David Fortier and Ivan Schneeberg – a pair of fitness nuts who happen to own a television studio – have been trying to crack the digital nut for years.
The pair are the co-founders of Temple Street Productions, a decade-old Toronto studio that's been behind a list of high-profile productions like Orphan Black and Being Erica, as well as reality fare like Canada's Next Top Model. But even a successful studio is still beholden to broadcasters to reach its audience, in an age when more and more content creators are using the Internet to reach customers directly.
"We realized we'd better start thinking about how we do that," says Fortier.
Instead of simply repackaging drama or reality programming for the web, the pair took a gamble: They picked a niche they loved, and brought their production expertise to reinventing it.
The result is an app called Evolve Functional Fitness, a subscription-based service that uses high-grade production values in a bid to bring the exercise-video genre out of the proverbial basement.
For a $7.99 monthly fee, subscribers get access to a flexible video-based training regimen. The material revolves around "functional fitness," a back-to-basics training philosophy that uses "natural" movement instead of weights to drive a workout.
The pair say that fitness was a natural niche. For one thing, it's a booming market that's historically been served by slightly schlocky DVDs. For another, fitness is a point of growing interest for both founders.
"We're both getting older," says Fortier, in a phone interview with the pair.
"We're not that old," says Schneeberg.
"We're in our early 40s," says Fortier, sounding mollified. "We're both athletic guys, and we've been active our entire lives."
In presentation, the videos resemble upmarket versions of exercise videos of yore – a toned trainer doing the workout, backed by equally-toned performers – but users can choose between a 20-, 40-, and 60-minute session. Touching the screen cuts immediately to a tutorial on how to do the activity at hand. So far, Evolve has shot between 50 and 60 hours of video and 1,000 activity tutorials, all drawing on the company's experience in reality programming.
Evolve is also trying to "celebritize" the genre, hiring trainers who have followings in the fitness world, like CJ Koegel, a former NCAA football player-cum-MTV reality star. The app has a built-in social network, which its trainers are active in as part of their jobs.
The service is available on desktops, but is optimized for iOS devices. How does one watch an exercise video on an iPhone? Schneeberg says he props it up in a corner of the gym, picking up the audio through wireless earbuds. Fortier, for his part, says he uses the product in the park, listening to the sound with the phone jammed in his pocket, only pulling it out for reference when he needs to.
For Schneeberg and Fortier, tiny mobile screens are more liberation than limitation for exercise videos, and they say this as longtime devotees of the genre.
"We've done them all. You're in your basement, working out. It works, but the experience is low-brow," says Schneeberg. "We wanted something cooler. A club you want to be a part of."