multi-platform social initiative revolving around the upcoming season of Lincoln Heights, which will premiere this summer.

The network will look to continue its ratings fortunes with a trio of comedy series set to launch later this year. 10 Things I Hate About You, based on the theatrical of the same name; gymnast series Make It or Break It; and the music-driven comedy Ruby & the Rockits will join new seasons of Greek, Lincoln Heights and The Secret Life of The American Teenager on ABC Family’s schedule, according to Lee.

The network also plans to air as many as 10 original movies this year, including the Lindsay Lohan title Labor Pains in July.