Why the "Netflix of Fitness" is a Bad Idea

Digital Fitness

In case you just stepped out of a hot tub time machine from 1999, no the millennium bug did not cause a real life Mad Max takeover, Blockbuster has vanished, and that plucky little startup Netflix has now come to utterly dominate TV.  The numbers are astonishing - around 200M subscribers, making Netflix the largest subscription TV service on the planet, and over $200B in market capitalization.

Given its iconic ‘poster child’ status for video content startups, it’s not that surprising that other startups are trying to be the “Netflix of …” - and perhaps no category has used this term more than fitness.  A quick Google search reveals there are 16,600 results for “Netflix of fitness” as a search string, with many companies vying to take on the mantle:

  1. Peloton:  The star of a new way of home fitness, John Foley its CEO has flirted with the comparison to Netflix, and many analysts have characterized Peloton as the Netflix of fitness.
  2. Neou:  Fitness videos on demand, its CEO Nathan Forster has been openly adopting the term “Netflix of fitness” in TV interviews.
  3. Fiit:  Forbes among others labels Fiit the “Netflix of fitness”, again they do streamed video workouts from their studio in London.
  4. Les Mills:  A big fitness brand from “down under (and slightly to the right)”, the Kiwis launched a video on demand service a few years back that has drawn the Netflix of fitness descriptor.
  5. FitFusion:  A Jillian Michaels video subscription project was being compared to Netflix as far back as 2014.
  6. Apple:  Of course Apple would never compare themselves, but others like Vogue have done the “Netflix of fitness” comparison for their new Apple Fitness+ video on demand service.
  7. Beachbody:  They might not use the term “Netflix of fitness” themselves, but lots of reviewers make the analogy, some even creating tasteful Pinterest pins.
  8. Sudor:  Not a Game of Thrones spin off, but another fitness videos on demand startup, and it’s co-founder Emma Heap also describes Sudor as the “Netflix of fitness”.

There are so many more - essentially any site with fitness videos on demand, the term “Netflix of fitness” gets trotted out by most reviewers if not the company itself.  Fitt Insider commented a while back, “Every new innovation in at-home or on-demand exercise is referred to as the Netflix of fitness, threatening traditional gyms and studios everywhere.”

While the “Netflix of fitness” is a great punchline for an investment slide deck that people can understand, it’s actually not that great an end goal.  Here’s why:

  • Working out takes motivation to push yourself to reach higher levels of fitness.  Watching Netflix takes no herculean effort of motivation, in fact it’s often pausing the Netflix marathon that requires an act of self-will.
  • Accountability through community is key in fitness for most people - like showing up at the studio for that class.  Accountability in Netflix is more about limiting the time you spend on it, watching Netflix by yourself is just as easy as in a group.
  • People often train for goals or events like a marathon or Iron Man.  There are no goals in Netflix - nobody says “my audacious goal is watch every episode of Stranger Things this weekend”.
  • Working out usually changes your body for the better, helping you stay fit, tone up, lose weight or whatever the goal is.  Watching Netflix a lot usually has the opposite result.
  • When you reach the end of a workout, you feel a sense of accomplishment - maybe even air high fiving everyone you can see.  When you finish scrolling to the bottom of Netflix, if you are John Oliver during covid, you have an existential crisis and wonder what you’re dong with your life.
  • Peloton’s mission and CEO stump speech is about endorphins and happiness, Netflix’s stated mission is to become “the best global entertainment distribution service”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Netflix user and fan.  But it’s a totally different mindset and experience to fitness - working out is not a spectator sport.

Ironically, the likes of Peloton and especially Zwift (like World of Warcraft for cyclists) have been innovating by bringing more interactivity, accountability and competition in home workouts.  They have been disrupting the Netflix-like video on demand services of Beachbody and Neou (as well as home fitness equipment from Bowflex and NordicTrack), making it easier for people to stay motivated and reach fitness goals.  Peloton sells “fitness” - not videos or bikes - and Peloton itself has a chart in their slide deck showing their progression from product led marketing to emotion led marketing, and highlight their focus on using data to bring a sense of “in it together” for the “Peloton family”.

This transition similar to what boutique studios have done to the big box gyms over the past decade (pre-covid) - members show up more often and are more engaged at say SoulCycle than at Planet Fitness because the sense of community and accountability is stronger at boutique studios.

Personally, I have a subscription to Neou and Fiit, but I don’t use them that often and nobody from either company chases me to ask why.  It turns out that this ends up being true with some of the “connected fitness” home equipment like Tonal and Peloton as well:

  • “I’m not ready to abandon my gym yet. The camaraderie, the energy, and the nuance and quality my trainers bring to each session simply can’t be matched by a home setup, no matter how smart.”  Nick Heil, Men's Health
  • “Human beings are social creatures. For many people, going to CrossFit is as much about making friends as it is getting jacked. And here's the problem with virtual trainers: You can pause them and walk away.  ‘After a while, I realized like, I think I need somebody staring at me, because I'm cheating now,’ Kapur said. She'd pause the workout and look at her phone. Or maybe not squat as deeply as she would if classmates or a real-life instructor was watching. So her plan now is to return to the gym, but keep the Tempo Studio and use it about three times per week.”  Keith Wagstaff, Mashable
  • “… my friends at work and I like to go to fitness classes together.  We are often at Barry’s Bootcamp or Fhitting Room wearing our Peloton branded apparel and working-out together.  It’s just part of the culture…  I love running and I love Barry’s Boot Camp…  I see community as necessary when it comes to fitness.  Necessary because it pushes you to try harder and that makes you stronger.”  Jill Foley (wife of Peloton founder and CEO), HeyMama

Who will be the Netflix of fitness?  Probably Netflix.  YouTube and Instagram have vast quantities of workouts and fitness videos for free, Amazon Prime has a ton of workout videos available as part of the membership, and Netflix did in years past but mysteriously took them down in 2012.  Jillian Michaels has argued that Netflix and Amazon “have no business” in the fitness space, I think both have been eclipsed by YouTube, Facebook and Instagram that have set an expectation of “free” for simple videos.

But fitness needs to go beyond the Netflix analogy, because success comes from competition, accountability and community.  This is just as true of digital fitness or Efitness as it is of traditional gyms and studios.

At Tribe we’re excited to be empowering local studios and grassroots fitness creators to bring the interactivity of their in-person workouts to the digital realm.  If you’re a high quality boutique fitness brand, come chat to us about how we can help you succeed in digital.

Justin Marston

CEO
Thinker, writer, innovator, runner, Star Wars fan

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