Operators’ “blissful ignorance” is threatening the future of the gym sector – but virtual reality, cinematic studios and a new model that spans in-club and at-home could save it. Oliver Schulokat, the CEO of CYBEROBICS talks to Kate Cracknell.
How would you describe CYBEROBICS?
The CYBEROBICS brand stands for a high-quality digital training experience. Our virtual group exercise classes allow users to work out with the best trainers in the US, at the most breath-taking locations and do so entirely flexibly – whenever and wherever they choose. Plus, it’s all tailored to their personal training goals, their preferences and their individual training level.
Our ultimate mission is to harness the power of digital technology to make it possible for more people, all over the world, to enjoy fitness training and thus make regular exercise a natural part of their lives.
What is your model?
We originally launched CYBEROBICS in the B2B segment, with a focus on fitness studios, corporates and hotels. In 2018, we took the bold step of addressing the B2C segment by launching a CYBEROBICS app, which is now available in 21 countries.
We offer a training experience that’s fun, enduringly motivating and easily accessible.
This is the path we’re going to pursue in future – a combination of B2B and B2C – because we’ve seen that the two segments complement each other really well.
What is the opportunity you see for CYBEROBICS?
Fitness training is a wonder-drug: it maintains health, gives you energy in your everyday life, lifts your mood and keeps you feeling good. I believe everybody wants to work out. It’s just that some people aren’t able to motivate themselves to train regularly – to make it a firm fixture in their everyday lives. That’s where CYBEROBICS comes in. We offer a training experience that’s fun, enduringly motivating and easily accessible, which means people are much more likely to choose to integrate it into their everyday lives.
As a digital product, it’s also very convenient – it can be used any time, anywhere – while its attractive price point and flexible contract models make it very accessible.
All these factors add up to the huge potential for CYBEROBICS in the fitness market.
How important is the digital nature of the product?
I see a very clear trend towards increased use of digital products; people no longer work out at the gym alone.
The aim has to be to offer a digital product directly within the club which members are also able to use outside of the club.
In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the younger generation – I like to call them the ‘on-demand generation’ – is used to having things precisely when they want them, regardless of time or place, thanks to the ubiquity of digital media and devices. That’s how it is in other parts of their lives, so they expect it in fitness too, and that expectation will only grow over the next few years. I’m sure there will always be fitness studios, but people will combine working out at the gym with training at home in a way that fits perfectly with their everyday lives.
Another important development is the technology now present in most people’s living rooms. A growing number of people have large TV screens that are connected to their home internet, or that link up with services and consoles like Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick and Chromecast. If you’re able to offer fun options for working out in this environment, then people will undoubtedly use them.
How are you embracing this new technology?
We’re using all of this technology, creating the perfect experience for any CYBEROBICS user whatever device they use to access our classes – all at a very attractive price point.
The CYBEROBICS app was launched in the spring of 2018 and is now available in 21 countries. Using the app, CYBEROBICS workouts can be played on all the devices people already have at home: all mobile phones and tablets (iOS and Android), internet, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire and Roku.
The growth rates are huge and we will pursue this path systematically while introducing new features and tapping into new markets.
Many gyms have been slow to embrace virtual group exercise. Why do you think this is?
Many operators of gym facilities or fitness chains are still blissfully ignorant of the aforementioned developments in the digital sphere. This is because, thus far, the trend has not been hugely evident in day-to-day business, so gym owners have seen no reason to address it.
As this trend gathers pace – which it inevitably will – many more providers in the fitness industry will wake up and find they are forced to react quickly in order to survive. For some, unfortunately, it will already be too late. They will realise that other players – who will sometimes come from outside of the fitness industry altogether – have already taken over part of the business.
Club operators need to exploit digital developments: the aim has to be to offer a digital product directly within the club which members are also able to use outside of the club. In this way, the club’s offering can be expanded into other areas of members’ lives and an emotional connection established. This is the role we see for CYBEROBICS, which can be used in the studio, but also at home and while travelling.
If a club fails at this, then members will use the digital offerings from other providers and there’s a risk the club will lose them over the long term.
Do you believe virtual classes will ever replace live, instructor-led classes?
I think we will continue to see a combination of both, but with a clear trend towards virtual training – including live streaming. Live classes will always have their place, but people like flexibility in the way they work out: one day they might want a convenient workout at home; another day, they’ll go to the gym.
What have been CYBEROBICS’ most important innovations in group cycling?
CYBEROBICS offers a wide array of cycling experiences for all fitness levels – all led by the best trainers from the US and all in extraordinary locations. One cycling class was filmed by the pool at Hugh Heffner’s house, for example, with a view of downtown Las Vegas. For another cycling class, we rented a magnificent yacht that sails through Miami Bay for the 60 minutes of the workout. That’s what makes CYBEROBICS cycling classes unique.
Cycling through beautiful landscapes in training groups and virtual cycling in artificial environments are also part of our portfolio. In addition, we integrate key fitness trends into our cycling classes – HIIT training, for example. We’re always trying to offer our users something new by picking up on current trends and incorporating them.
