THE WEEKLY HOWL IS PIVOTING TO VIDEO

Streaming: ClassPass is getting into the streaming business. ClassPass Live is launching in 2018. Videos will be produced in-house and then available for live or delayed streaming. From The Verge:

It'll cost $10 a month for existing members and $15 a month for new members. A $60 starter kit fee includes a heart rate monitor and Google Chromecast. ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia tells Business Insider that the first classes will involve heart rate training, and that, of course, the shipped heart rate monitors will evaluate a wearer's workout.

              It’s always interesting when a company decides to start competing with its own collaborators. ClassPass is supposed to be a way for people to discover great, new fitness classes and boutiques to tap into unused capacity. Now ClassPass is going to compete with all these boutiques by offering a streaming alternative. Is this a good move? Maybe. ClassPass has been struggling to make the economics of its original business model work. There is a lot of potential in streaming fitness and the business model is not pretty straight forward. Digital fitness is poised for tremendous growth over the next 5 years. From Well + Good:

“When you look at how to really scale a fitness business, digital opens up the exponential growth curve for these brands,” says Aarti Kapoor, a Moelis analyst who focuses on the wellness space. It’s no wonder then that the global digital-fitness market is expected to reach an estimated $27.4 billion by 2022 and is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 33 percent from 2017 to 2022.

              I want to see if this turns out to be a classic startup pivot or if ClassPass tries to do both. They have raised a lot of money recently so they could be a formidable competitor in digital fitness. But what form will digital fitness take in the future? If you believe Ethan Agarwal, the CEO of Aaptiv, that future is audio. From Forbes:

Agarwal’s bet was on audio as the best way to communicate during a workout, and he continues to believe in the superiority of the form factor to video. He points to strength training, Aaptiv’s fastest growing category of 2017. “You download a video onto your iPad, and you put it on the floor and try to watch a video on a 9-inch screen. That’s a bad user experience,” he says. “What works better is a phone on your arm and a trainer in your ear.”

              I’m not so sure about that. Obviously, audio makes sense if you’re actually running or biking outside but if you’re at home, why couldn’t you stream a video on your flat-screen TV? Audio would make sense for strength training at the gym though. The other issue is that it is a lot easier to show something than it is to describe it. A picture is worth a thousand words after all. Audio will have a very steep learning curve but if Aaptiv (or someone else) can get to the top, then it could be something special. It reminds me of sports casting. The radio announcers are always way better because they can’t lean on the video like the TV announcers can. From Esquire:

“In a studio space you have an interaction of the people in the room with you, which brings a great energy,” says Ed Hall, instructor at New York City’s Aqua Studio and New York Sports Clubs, as well as on the Aaptiv app. “In the app, I need to pay even closer attention to the programming and what I’m saying out loud. Since they can’t see me, I have to be very specific—almost impeccable—with my words. I have to paint a picture verbally.”

              This won’t be easy so it’s a good thing that Aaptiv has been raising a lot of money. $26 million in the last round. They’re going to need it.

Motivation: Motivating people to work-out is the white whale of the fitness industry. It feels like everything and anything has been tried already but we still have a long way to go. Perhaps Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has some ideas. From 538:

The good news is that the feel of exercise can be manipulated. Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson developed the “peak-end rule,” which holds that people judge events not by the overall experience but by some combination of how they feel at the most extreme part and at the end of the event. One example: Kahneman and his colleagues had study subjects immerse their hands in 57-degree water for 60 seconds and, separately, do the same thing with the other hand but tack on an additional 30 seconds while slightly warming the water to a temperature of 59 degrees. Given a choice, the subjects opted to repeat the longer trial. Experiences that end with a bad part are more likely to be recalled as unpleasant than if a miserable part comes toward the beginning, even if the average discomfort is the same.

