As a consultant who works with small business owners in the fitness and wellness space, I connect organizations to systems and technology that helps bring out the best version of themselves. That focus narrowed in March 2020 when the majority of my clients were forced to close their doors due to local, state, and/or federal regulations around COVID-19.
An inherent part of entrepreneurial life is being thrown curveballs, and making the best decision for your organization given the information and options at hand. For my clients, we had to think quickly and creatively about ways to nurture their most important segments: their clients and their staff.
Business boils down to people and relationships.
It’s important to note that there are different approaches to migrating studio offerings to a virtual setting. As in anything in life and business, evaluate the options and select the one that best serves the needs of your organization. New software integrations are coming to market each day. Let’s take a look at the best options for moving your content online.
There are two ways of offering your classes, livestreams or on-demand. As with anything, there are pros and cons to each:
Livestreaming is the act of broadcasting content in real-time over the internet.
The on-demand video refers to the type of online video you can find on YouTube or Netflix, where a library of content is available. Viewers choose what they want to watch, and then they play it back on their own time.
Think about your client base, your instructors, and what methodology will best serve these segments. Personal training clients who are used to scheduling their sessions on their schedule will prefer having on-demand workouts at their fingertips. Group fitness clients who crave community will delight in the interactive nature of live streaming. Your format depends upon the clients you are serving.
Now that you’ve identified your preferred class format, we will look at technology partners that can help you execute these plans.
If you don’t have a Zoom account yet, get on it. Everyone from school teachers to Grandma are using Zoom to stay connected with their communities. Zoom is the leader in modern enterprise video communications, with an easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, collaboration, chat, and webinars across mobile devices, desktops, telephones, and room systems. I recommend getting a Zoom Pro account, which gives you the ability to host meetings for up to 100 participants, with a duration of up to 24 hours. Pricing is $14.99 per month.
BrandBot’s newest integration allows you to organize all of your classes and live streaming links to power automated texts and emails to your customers when they sign up and before class. There is some manual work involved (you need to create meetings in Zoom and cut/paste the unique URLs into BrandBot), but the BrandBot interface is customizable, even allowing you to include a suggested playlist for each class. Pricing begins at $99/mo and there is a free 30 day trial period.
FitGrid’s newest integration connects your Zoom and MINDBODY accounts. It presents studio partners with a list of the classes on their MINDBODY schedule. Studios select which classes they’d like to live-stream, and FitGrid automatically creates a Zoom meeting for that class. When a client signs up for class, FitGrid automatically sends them an email containing the access link, while also sending a ‘host meeting’ link directly to the instructor. Pricing begins at $149/mo and there is a free 30 day trial period.
Having tested both BrandBot and FitGrid, I recommend both services to my clients. I like that FitGrid automatically pulls the links – less manual work for the owner. However, BrandBot has a leg up in the customization of the messaging. In addition to offering livestream integrations, both services offer sophisticated communication tools and different levels of auxiliary services: BrandBot offers landing pages and waivers, and FitGrid offers performance reporting and an interface that allows connection building between instructors, clients and owners.
In my opinion, both options are useful additions to any studio owner’s tech stack.
Yes, you could store your completed video files on AWS, YouTube or even Google Drive, but that’s a little “basic” for a dynamic studio owner like you. Thinking of your on-demand programming as a way to engage your community and attract new clients, I recommend a service like Vimeo OTT that gives you the storage space to manage your growing video library, while offering seamless payment processing. Vimeo OTT securely accepts credit cards and in-app subscriptions, so customers can subscribe on any device. Pricing begins at $1 per subscriber per month.
There are many options available, and more on the way. Consider what is best for your organization, with a hearty emphasis on the needs of your clients and instructors. Kick aside any perfectionist tendencies and focus on delivering a product that will engage and retain your community.
Congratulations to those in the health, wellness, and fitness worlds who have been able to make the transition to offering virtual services online in this time of forced business closures during Covid-19. Way to turn those lemons into lemonade!
If you aren’t there yet, chances are you are interested in trying it, and there are a lot of different ways to do this. In this article, I’m going to spell out some common opportunities surrounding setup and pricing for offering your services online.