What do you feel CYBEROBICS brings to cycling studios?
A sense of immersion. Thanks to the high-quality production of our classes, our users actually feel as though they’re training in the place where the workout is shot. This demonstrably boosts motivation and enjoyment of training – and in turn, the workout becomes more effective.
Ideally, the spaces in which people are cycling should offer a cinema-like atmosphere with a large screen, dark walls, really good sound and lighting that’s not too bright. Only then can the sense of immersion be experienced to full effect.
My advice to operators is very simple: by all means, combine them with live classes initially, or even in the long term, but integrate virtual classes as quickly as possible – not just cycling but across the board. And spare no expense in fitting out the studio with all the necessary technology, creating an entirely new training experience for members.
How are you using CYBEROBICS within your own clubs?
We have two CYBEROBICS studios per club in more than 230 RSG Group clubs – McFIT, JOHN REED and High5. One is for indoor cycling, the other for all other CYBEROBICS classes.
We currently deliver more than 5 million CYBEROBICS classes a year, with new workouts frequently added, and they have been well-received. We also offer members access to our CYBEROBICS app, so they can take part in classes at home or while travelling too.
Digital will be a key focus at THE MIRAI too [RSG Group’s 20,000 sqm, free-to-use megaclub that’s scheduled to open in Germany in 2022], so CYBEROBICS will play an important role here. We will use THE MIRAI as a ‘future lab’ for continual development of CYBEROBICS.
You also work with hotels and corporates. What’s the latest news here?
In both areas, we’re seeing a strong momentum towards digital fitness solutions.
In the hotel industry, lots of providers are already using CYBEROBICS. The NH Hotel Group, for example, has started creating ‘mood rooms’ in which you can set different moods using a tablet; choose ‘active mood’ and the light and sound changes automatically, the curtains close and a CYBEROBICS class begins on the TV. The TUI Group has likewise started using CYBEROBICS in its hotels.
Cruise company Aida is gradually introducing CYBEROBICS on all its ships, both in the cabins and in its workout studios, as well as on large screens on the pool deck so people can take part in cycling classes against the glow of the evening sunlight, for example.
The RSG Group, which owns CYBEROBICS, is also working with more than 600 companies in the area of corporate fitness. Here, too, the trend is towards in-house gyms that incorporate CYBEROBICS studios, combined with access to the CYBEROBICS app to train at home and during breaks at work.
What do you believe is the secret of CYBEROBICS’ success?
Without doubt, it’s the conceptual approach and the quality of the content. Our basic idea is not merely to replace the live trainer by filming them and then projecting them onto the wall in the studio, but rather to create a unique training experience. To achieve this, we have spared no expense or effort in production.
In the future, we plan to enhance the workout experience using virtual reality.
The workout concepts are created by our sports scientists, while scouts in the United States look for the right locations and hold extensive trainer casting sessions. Once the locations and trainers have been selected, the instructors are briefed on how to carry out the workout and we do rehearsals; only once they have mastered the workout perfectly is it filmed.
For this, we use a team and equipment worthy of a Hollywood production, filming in 4K quality and with multiple cameras to capture the action from all angles. After post-production in Berlin, our music managers compose a perfectly tailored soundtrack specific to each workout and we record voiceovers, currently in five different languages: English, German, Spanish, Italian and Polish.
In the future, we plan to enhance the workout experience – beyond the quality of the content – with the use of new technologies such as AR and VR.
What will be the next big trend in fitness, and is CYBEROBICS already working on this?
Live streaming of classes is already available but is not yet a mass product. That’s something that will undoubtedly grow. Virtual participation in classes at home is also set to grow, so people don’t have to miss out on the group experience entirely. Here, too, the possibilities of digitisation are endless. We are working intensively on both of these areas at CYBEROBICS.
Also, as I just mentioned, we’re going to try using augmented and virtual reality, which is already proving hugely popular in the gaming industry. There’s currently still a lot of potential for optimisation, but I’m convinced that further development of this technology will offer opportunities for the creation of exciting new CYBEROBICS experiences in the future.
What’s your view on the threat of technology like Peloton?
Peloton’s approach is a good one, and it shows that the home market offers huge potential. I think we’re all just at the beginning here; future developments are going to be huge. At CYBEROBICS, we’re reviewing whether – and in what form – we’re able to harness these possibilities.
What’s the future of indoor cycling?
When we, as CYBEROBICS, look at the cycling market, we see that successful concepts always offer a special experience, be it SoulCycle in the boutique club segment or Peloton, with its similar approach but for the home market. Meanwhile, clubs and studios around the world are striving to create engaging cycling spaces, with great design and AV systems.
In the future, we believe virtual reality offers huge potential for cycling. In many areas of fitness, the use of VR goggles presents a problem due to the risk of injury – when participants are moving freely, they quickly lose orientation when wearing the goggles. With cycling, however, the user is ‘stationary’ and can, therefore, use VR goggles much more safely. It won’t be long before technology allows us to introduce VR, including group experiences, into cycling classes.