Frederick Light is the founder of Bodyrock. Bodyrock is an online fitness program with recurring content. Unlike other fitness programs, Bodyrock offers content for free. Since launching their YouTube channel in 2008, Bodyrock has gained over a million followers across all of their social media channels. They're changing the game and re-inventing the rules in the fitness industry.
Here's how they did it:
Q: How did Bodyrock get started and how was YouTube as a platform involved in the plan?
A: It started right after blogs had established themselves as sort of the go to destinations for news and entertainment. I randomly had met a Canadian celebrity blogger that had started doing really well for himself and that got me into looking at blogging as a potential platform for a content centric business. My background was film school and a post grad in digital media and my dream had always been producing shows for TV. Blogging opened up the possibilities. YouTube had just launched their partnership program which was really the first stable monetization platform for video and pairing a free WordPress install with YouTube was enough to get going.
Q: When Bodyrock was initially launched on YouTube did you ever imagine it would grow in popularity as it has?
A: I remember when the channel crossed over the first million views mark. I called everyone in my family. I was proud of the accomplishment, but also very aware that there were channels celebrating 300 million views and there was allot of work ahead. After the first million views I really just put my head down and went to work. We are cresting towards 700 million video views now and we are just getting started with what is possible in this space.
Q: In the Age of The Internet, many people have grown accustomed to receiving content for free. Bodyrock provides a tremendous amount of valuable content for free. This is a stark contrast from the typical fitness instruction business model which typically relies on selling and marketing dvd’s. How has Bodyrock used YouTube and social media to adapt to the new consumer?
A: I made an early commitment to free. It's really baked into the DNA of the brand. That's not to say that we haven't been very successful as an e-commerce platform because we have. For me personally, I believe that paywalls just get in the way. You have to demonstrate value especially when you are engaging with a community that is as passionate and engaged as ours. It's a very personal relationship and it's very give and take. It's not like buying a fitness DVD off of a shelf at Wal-Mart. I walked away from opportunities to work with huge entertainment companies in places like Los Angeles who essentially wanted to build walls around our community and start charging for everything. These were the same guys that were still flogging DVDs after blockbuster collapsed. They just didn't give a fuck about anything other than making a quick buck. These guys were looking to make the transition to the online space by doing the LA dog and pony show with the new generation of YouTube personalities without having a clue about what it takes to actually build something there. The arrogance I experienced in LA was breath taking. I decided to walk away and put the community first. They would have destroyed BodyRock or turned it into an infomercial for some late night weight loss scheme.
Q: Throughout the years since Bodyrock has launched, it’s gained a loyal following of “bodyrockers” who are deeply committed to your brand. In addition, you’ve also built a brand and following for your hosts. How has this helped impact and build the brand?
A: The hosts are the point of contact but the brand itself resides in the people who have used it as a tool for changing their lives. We've gone through host changes, but ultimately the brand has endured and the movement has gotten larger because it's bigger than any single one person. That said our hosts are incredibly talented and caring. Most of them have all come up through the community itself. They are not there to become famous or as a stepping stone to grasp at celebrity. They are regular people who live and breathe this lifestyle and they authentically care. They answer Facebook messages in the thousands. They share their lives in a meaningful way - not just the Instagram highlight reel. There is a difference that you can feel between the people that don't give a shit and are just in it for the followers or the money and the people that have their hearts in it for the right reasons. Our audience can feel the difference like you can feel the sun on your face. Our lead trainer Lisa has 600k fans on Facebook and I don't think she's ever been interviewed by anyone much less a fitness publication and her videos have been watched hundreds of millions of times. We are so far outside all of the fitness industry culture, but that's what keeps it authentic. We are not here to sell you a thigh master or DVD.
Q: Unlike the traditional dvd to consumer process practiced by most fitness instruction companies, you all provide a wealth of new free content that’s delivered on a regular basis. How do you develop ideas for new content so often?
A: I'm not sure that the DVD was ever the best media format for anything other than passive entertainment. Fitness is a lifestyle and it requires an ongoing conversation and back and forth. DVDs are about selling a product at a huge margin. It's a cash grab. If these 'gurus' were legitimately interested in helping people they would get off their asses and show up for the grind on a daily basis. Buy a fitness DVD then ask yourself - where are these shiny, happy people today? Where do they disappear to after they step out of the production studio? Have you ever seen these people actually sweat or hit their personal wall? It's largely bullshit. I've sat in on these meetings where some bullshit agent from a huge entertainment agency starts forecasting DVD sales. The dollar signs light up in their eyes where most people have souls. Congratulations, you produced a cardio-strip DVD a hundred years ago that sold 15,000 copies. Welcome to 2014.
I'm not making a blanket statement. I've really enjoyed and been inspired by the work the team at BeachBody has done on some of their flagship titles like Insanity and P90X. I also have an enormous degree of respect for Carl Daikeler - he has built a world class company and he's a stand up guy. I've had the opportunity to meet most of the commercial fitness people, and he really stands apart.
Q: How do you think streaming video and services like YouTube has influenced Bodyrock and the fitness industry as a whole for both consumers and other fitness companies?
A: It's opened the floodgates. We were lucky to be one of the first channels in the fitness space on YouTube. Now there are literally thousands of channels and aspiring fitness personalities. I think YouTube allows for a much more dynamic engagement with the audience. The functionality is in place for a meaningful exchange - even if brands just use it as a one way broadcasting platform.
Q: What are some of the core principles and beliefs of Bodyrock?
A: We don't have a mission statement. We just do our best to be real and show up with a great workout everyday. We fuck up all the time. Our community is the first to lavish praise or level criticism and that's the way we like it. It's a work in progress that is constantly evolving, but I think people get that we put our heart into it and give it our best. We have a small, dedicated team that pulls crazy hours to produce all of this content and we are up against huge conglomerates with massive resources. It's an amazing feeling to see all of the BodyRocker photos that pour in each week. Real people doing real workouts that deliver real results.
Q: Since you all came along, there have been many other fitness instruction brands who have established YouTube channels. What do you think it is that has allowed Bodyrock to maintain it’s loyal fans given the amount of other new alternatives?
A: It's about consistency and constantly striving to make the content better. When I look at YouTube today it's like looking up at the stars in the night sky. For me it's looking back in time. I see what we were doing 2-3 years ago from innumerable channels. You have to pick your battles and where you are going to fight. YouTube is just one front in a multi theater campaign. We stormed the beaches on social platforms and now have 1.5 million fans on just one of our pages there. We have been investing in Pinterest and have made huge gains there. We have 2 million visitors a week to our sites. It's an ongoing and never ending commitment to be available to pick up the conversation with our community wherever they are.
Q: What does the future hold for Bodyrock? Any interesting upcoming projects?
A: We just completed a rebranding and have started a complete rebuild of our websites that will launch in January 2015. The new platform will really compliment the new slate of shows we are currently producing. It's an exciting stage in our development.
Q: What advice could you provide to others looking to establish a brand as a social media personality/content creator?
A: Get ready to work your ass off.