How ABC Family is Bringing Viewers Back to Primetime

Millennial Magazine - Pretty Little Liars

With the rise of online streaming and onDemand services, watching live scripted television programming has become a thing of the past for most Millennials. According to Nielsen, television viewing has decreased 18 percent since 2011 among 18-35 year olds. This is because we’re a generation that has been fed convenience. Instead of going through traditional cable outlets, we turn to Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube to watch our favorite shows. However, one network is steering the ship away from that TV Land iceberg and bringing young viewers back to primetime with the one thing millennials crave most – social media.

Millennial Magazine - Dalia Ganz and Michelle Walenz

ABC Family was all but dead in 2005, that is until Michelle Walenz took over as Senior Vice President of Marketing, Creative & Branding, and John Hopkins University graduate Dalia Ganz  introduced the network to Facebook. “I was really young in my career but I was providing so much value by being an expert in the social media space when no one else was,” Dalia tells MiLLENNiAL. As social media’s popularity grew, ABC Family was responsive to Ganz’s social push, and in 2008 became one of the first networks to embrace and engage viewers online.

ABC Family Dominates Social Media

Now the Director of Digital and Partnership marketing for the network, Ganz and her team specialize in taking ABC Family shows to the next level. The 2010 premiere of Pretty Little Liars (PLL) sparked a new fire of online frenzy among millennial women, launching ABC Family into a new class of cable recognition. PLL’s summer 2013 finale remains the #1 most-tweeted scripted TV telecast of all time with close to 1.9 million tweets, and the season four finale in March of this year, received nearly 1.5 million tweets, making it the most “tweeted scripted telecast of 2014”. And while the percentage of millennial live viewers is decreasing overall, ABC Family has done an excellent job of incentivizing tuning in for the original air date.

Millennial Magazine - ABC Family Pretty Little Liars Season 5

MiLLENNiAL spent the afternoon in the ABC Family social media war room where we saw a behind the scenes look at what it takes to truly make fans come to life online. To create a fun night for the audience as well as the staff, the team hosts a Twitter party where they invite cast members to come and answer fan questions in real time throughout the show. On August 12, Pretty Little Liars actress, Sasha Pieterse, joined the fun in a sponsored chat by Ad Sales to stir the Twitter craze. At one point, fans were so anxious to ask Pieterse questions that ABC Family’s server was overloaded and crashed for a split second.

Millennial Magazine - Sasha Pieterse Tweeting to fans - Chris Ian Garlington photography

Prior to each tweet session, the social media team meets to prepare the evening’s audience engagement strategy. On this particular night, social media manager, Larry Del Santo, suggested taking photos of Pieterse holding a sign cross promoting the PLL Twitter party to their 1.1 million Instagram followers. And social media engagement specialist, Kim Trinh, proposed the idea of using Pieterse to create fun GIFs of her waving and blowing kisses to the audience. The team even went so far as to offer picture shoutouts from Pieterse to some of the most devoted fans. Additionally, they focused on creating hashtags that would trend during the live episode.

Ganz tells us, “To be good in the social media space, you have to be collaborative. You need good content from various places.” By interfacing with network executives, talent and various departments, ABC Family is unique in their approach to audience engagement. “The reason we’re so good at our jobs is because we think like fans and are fans,” Ganz emphasizes. Utilizing the vast resources available for each show, the team creatively incorporates the demands of the audience to innovate new ways for fans to feel connected to the program.

Millennial Magazine - Pinterest Board PLL Fashion

These tactics come in all forms. From the Pinterest boards that select the best fashion and link to the store from which it was bought to the digital clue games that once solved unlock a sneak peak of an upcoming episode, fans are entertained around the clock. This keeps interest at an all-time high so when the show airs live each Tuesday night, a loyal fan base turns up to share their feelings with the community.

Feeding off the energy from the fans, Ganz and her team easily make premieres and finales a must-watch event. “We allow fans to sign up for viewing party kits, and we’ll create little boxes of swag and social media directions,” she says of the fun they have around these seasonal highlights.

Millennial Magazine - ABC Family Social Media War Room

With the Pretty Little Liars #FatalFinale airing on August 26, the social media team is in overdrive. To join the madness, tweet or observe #PLLChat while watching the show live. It’s a great way to understand how social media is making live television worth tuning in for and the power it has with fans.

UPDATE: During the August 20th Tweet Chat, PLL actor Keegan Allen, telephoned a 13 year old fan named Issac who had responded to the trending hashtag #callmekeegan. The social media team captured the event. Enjoy!

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Written by Britt Hysen

Britt Hysen is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of MiLLENNiAL. In response to the branded ad campaigns absorbed by the media platform, Britt launched Kreativ Ctrl, a full-service marketing agency specializing in experiential programming and strategic partnerships.

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