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Industry Should Develop Technology Partnerships

The lines between exercise and entertainment have blurred considerably over the past several years. One case in point for consumers is the Nintendo Wii Fit. For clubs, the landscape includes varying technologies working together to combine entertainment, exercise and motivation into a multimedia experience for members. The best clubs choose platforms that merge exercise modes with complimentary technology. Rare is the club these days that does not have integrated TV screens and/or music/video docking stations on its cardio equipment, a full entertainment interface for electronic equipment, or customizable solutions for each user to select playlists, create custom workouts, watch live TV and access on-demand video.

The road to finding the sweet spot for exercise technology and entertainment is filled with potholes that have been patched, in many cases, in an effort to keep up with the rapidly changing consumer-technology industry. This is being driven by the rapid evolution of consumer entertainment options and complicated in-club platform choices.

It might make sense for health clubs to pick a technology partner and not look back. The upside to this is consistency and a standard operating environment. However, the downside is that once you've made a choice, you may well have to live with it.

The other possibility is for equipment manufacturers to band together to create and promote standardization around entertainment technology — certainly a stretch in today's competitive environment. When dealing with behemoths like Apple, Google and Yahoo, it is also unlikely that our much smaller industry can force them to adopt an industry standard. Health care entities are doing this, but the sheer financial numbers that that industry generates dwarf those in ours.

Another forward-thinking solution might be for leading manufacturers to jointly create their own technology hub device. They could create a high-volume, low-cost system that can be mass produced and shared among competitors. Done correctly, this could be marketed to consumers as a standard they want to buy. Think of a chip that supports iPod, Zune, USB media and Wi-Fi in one package. Given the highly competitive environment, the right technology interface must allow some customization when partnering with content and other technology-delivery mechanisms.

This idea may be a bit of a stretch, but consider the greater opportunities. Club and manufacturing partners could collaborate with — rather than be controlled by — technology partners to keep fitness content and branding in the minds of your customers wherever they live, work and play. It's no secret that the best technology companies are great at reaching millions.

A critical consideration in this equation is who “owns” the customer. Most large technology companies want to own the hearts and minds of as many people as possible. Given so, our industry may have to give up some level of control when partnering with a technology leader. It may result in the inner workings of a treadmill being manufactured by fitness equipment vendors while the brains (media, programs, etc.) are manufactured by, or are in collaboration with, brand-technology partners.

This may sound like a deal with the devil, but there also is a potentially significant upside — the enormous consumer reach that name-brand technology companies have. While giving up some control, you may be able to cast a much larger net to capture customers.

Some fitness companies already are in partnership conversations. In the end, you should also consider jointly sharing and owning customer mind-share rather than going it alone.

Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at

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