This is a great way to continue offering services and connecting with your clients during an unprecedented time. It can encourage community, add value to your brand, and keep revenue coming in. It’s not as hard as it seems to set everything up: you just need to
Zoom is great for offering virtual sessions and recording them to offer down the road. Vimeo Pro is a popular resource for storing and offering video recordings (and can also accept money). Before I started teaching virtually at different studios, I took the time to offer a free class for a friend’s birthday party. I also recorded myself teaching that class, then (painfully!) watched it and took notes on what to do better next time. Let’s just say I learned a lot!
A lot of studios are offering virtual classes and recordings as a stopgap measure to help them bring in revenue and keep client continuity until they can reopen their doors. While I understand this approach, I invite you to come up with a clear plan for doing this today, and, perhaps just as importantly, what will it look like when you do reopen. It will serve your business better if you think of this time period and what you’re offering in it as something that may last for a long time, and thus, something that pays dividends to your business indefinitely.
You should maintain the same quality controls you have for your regular sessions, For example, create a a one page document of best practices to help your teachers in leading a virtual class and/or recording a session that includes administrative tasks as well as quality-of-session suggestions. For example, I didn’t know I could tell Zoom to keep focus on me as the teacher 100% of the time throughout my virtual class, instead of changing focus to whomever is speaking. And now I know that when doing a virtual class, I can still use clients’ names and make suggestions for form. Other considerations: how should your instructors deal with audio? Lighting? Attire? All of this needs to be tested and spelled out (BFS NOTE: Read on to Sue’s Do’s & Don’ts to share with your staff). Chances are, not all of your teachers will excel at this, nor want to participate, but you can make it easier for them to join this new movement in your company if you empower them with knowledge.
If you are adding virtual classes and/or an online video library as options for your customers, you are in essence adding value to your existing brand. Yes, right now, people aren’t getting the in- studio experience that’s usually the core of your value proposition, but that will be back soon enough (we hope). It makes the most sense to try to keep members and all clients at existing membership prices, and encourage them to participate in your online offerings with their current packages/memberships. Reach out to existing members and let them know how grateful you are for their support, and let them know how easy it is to access these online options; maybe even offer them free equipment rental as an ongoing member if you have the ability to do that. That said, you can also give your members a clear and easy option to put their membership on hold or to cancel it, in case they need to.
I would suggest you offer an “online-only” version of memberships too for your video library, similar to how the larger franchises offer it. Whether it’s available to the general public or not is up to you. One strategy is to start out only offering your “online-only” membership price to existing members who ask to go on hold or cancel. Like a behind-the-scenes, save the day option. As you see more and more clients requesting holds or cancellations, or asking about this price adjustment option, this implies that it’s time to adjust your strategy and maybe offer it as an option to everyone. In short, keep membership prices the same until the volume of clients who are on hold starts to really decrease/change. If that starts to happen, you can offer everyone the online-only membership price, and then ask them to contact you to take advantage of that offer (this will increase your interpersonal interaction with your core client base, and allow some human contact and community-building within the process). When you release your online-only option, make a big push to sell it to your entire client contact list, and push some social media marketing forward to show people you are offering something of great value for a very limited time.
I also think it makes sense to let clients use class cards or buy drop ins to participate in online offerings. Figure this out somehow on the back end and keep it as simple as possible. You can let clients pay in one place and get access in another (BFS NOTE: FitGrid Live automates this for you to keep payment and class access all through MindBody). Most online storage platforms will allow you to audit and see viewership. You can weekly or daily go and make sure people aren’t accessing content who shouldn’t be. I would rather have too many people try to participate for cheap or free in my online sessions and cut them off later, over losing prospective clients who want to participate but get sick of dealing with my convoluted technology and policies.
Let your clients and prospective clients know what you are offering and how easy it is for them to participate. This means keeping in communication with staff, updating your website, sending e- mails, and updating social media, at minimum. I have seen a lot of people send invites to a virtual class the day before it’s being offered. This is not enough time for people like me to arrange child care, or to adjust home and work schedules. I will say this about everything and anything studio related until the end of days! Be clear and organized in what you offer. You should have your April schedule online and ready to go now. On demand options can have a dedicated website where details are spelled out.
If you offer one-on-one services, can you offer your sessions virtually, through Zoom, at the same prices you had before? If you can try it, do. If not, can you focus on sales and booking for beyond the studio closures? Everyone can start by creating and sharing helpful content that can be used indefinitely with your marketing. If business is down, focus on offering some introductory offer and market what makes your service uniquely excellent. You can target your local market and beyond, test and see what works. You might have to get creative with equipment. This is a great opportunity to connect with your clients in a new way and learn how to translate value and connection online. I hope you find a way to embrace it!
