ABC Family Worldwide is a subsidiary of the Disney–ABC Television Group that is responsible for the operations of the U.S. cable network Freeform. The company was originally formed as International Family Entertainment, a spin-off of the Christian Broadcasting Network's cable network The Family Channel.
In 1993, IFE acquired the assets of defunct British ITV broadcaster Television South, whose holdings included the library of U.S. studio MTM Enterprises. In 1997, IFE was acquired by News Corporation; the MTM library was melded into 20th Century Fox Television's library, while the remainder was melded into Fox Kids Worldwide (a merger of its Fox Kids unit with Saban Entertainment), to form Fox Family Worldwide. Fox and Saban planned to leverage the popular Fox Kids lineup to turn The Family Channel—which was re-branded as the Fox Family Channel following the purchase—into a competitor to other children's-oriented cable channels such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. The subsidiary also established international Fox Kids networks in Europe and Latin America.
After facing struggling ratings and a failed attempt by Saban to buy out News Corp's stake in the venture, Fox Family Worldwide was later sold to its current owner, The Walt Disney Company, in 2001 for $5.3 billion. The purchase gave Disney ownership of the channel, then known as Fox Family Channel, the international Fox Kids channels (which were later re-branded as Jetix, and then Disney XD), and rights to the Saban Entertainment library. The subsidiary has since been amalgamated into the Disney–ABC Television Group, while Saban Brands has since re-gained ownership to some of the properties it previously held, particularly Power Rangers.
International Family Entertainment
The company has its origins in Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network; the religious broadcaster had re-positioned its CBN Satellite Service, which primarily carried televangelism, as the CBN Cable Network, which carried a mixture of family entertainment programming and religious programs. Owing to its new scope, the service was later renamed the CBN Family Channel.
By the 1990s, the network had become too profitable to remain under the ownership of the non-profit CBN without legal repercussions. In January 1990, a decision was made to spin-off the CBN Family Channel into a new, for-profit company known as International Family Entertainment, via a sale at a price of $250 million in convertible notes. IFE was majority-owned by the network's management, with a 15% minority interest held by TCI Development Corp, a subsidiary of cable provider Tele-Communications Inc. Special voting shares were issued to Pat Robertson and Timothy Robertson that give them control of the company. IFE continued to use CBN's facilities under a rental agreement. As a stipulation of the spin-out, The Family Channel was required to maintain daily airings of CBN's flagship television program The 700 Club.
CBN sold $23 million in notes to another cable company. An additional $127 million of convertible notes were converted into stock by CBN prior to an IPO in April 1992 in which CBN would sell for $93 million to $106 million worth. More shares would be sold directly by IFE in the amount of $47 million to $53 million to total about $150 million. IFE's proceeds would be used for programming, marketing and possible acquisitions or investments. Plans were in the works for a home video distribution deal with Pacific Arts by the end of 1992, a South Korea cable network with Hyundai Electronics Industries Co. (now SK Hynix), and a joint venture to bid for a Czechoslovakian TV station. Additional plans called for Family Channels in Britain and continental Europe, and adding additional cable channels. In consideration by IFE for the cable channel's genres were game shows, western, country music and sports as well as Spanish-language simulcasting. On April 28, 1992, IFE began public trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker FAM.
In May 1992, IFE announced plans to launch Game Channel, a cable channel which would air original and classic game shows as a joint venture with Game Technologies Inc.. The co-owners planned to allow viewers to interact with its programming over a 1-900 line—revenue was to be shared with providers that carried the channel, who could also integrate their own interactive content into the service. Upon its announcement, Game Channel already faced competition from Sony Pictures Television's proposed service Game Show Network, as well as other new cable networks launching at the same period. On June 7, 1993, The Family Channel launched a game show block featuring interactive Trivial Pursuit segments, in preparation for the planned launch of Game Channel.
In June 1993, prior to its launch, IFE sold a 39% stake in a British version of The Family Channel to local company Flextech. In October, IFE also acquired TVS Entertainment, a former ITV franchisee in Southern England, for $68.5 million. The deal gave IFE ownership of the library of Mary Tyler Moore's studio MTM Enterprises; IFE planned to leverage the MTM programs as part of a new syndication division. Flextech would later buy out IFE's share in The Family Channel UK, which then became the game show-oriented channel Challenge.
On August 20, 1993, IFE soft-launched the Cable Health Club (later known as FitTV), a service devoted to fitness. In December 1993, IFE opened a bidding war to acquire the Nostalgia Network, competing with a partnership of Florida-based MOR Music TV Inc. and Arizona-based Gen-She Inc., and part-owner Concept Communications (owned by the Unification Church).
In December 1993, IFE purchased three Myrtle Beach, S.C., theaters and Calvin Gilmore Productions for $20 million. The Great American Entertainment Co. was formed as a subsidiary of IFE to control the companies.
