IS EXERCISE THE NEW ENTERTAINMENT?

IS EXERCISE THE NEW ENTERTAINMENT?

Guess what is the only social network I regularly use these days? Twitter? No – came off in 2012. Facebook? No – came off even earlier than that. It’s Strava.

Strava allows people exercising – running, cycling, walking, swimming (whatever – there’s even a ‘Snowshoe’ category) to track, analyse, share and compare their activities.

I’m not alone – Strava has around 45 Million users and is adding around a million more each month. 120 of the 176 Tour de France riders used Strava this year. You and I (and their team manager) can easily analyse almost every aspect of their performance on each stage. And then quickly compare it with their teammates and rivals – as well as their own previous rides.

Basic UK research (by Glasgow Caledonian University, surveying 8,000 people) shows that around 90% of participants were happier because they exercised regularly and around 80% were more motivated to exercise because of the community features on Strava – in fact some people were exercising more just so that they could post more. On average users were around 8 times more likely to receive a response on Strava than on Twitter. More of a community feeling, people felt.

SO WHAT?

You might also have read this year that nearly 90% of us – TV viewers in developed nations – watch television with another screen in their hand, or nearby. Whether you feel that is good or bad, it is indisputably a ‘real’ thing. We’re commenting on what we see, or discussing it with others – our friends mostly.

That same phenomena is coming to exercise – including ‘in-home’ exercise – and more and more people are now using fitness equipment – especially dedicated ‘fixed bicycles’ – in conjunction with an app. This means that you can ‘virtually’ run or cycle famous routes and races – either alone, with friends, or with people you don’t know.

Some of the companies involved are growing even faster than Strava. In fact you can integrate the two, so there’s a cross-pollination between the platforms. Zwift is one such cycling application. FiiT runs compelling structured online exercise classes. Another company to watch is Peleton. Each of these have apps available for all popular platforms, including Apple TV. Their lifeblood is monthly paid subscriptions.

The companies involved also sell accessories, tutored classes and, most importantly of all (for this feeds their valuations) monthly subscriptions. Peleton, who have attracted around $1BN investment to date also sell a bike, headphones and all the paraphernalia. As if to underline the success of this ‘connected exercise’ trend, Peleton had an IPO in September at a valuation of around $8BN.

The aim is to provide immersive experiences – the resistance and other factors are varied so, when cycling or running, you put in the same amount of effort at each stage of the course as you would do in the real world (what the VR (virtual reality) cognescenti call ‘RR’ – real reality!). You see the scenery, realistic representations of the other riders and so on. But you don’t need special glasses or a comedy headset – you can do this using an iPad or a TV screen.

Except, of course, our customers aren’t like that. They want a truly amazing experience, especially when they are racing with or against their well-to-do friends. This means that we, and others, are designing and installing home gyms which feel a bit more like a home cinema, with the equipment connected to projectors, large screen displays, surround sound audio systems and lighting which reacts to the on-screen activity. In fact, given that many gyms are in basements, with little or no natural light, we’re also installing niches and windows with intelligent lighting that realistically mimics sunlight.

For the ultra-wealthy Immersive Gyms work with us to provide personalised classes 24/7, along with bespoke wraparound video content enabling users, worldwide, to exercise in the perfect, Instagrammable, environment, maybe the mountains, on the beach or through the forest – all with accompanying Dolby Atmos audio.

The benefit? It’s simple and obvious: if it is more fun to exercise, you’ll do it more, and get more out of it. Whatever the weather.