A typical exercise session, however, tends to feel crappier as time passes, especially if you’re not fit. So researchers Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Zachary Zenko and Dan Ariely wondered what would happen if the usual workout script were flipped. They showed in a study published last year that among 46 adults, those who completed a cycling session structured so the intensity ramped down — providing a positive slope of pleasure — “felt more pleasant after exercise, remembered their exercise to be more pleasant, predicted that future exercise sessions would be more pleasant and enjoyed their exercise more,” said Zenko, a kinesiologist and exercise psychologist at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight. Even though both groups experienced a similar amount of overall pleasure during the session, the ones who finished by winding down their effort enjoyed the workout more and had more pleasant memories of it. More research is needed to see if that could translate into sustained behavior change.

              This is intriguing. Is this a recency bias thing? The last thing someone remembers is being in a world of hurt and that sticks with them. I wonder if this is factoring in the cooldown. A well-designed workout should have a cooldown and not abruptly end. Shouldn’t that be the psychological and physical wind-down? Something to think about when designing a workout.

Weight Watchers: If you ever want to see how an organization can stay true to its values but adapt to a changing market, look no further than Weight Watchers. Fast Company profiled the company this week and laid out it re-invented itself. The first move that Weight Watchers made was to figure out why their subscriptions were declining:

But what the brand heard, loud and clear, was that the term “diet” was rife with negative connotations. It’s a word that feels more reactive than proactive, and screams failure should they ever fall off course.

“If I look at my mother’s generation, people would fix things that were broken,” says Grossman. “Today’s generation is more preventative; they want to live healthily. They want to educate themselves.”

              A diet is not sustainable. It’s something that you do for a short period of time. We need sustainable fitness and nutrition plans. Calorie-counting used to be in vogue but now people want something that they can integrate into their lives for the long-term.

Shortly thereafter, the brand revealed its Beyond the Scale program, which brought its new “livable” philosophy to two more sectors: fitness and mind-set. It’s an interconnected approach that incorporates equal amounts of movement, happiness, and meditation to one’s weight loss goal. And instead of pure calorie counting, members were encouraged to pursue healthier eating choices with the new SmartPoints system, which focuses on lean protein, fruits, and vegetables while translating mind-bogglingly complex nutritional information into simple numbers assigned a value based on calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein.

              And Weight Watchers didn’t stop there. They changed the way that they run their physical meetings and got into wellness travel. And it’s working. Revenue is up 14% as is member recruitment. What this shows me is the power of a company that has a true mission. Weight Watchers’ mission is to improve the quality of people’s lives. That allowed them to adapt to the times while staying true to its mission and brand. People still want to look and feel better, that’s never going to change. Weight Watchers just had to change its approach to helping people look and feel better. 

Pay As You Go: At the TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin Hackathon, a team created an app that would let gym-goers pay for their work-out on a per machine basis.

The TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin Hackathon project uses NFC to let you check in at work-out machines. You’re then charged a fee for how long you use the machine, and Gym-As-You-Go keeps a percentage. “The most painful point of gyms are these 24 month contracts” says teammate Sebastian Steins.

Pay-as-you-go pricing could give lazy people who rarely work out a way to waste less money, and gyms a way to attract a different type of customer. Especially popular machines could be surge priced so they’re always available if you’re desperate for a certain exercise and don’t have time to wait.

Gyms could lower prices in off-peak hours to balance their attendance across the week to avoid overcrowding. And gyms would learn which equipment is the most popular so they can buy more, keep it maintained, or advertise that they have it.

              So they identify the target consumer as “lazy people who rarely work out” and then assume that cost is the barrier? That doesn’t make any sense. I hate the idea that I would have to check-in to every piece of equipment that I use. What a pain in the ass! And how are you going to put a NFC reader on a barbell? What if I’m doing a conditioning work-out in which I’m using several pieces of equipment? Would I have to check-in each time? I am going to go out on a limb here and say that these people have not spent much time in a gym and do not understand the industry at all. I have a feeling that they have not even considered how free weights factor in to their business plan.  

              Also, it drives me crazy when people tout technology as the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Gym operators don’t need this app in order to know which equipment is most popular. You just have to look around and pay attention. Some of these tech guys think that everyone besides themselves is an idiot and needs technology to know which way is up. 