In December 1995, IFE acquired Dorothy Hamill International, which had bought the ice show franchise Ice Capades out of bankruptcy, for $10 million. However, the company went out of business afterward due to the decreasing popularity of its shows in favor of traditional figure skating competitions and exhibitions. The tour had a lackluster season, which led Hamill leave the company. IFE then searched for a management company to handle the touring company for an equity stake. Instead, IFE sold Ice Capades in late 1995 while retaining the option of reacquiring a majority stake in Del Wilber & Associates for 10 years.
Fox Family Worldwide
In 1996, News Corporation's Fox Children's Productions and Haim Saban's Saban Entertainment merged to form Fox Kids Worldwide. Later, the joint venture purchased the C&D library from Jean Chalopin.
With the growing shift in children's television from over-the-air programming blocks to cable channels such as Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, the two companies sought to launch a competitor that would carry programming from the popular Fox Kids lineup. Eying The Family Channel, News Corp. made an offer to purchase IFE through the joint venture in 1997.
Viacom and Disney made competing offers for IFE; Viacom dropped out of bidding, and News Corp. offered $1.8 billion. News Corp. won with a bid of $1.9 billion. The acquisition closed on June 11, 1997; IFE was folded into Fox Kids Worldwide, which itself was renamed Fox Family Worldwide. On August 15, 1998, The Family Channel was renamed Fox Family Channel; Fox continued to be subject to the mandate that The 700 Club be broadcast by the network. Rights to the MTM Enterprises library were folded into 20th Century Fox Television. Of the sale, Robertson stated that he "felt it was time for the Family Channel to join the consolidation that was going on in the industry."
In October 1996, a Fox Kids channel was launched in the United Kingdom. In November 1999, Fox Kids Europe was formed, with 75.7% being held by Fox Family Worldwide, and the remainder listed on the Euronext.
In an attempt at US expansion in October 1999, Fox spun off two digital cable channels from Fox Family, the Boyz Channel and the Girlz Channel, which contained programming content targeted at the respective genders. Both networks shut down after one year of operation due to a lack of leverage and demand by cable providers (each only had 100,000 subscribers) and News Corporation's desire to invest more heavily in the parent channel.
In the face of struggling performance at the Fox Family channel, Saban attempted to force News Corp. to sell it its share in the joint venture, but were unable to agree in a proper valuation. The ensuing conflict resulted in the two companies deciding to sell Fox Family Worldwide to a third-party. At the time, Fox was also preparing to acquire Hughes Electronics, the parent company of television provider DirecTV.
Acquisition by Disney
On October 24, 2001, The Walt Disney Company acquired Fox Family Worldwide for $2.9 billion cash plus $2.3 billion in debt assumption, which gave Disney control of the Fox Family channel (which, owing to its new ownership, was renamed ABC Family, and its parent company renamed ABC Family Worldwide), the Saban Entertainment library, the Fox Kids networks in Latin America and Europe, as well as additional cable rights to Major League Baseball that were assigned to Fox Family via the Fox Sports division, which included a slate of Thursday-night regular season games, and Division Series games. ESPN assumed the production responsibilities for these games as part of its ESPN Major League Baseball package, although they continued to air on ABC Family for the time being.
The Fox Kids block broadcast by Fox in the U.S. was not included in the sale; responsibility for the block was shifted to the Fox Television Entertainment division. As a consequence of having lost the rights to the Saban programming that primarily aired during the block, and no longer having appropriate synergies due to the sale of Fox Family, Fox announced in January 2002 that it would enter into an agreement with 4Kids Entertainment to program a new children's block for the network.
In March 2002, Angela Shapiro was named president of ABC Family Worldwide, after moving from president of Buena Vista Productions. She originally reported to ABC Broadcast Group president Steve Bornstein, who resigned in 2002. The post then reported directly to Disney president Bob Iger. In October 2003, ABC Family Worldwide was amalgamated into the ABC Cable Networks Group, run by Anne Sweeney. Shapiro also left the network that month. Programming executive Linda Mancuso died in December 2003. In early 2004, ABC Family's original movie unit was taken over by Disney Channel's vice president of original programming and production Gary Marsh and vice president of original movies Michael Healy.
In January 2004, Fox Kids Europe, Fox Kids Latin America and the ABC Cable Group launched a new joint brand for their children's television operations, Jetix, which would be used to brand programming blocks which aired on ABC Family and Toon Disney, its television channels in Europe and Latin America, along with its program library and merchandising.
On December 8, 2008, Disney reached an agreement to increase its ownership in Jetix Europe to 96%, and announced an intent to purchase the remainder to give it full ownership. Following its takeover of Jetix Europe, Disney began migrating the Jetix properties in the region to a new brand, Disney XD. In 2009, Switchover Media—a company formed by the management of the Italian Jetix operation, acquired the K2 and GXT networks from Disney, and managed the Italian Jetix channel until its re-branding as Disney XD.
In August 2010, Saban Capital Group, a successor to Saban Entertainment, bought back the rights to the Power Rangers franchise (which had been acquired by Disney through the purchase of Saban's library via Fox Family Worldwide) from Disney for $43 million.
ABC Family was renamed Freeform on January 12, 2016.