Wai L. Choy & Danielle Moss
As COVID-19 continues to drive state-mandated closures of “non-essential” businesses (including fitness studios) and social distancing has become our new normal, fitness and human connection are more important than ever. Thankfully, due to the wide range of digital platforms currently available, including social media, group video chat and content streaming services, there has never been an easier time to remotely interface with family, friends and clients
This has provided a technological means for businesses, such as fitness studios, to continue serving their clientele while their physical locations are closed. At the same time, for studios that rely on playing music during their classes or sessions, this shift from in-person to remote video or audio classes raises additional legal issues that studios may not have dealt with before. Practically all music that studios play (and certainly all the latest hits that studio-goers may be hoping to hear) is protected by copyright. In addition to the “public performance” licenses that studios may already have covering their on-premises playing of songs, making the jump to digital media is in many cases likely to require additional copyright licenses.
A studio could, of course, side-step music copyright issues in the streaming or download context simply by not using any copyright-protected music. Instead, each class participant could separately play music from their own personal music collection or streaming account. For those studios that want to keep their virtual classes consistent with the experience of their on-site classes by playing curated music for class participants in sync with the instructor, though, studios will need to consider the issues outlined below.
Understanding what constitutes unlicensed use, what the consequences are and how to navigate the legal issues is important, especially as developments in technology and stricter monitoring by digital platform providers have made it easier for rights holders to identify infringement and enforce their rights. This article provides an overview of some key United States music copyright issues in the fitness class context and outlines some general practical steps that studio owners can take. Music licensing is one of the most complex areas of copyright law and is fact-specific, however, so studio owners should seek legal advice tailored to their circumstances.
From a legal perspective, each pre-recorded song is in fact made up of two main components, each of which is separately protected by copyright:
A copyright gives its owner a number of exclusive rights (with certain exceptions) to itself exploit, and license others to exploit, a musical work or sound recording in various ways. Most notably in the context of in-person and virtual fitness classes, those rights include, for example, the rights to:
“Public performance” includes not only playing music in a forum that is open to the public, but also playing it for a substantial number of persons outside of a small circle of family and friends, whether in person or through transmission (e.g., through Internet streaming), even if to individuals in different locations or at different times.
To play a copyrighted song at a studio for in-person participants without infringing copyrights, the studio operator must have a license to publicly perform the musical work of that song.
Free and subscription music streaming services, paid digital downloads, CDs and records typically provide a license for private personal use only. Playing from those sources at a studio could constitute both copyright infringement and a violation of the governing terms of service or license terms.
In the United States, most musical work owners (e.g., songwriters and publishers) are affiliated with one of three major Performing Rights Organizations (“PROs”): ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. The PROs represent the rights holders of musical works and manage licensing of the right to publicly perform them. PROs offer “blanket” licenses covering their entire catalog of musical works, which give licensees the right to publicly perform any or all of those musical works (including by playing sound recordings of them) an unlimited number of times, for a fee that is determined based on a number of factors. The alternative would be to negotiate with each of the copyright owners separately. This would likely not be practicable or cost-effective, especially if studios want to be able to play the latest hits when they are released. Each PRO represents the rights to different musical works, so if a studio wants to be able to play the broadest range of songs possible, it may wish to obtain public performance blanket licenses from more than one PRO.
Blanket licenses from the PROs, such as those specifically written for fitness studios, are typically narrowly drafted to permit public performance of music within the specifically-identified premises of the studio only. They may expressly exclude any right to publicly perform the music in alternate locations or via transmission to viewers outside of those identified premises. As such, a studio should not assume that its PRO blanket license is broad enough to permit the streaming of classes to those at home, even on a purely live, non-recorded basis. Further, the PROs represent only the copyright owners’ public performance rights in the musical works (not any other rights in the musical works or any rights in the sound recording or master), so they are limited in the scope of rights they can grant.
