Exstream Sport: how digital platforms are doing more of the heavy lifting in the consumer fitness industry

Soul Cycle’s in-home spinning bikes have just become available to pre-order as of today. Fans will be able to access virtual classes via Equinox Media’s Variis platform. But the question is, why are premium fitness studios joining the in-home fitness streaming trend, and what space does is this burgeoning channel likely to hold in the lives of fitness fanatics?

I’ve been through many phases of exercise (cheap gym, expensive gym, no gym), but the thing I’ve always loved is the feeling of being in a great class, with a great instructor. Whether it’s cardio, weights, dance or yoga, instructors make or break studio fitness experiences – it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a Dyson hair dryer and Bumble&Bumble shampoo, if your instructor is rubbish, it counts for nothing. That’s why I’ve totally shocked myself in last 6 months by not only being completely converted to digital studios in gyms, but now I’ve also signed up to a virtual yoga studio.

In-home digital fitness is nothing new. Jane Fonda and Rosemary Connelly did it for cardio; Geri Haliwell did it for yoga (strange, but true). If our parents saw us rolling out mats and picking up weights in the living room, they’d barely raise an eyebrow. And then there’s YouTube – if you’re looking for infinite access to free workouts targeting muscles you didn’t even know you had, then look no further. So how are the likes of FIIT, AloYoga, Peloton and now Soul Cycle managing to cut through?

They’re certainly delivering on some of the things a gym can’t. You can choose exactly when to do your workout; you can take it with you on holidays and work trips (except for the spinning bikes…) and there’s no time wasted commuting to and from the studio. But with so many people now seeing premium gym classes, not just as an acceptable, but a desirable pass time (barbell birthday parties, anyone?), I would argue in-home videos simply can’t compete. Even the most sophisticated fitness tech in the world won’t give you that one to one support offered by the best instructor.

What these fitness streaming apps are appealing to is our ever-stronger digital socialisation and desire for convenience (as well as the part of our IRL selves who want to go to the gym without going to the gym). The chances are those who are into fitness already follow their favourite teachers, brands and personalities on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube and so are already invested in the digital relationship. This could be the answer for those individuals wanting more contact with the people they aspire to. So if a brand can can get a number of influencers to deliver exclusive content and support their platform, that’s a compelling offer complete with a ready-made following. By the same token, Equinox Media’s Variis combines the digital offering of a number of exclusive gyms that most people don’t get to experience. Our digital self is already comfortable with digital communities and these platforms are just an extension, providing members with that familiarity and sense of belonging, as well as ‘exclusive’ content.

But what’s the glue holding it all together? For one it costs a lot less and premiumness can be maintained simply by shooting videos in pristine studios with a bunch of Insta celebrities. But even with all that, not having a bricks and mortar gym to maintain means members can access an infinite number of workouts from just by the click of button. It also means brands can spend more investing in non-essential communications, like those Instagrams, blog posts and lifestyle content that catapult a brand from being ‘for people like me’ to ‘epitomising who I am and what I aspire to’. These streaming platforms are offering consumers a low-cost, on-demand and exciting option that can complement splashing out on premium in-gym experiences, which are as much about socialising and gym-tourism as they are about fitness. The question is, where will that leave the likes of Fitness First and other middle-of-the road gyms, who have a strong class offering, aren’t cheap enough to go unnoticed on your bank statement, but who don’t offer a premium enough experience to defend their position?

After jumping on a 2-week free trial with yoga online studio, Movement For Modern Life, I can’t say I’ve been disappointed. I’ve always used YouTube yoga videos from my favourite yoga social media influencers, but there’s something about the variety of celebrity-status yogis and the ability to search by theme and ‘feeling’ that transforms this into a viable alternative to a studio, rather than a cop out which YouTube sometimes felt like. You can follow courses and schedule classes into your diary: it’s far from a glorified YouTube or fitness DVD. While virtual fitness is not about to replace going to the gym for me, it does seem as though this is the start of a new way for consumers to split their fitness spend. A low-cost digital studio that allows you to splash out more on premium in-gym experiences? I can see the appeal. Let’s see how it grows.

By: The Value Engineers