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Fitness Shapes Up VOD

Aug 16, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Video-on-demand service doesn’t have high usage among women, and Comcast wants to change that by targeting their abs, buns and thighs.

“We want to bring in people who aren’t watching it,” said Page Thompson, VP, marketing, new video products, at Comcast.

The cable operator has offered yoga videos from Wisdom Television on-demand and expects to add additional fitness and exercise content shortly to its stable of free on-demand content. “[Fitness] is a slam-dunk on-demand application,” Mr. Thompson said.

Comcast has deployed VOD in 29 markets and counts about 1,800 hours of content in its VOD library, including some fitness content.

In fact, fitness is an area of the on-demand platform that is poised for rapid growth. Already, fitness content is among the most popular across cable operators’ free VOD tiers. Discovery’s FitTV is exploring adding more fitness content to the Discovery on-demand offering, slated to launch next month on Comcast’s system; Wisdom TV said it plans to increase the number of fitness titles it offers on-demand on Comcast as well, and Mag Rack said its most-watched videos are fitness-related.

Fitness is a logical choice for VOD. Users can watch the exercise videos when they want, rather than wait for prescribed times on linear networks. In addition, consumers get variety, with new versions of fitness videos cropping up weekly.

Given fitness is its bailiwick, FitTV is a natural to leverage its content for the on-demand platform. While the programmer hasn’t done a specific fitness on-demand content deal with any of its cable operator partners, five FitTV titles are part of the overall VOD offering that parent company Discovery Networks will roll out next month.

Discovery and Comcast inked a deal in June to introduce Discovery on-demand content to Comcast markets starting in September. Under that agreement, FitTV will offer such titles as “Gilad’s Body in Motion,” “In Shape With Sharon Mann,” “Power Hour With Cathe Friedrich,” “Caribbean Workout” and “Urban Fitness TV.”

FitTV expects to have about 25 hours of fitness content on-demand quarterly during the initial rollout, said Carole Tomko, senior VP and general manager of FitTV.

Fitness as a category lends itself to VOD, Ms. Tomko said. “VOD is the perfect medium. You can access it whenever you want,” she said. FitTV plans to add more than 50 hours of new programming to the linear channel in the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2005, and she expects some of those new signature shows will become part of the on-demand offering.

Wisdom TV also plans to bolster its on-demand lineup with more fitness titles and other content, said Cindy Sheets, president and CEO, Wisdom Media Group, which runs Wisdom TV. “It really complements our linear channel because you don’t see the same episodes airing on the linear channel,” she said. “If our [yoga] shows air at 7 or 8 in the morning, it may not be convenient to watch,” she said. She added that Comcast has asked Wisdom TV for more fitness and yoga titles, and the network plans to add more in that area.

Comcast has also seen some success in fitness programming on-demand. When the operator promoted and advertised the yoga titles from Wisdom TV earlier this year, it saw a 300 percent jump in usage. That increase was from a small base, Mr. Thompson acknowledged, but it nevertheless is one reason why Comcast plans to augment the category.

Comcast is well-known for its strategy of using free VOD content to lure consumers into the VOD platform, where they often will then buy movies. “We see the more free content we add the higher the buy rates for movies. We have set records for titles because of the free content [that surrounds movies],” Mr. Thompson said. In fact, as Comcast has added free programming and use of that content has increased, the operator has seen movie buy rates rise by more than 50 percent.

Mag Rack, the niche video magazine service in 2.5 million homes, said the most popular title among its 23 magazines is “Personal Trainer,”

Mag Rack’s summer fitness limited promotion “Bikini Abs” corralled nearly 11 percent of total Mag Rack usage for the month of May and was second only to “Personal Trainer” in all Mag Rack titles that month In fact, the entire health and fitness category, which includes “Bikini Abs,” “Personal Trainer,” “Pilates” and “Yoga Retreat,” accounted for nearly 32 percent of all Mag Rack usage in June.

Research firm Marquest Media & Entertainment Research has conducted studies on the on-demand content with the greatest appeal to viewers. “Our research indicates that fitness videos can be a good, solid on-demand entry,” said Paul Rule, president of the firm. “I think you can expect to see ample amounts of fitness content as well as content from a variety of similar categories as on-demand increases its penetration and audiences discover that they can take their pick of such shows at any time they are ready to work out.”