The use of copyrighted music in live streaming, on-demand streaming or downloadable content of classes raises nuanced legal issues. For example:
As studio owners consider the numerous options they have to continue to engage with their members and clients remotely, they should carefully review:
Proskauer’s cross-disciplinary, cross-jurisdictional Coronavirus Response Team is focused on supporting and addressing client concerns. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Center for guidance on risk management measures, practical steps businesses can take and resources to help manage ongoing operations. Please feel free to reach out to the undersigned for further information, and stay safe.
The information provided in this article is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of Proskauer Rose LLP (Proskauer), our lawyers or our clients. No client-lawyer relationship between you and Proskauer is or may be created by your access to or use of this article or any information contained in it. Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered. Proskauer is not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein. Those reading this article are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions. © 2020 Proskauer Rose LLP. All rights reserved.
Kari Mills & Emily Stubler
We’re all steeped in uncertainty during this global pandemic, but one thing is certain: people crave community and connection, especially when it comes to fitness, which is why they likely selected your boutique fitness studio in the first place.
As temporary studio closures continue to evolve, and doors remain closed for traditional brick and mortar business for the time being, it’s imperative to identify creative solutions to weather the storm and come out stronger on the other end. Many studios and instructors have started offering free virtual classes, and now, in order to stay in business, many must also transition their once-free streaming content to a paid model.
Although most members will understand the studio’s need to drive revenue, the landscape of premium free digital fitness that already exists plays a role in this conversation. For that reason, studio owners and managers need to continue to drive brand loyalty and bring as much of the studio experience into their living rooms as you can, in order to continue fostering your community digitally.
With a captive audience across any and all digital platforms, take this time to reconnect with your clients and share your brand story with them once again. Remember, they chose you (and your team) as their sweat community for a reason – remind them what that reason is.
Most fitness journeys are emotional, personal, and highly valued. This is your chance to really get to know your community and find creative ways to build a bond stronger than ever.
INTERVIEW WITH SUE HITZMANN
Written by: Leanne Shear
Sue Hitzmann, creator and founder of the MELTMethod, has also built a multi-million dollar empire out of OnDemand content – so it’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about video best practices. She spoke to BFS about the future of virtual video and the best ways to monetize this movement.
Today’s current Covid-19 climate has business owners scrambling to get LiveStreaming classes and options out the door and into clients’ homes and onto their screens. With all of the pitfalls of live streaming videos, also consider doing recorded videos for better quality if you have an online service or website where revenue generation is more lucrative.
Of course, many loyal clients are focused simply on the community they’re missing IRL, and aren’t as concerned with a perfect LiveStream class.
However, with the long view in mind, quality really counts.
Some best practices Sue Hitzmann recommends for producing quality LiveStream content:
Don’t know how to use editing software? Plenty of easy-to-follow tutorials exist on YouTube.
The real opportunity during this crisis as everyone turns to LiveStreaming? Follow Hitzmann’s lead: eventually you can use LiveStreaming on social media and other platforms merely as a teaser to your evergreen business in OnDemand videos. She recommends any LiveStream be 20 minutes or less for viewer retention.
If you record (and keep!) live videos with great quality, you’ll amass a library of content that you’ll be able to lucratively leverage in coming weeks, months, and years.
The team at AV Now is in a unique position to aid our industry in this transition to virtual fitness. After 25 years of servicing the industry and working closely with fitness instructors, they know the ins and outs of what you need to provide a high quality experience (and they speak our language). They have been working around the clock finding the best products to recommend for increasing the audio quality of live streaming.
In our current state of virtual fitness, you have probably seen multitudes of technical issues over the past few weeks. Most of us who have been used to seamless (or at least familiar) audio and technical setups in the studio are now trying to figure out how to replicate that high tech (or again, at least familiar) setup that you had in your studio out of your living room with nothing more than a laptop, iPhone, and maybe your personal headset. Not easy.
It’s challenging to even find the right advice with these technical issues because they are so dependent on our unique circumstances: the model of phone you have, the software you use, the type of microphone you have, etc.
Zoom or other platforms certainly can’t answer the question “how do I ensure my clients can hear me and my music?” So the team at AV Now set up their own experiment lair to replicate every possible combination of equipment used for at-home streaming to test and replicate your issues and is now working tirelessly to answer your questions and make the best recommendations possible.
Here is what you need to do to address your tech issues:
In the meantime, here are a few quick notes & tips that the AV Now team has learned from their conversations with instructors making this transition to streaming from their homes:
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