Ninjas: American Ninja Warrior is a phenomenon. The popular NBC show is going into its 10th season and shows no signs of slowing down and there is now an ecosystem developing around it. The TV show is the foundation but we are now seeing other “ninja” competitions and organizations that want to mold it into an organized sport as well as a growing number of gyms that offer ANW-style obstacles. And of course, there are also companies that supply those gyms with obstacles. And some of those gyms are branching out into team-building and military training courses. Let’s talk about some of those gyms. Who are their main customers? From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

“The main customers are kids between the ages of 5 and 14,” said Kevin Hogan, an accountant turned ninja warrior competitor who owns Ninjas United gyms in St. Cloud and Buffalo.

Gym owners and instructors, who often include people who have competed on “American Ninja Warrior,” say that kids are doing more than just having fun imitating the stunts seen on the show: Some hope to be athletes in an emerging sport.

“Our intention is to be the pioneer, to turn this into a legitimate sport,” said Sarah Schoback, a stay-at-home mom from St. Louis Park who won a spot on “American Ninja Warrior” and started her own gym, Obstacle Academy in Edina, in 2016.

“A new sport is started every decade and we truly believe this is it,” said Megan Noel, marketing director for NinjaZone, a youth obstacle course program marketed to gymnastics clubs worldwide.

              You always want to hook them when they’re young and apparently that’s exactly what these gyms are doing. Combine that with the fact that it’s already on primetime network television and you could have a monster. Think about how new sports usually have to fight to get on TV in order to get any exposure and what an advantage it is to start off that way. This is also an individual sport that people could continue to participate long after they get out of adolescence. I am interested to see how this ecosystem develops especially in regards to the mothership of the NBC show. A sport being born out of a TV show seems strange but the sport of MMA was born out of a pay-per-view spectacle. What’s different is that NBC doesn’t seem to be interested in doing anything besides continuing to produce the show. That leaves a vacuum of power that several groups are trying to fill. We’ll see what happens.

Community: The Atlantic really likes the idea that fitness is the new religion. They published an article this week titled “The Consumerist Church of Fitness Classes”. This comes after an article from June titled “The Church of CrossFit” as well as this. Is there anything to this idea? Sure. Programs like SoulCycle and CrossFit provide people a sense of community and identity, something that draws people to organized religion. But what other similarities are there?

As Rypinski notes, beyond helping us meet like-minded people, exercise helps us ground ourselves in our bodies the same way that religious ritual can (with movements like crossing ourselves, or bowing and kneeling). Many middle- and upper-class people spend most of their days ignoring their physical selves in favor of mentally tasking work; exercise helps one become reembodied.

              Give me a break! Crossing yourself is not on the same level as a vigorous workout. Bowing and kneeling grounds us in our bodies? That’s preposterous. Does the author stop there? Of course not.

SoulCycle, for instance, paints its room with mantras that immediately subsume new riders into a collective “we” that “aspires to inspire” by way of activities like “find[ing] freedom in our sprints.” Even more than solo exercise, these classes mimic the structure of religious ritual by creating specific pockets of community. They assign times to arrive, instructors to revere as gurus, and routines to perform on command.

The explicit promise that exercise has a spiritual component seems to elevate it to a higher purpose: Instead of focusing solely on the health and attractiveness of the body, it suggests that fitness is a gateway to a much larger and more lasting state of happiness and fulfillment, much like religious practice.

              SoulCycle has class schedules and a set routine, therefore it must be a religion. This article is so lazily written. It never bothers to define religion; it just points out some similarities between fitness and religion and then makes its conclusion. And one of those similarities is a schedule. Fitness isn’t the new religion. It doesn’t provide morality, a way to view to the world, or establish a relationship between humanity and the transcendental. It does provide community but so do a whole bunch of other things. I don’t know the Atlantic is so interested in pushing this idea but they should make a better argument or just stop.

TidBits:

-2 women wear no clothes to a Planet Fitness, no one notices

-Gym in Melbourne will also serve alcohol after workout class

-Women are more efficient at processing oxygen than men are

-Marriott partners with Joffrey Ballet to offer VOD barre classes in rooms

-The 3 biggest fitness trends of 2017 according to ClassPass