A recent article highlighting the on-demand TV strategies of Netflix, AmazonPrime, Roku and other content-streamers made me recall conversations I had late at night a few years ago at a conference. In an era when we want what we want when we want it and we don't want to pay for fluff or stuff we don't use, innovators in the communications industry are challenging the way that TV programming is delivered by offering on-demand TV. It threatens to wreak havoc on content bundlers such as DirecTV and DISH.
Gets you to thinking, doesn't it? What if a health club offered on-demand fitness? What would that look like? What long-time bastions of business practice would be under siege? What markets might it open that three decades of bundled memberships have not?
At that conference a few years ago, a heated argument occurred about this very subject. I was privileged to be included in a group of some of the best thinkers in our business, tossing around various ideas about how we might be able to break open the glass ceiling that surrounds membership participation.
One guy, who at the time was the head honcho of a major club company, said something like, "I'd really like to experiment with free membership." Since his company owned more than 400 clubs at the time, this perked up listeners' ears around that table.
When asked what he'd do, he said that membership would be free. Online access to documents (now called content) about health, fitness, exercises would be free. Access to clubs would be charged by the use, and all monies would be collected automatically like Amazon does. Furthermore, after the first year, members would have the choice of a sustained-access-affiliation at a low annual premium or continuing in the same way as they had been.
Some that night vehemently protested that his ideas would wreck the industry. Others (myself included) thought it was far-sighted and brilliant. Imagine no barriers to entry (such as initiation fees, extra charges at time of purchase, fixed contracts). Imagine the social good. Imagine the value perception of paying for what you use when you use it.
Today, cell-phone carriers are beginning to destroy the long-term contract obligations that have been part-and-parcel of Verizon, AT&T and others. Millions of consumers are getting rid of cable and satellite agreements and embracing streaming carriers' options.
Why would our industry not benefit from such innovations? Generally speaking, when one looks at retail, consumers who pay for what they want and in the ways/times that they want it monetize at higher volume than do fixed-subscriber, bundled buyers.
A ridiculous thought? Or a glimpse of a possible future? Share your thoughts about this concept in the comment section below.
Michael Scott Scudder is founder/CEO of Fitness Business Council, the independent club business network. He can be contacted at 575-613-1004 or [email protected].