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things that just are

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Fitness videos punch up DVD popularity

By Thomas K. Arnold
Special for USA TODAY

Janet Giovannetti, a 54-year-old grandmother, loves watching DVDs in the family room.

But when it comes time for her morning workout, she slips a Pilates videocassette into the trusty old VCR in her bedroom.

"I'll switch eventually, when I get a new TV with a built-in DVD player for the bedroom," says Giovannetti, of Carlsbad, Calif. "But for now, the video is just fine."

That's a familiar scenario for DVD marketers. When the format launched seven years ago, marketers felt DVD and fitness would be a perfect match.

The ability to randomly access segments of a DVD would allow bedroom athletes to do their favorite routines over and over without having to rewind, and customize their workouts.

"We all thought it would be a natural," says Steve Beeks, president of Lions Gate Home Entertainment.

But as people bought DVD players, they didn't ditch the VCR. They just moved it into the bedroom.

"Since people who exercise at home typically do so in the bedroom, it's been a lot slower growth than we had anticipated," Beeks says.

But things are beginning to change. Women are starting to buy DVDs for themselves as opposed to buying for husbands and children, and the flood of inexpensive DVD players that hit the market over the holidays has encouraged consumers to pick up a second player.

Of the 30 million DVD players expected to be sold this year, half are going into homes that already have one, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Veteran fitness diva Denise Austin, a member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, says, "DVDs are really starting to kick up. It's something we've just noticed in the last six weeks, since the holidays."

Since 1985, Austin has released 45 fitness videos with combined sales of more than 20 million copies.

Dan Gurlitz, vice president of video for Koch Entertainment Distribution, says 65% of his fitness video sales are now on DVD. A year ago, it was only 25%.

Austin loves DVD "because it's easy and quick to get to what you want," she says. "Let's say you just want to do something for your butt today. Well, you can go to the exact spot on the disc that focuses on your rear end."

Based on e-mails she has received, Austin adds, her fans also are enamored with fitness on DVD.

"Lots of women say they love to take them on the road with them," she says. "They travel with them and pop them into their laptops."

Both Lions Gate and Koch are leaders in the fitness video arena. Lions Gate has the Denise Austin line, and this year is launching two newly acquired lines, STOTT Pilates and Wai Lana Yoga, through infomercials.

Koch also is launching a new fitness line, The Trainer's Edge, designed to bring the benefits of personal training into the home. The first two titles in the series, Cardio Interval Training with Petra Kolber and Killer Abs and Back with Michael Olajide, arrive in stores today ($20 each). Up next from Koch are a pair of Pilates titles, coming March 9.

Lions Gate's Beeks says he thinks the key to getting fitness buffs to migrate from VHS to DVD lies in making sure fans are aware of the format's many advantages.

"You can even offer customized workouts, and that's where we're going," Beeks says. "We're going to offer viewers the chance to have not just a 40-minute workout, but also a 10-minute workout and a 20-minute workout. And while in the VHS days a 10-minute workout consisted of the first 10 minutes of the longer one, now we can pull parts out of each segment so you can get a little bit of everything you need."

Sharon Schuck, a schoolteacher in Carlsbad, Calif., has taken the bite. She bought her first DVD player two weeks ago and now slips in a Pilates disc on mornings when she can't make it to the gym.

For her fitness routine, the parts are sometimes greater than the whole. "I can do the parts I want, instead of the whole thing."


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