Technology

Peloton teases new rower at homecoming event

Peloton’s annual homecoming event is for the fans. This is where the fitness tech company introduces new products and releases new features and content. It’s also an opportunity for fans to take part in live classes taught by their favorite teachers and participate in special panel discussions. The big annoyance this year is that Peloton has officially confirmed that a connected rower is coming.

Peloton’s reveal is more of a teaser and official confirmation than anything else. We don’t know the specs or launch date – just that it’s “coming soon”. In terms of design, the rower itself seems to have a similar vibe to the Peloton Tread – sleek, with a minimalist profile and a display to follow the lessons. Rumors about the rower have been circulating since 2018 Bloomberg reported that Peloton had plans to launch it in 2020. Obviously 2020 came and went, and no rower was in sight.

Prior to Peloton’s homecoming announcement, I spoke to Tom Cortese, co-founder and chief product officer, about the decision as well as Peloton’s other homecoming announcements.

“We’re entering the rowing category that’s been long-awaited and feels like the world’s worst-kept secret, so we might as well just talk about it,” Cortese told me over Zoom.

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Homecoming is an annual fan event where Peloton announces new features and introduces new products.
Image: Peloton

For a home gym, treadmills and bicycles make sense. In the fitness tech world, many equipment manufacturers are targeting runners and cyclists because they are popular activities. But rowing has traditionally been more of a niche. Part of that is the space it takes up in your home, and most people don’t grow up rowing. They instinctively know how to run, and learning to ride a bike is often a fond childhood memory. There is a specific form that accompanies rowing that you wouldn’t know unless someone taught you. And while rowers have been available at gyms for decades, the sport it’s based on has a reputation for being elitist and exclusionary.

However, indoor rowing has grown in popularity in recent years thanks to boutique and affiliated fitness classes. Hydrow has made a name for itself as the “peloton of rowers” and there are many other Hydrow-like services currently in existence. Apple has included rowing as a category in Fitness Plus. OrangeTheory is another trendy boutique gym that’s heavily involved with rowing.

“In a relatively short amount of time on the rower, like a 10- or 15-minute class, you can actually target 86 percent of the muscles in your body,” says Cortese. “The problem with rowing was that it’s kind of inaccessible because the average person like me looks at a rower and I don’t know what to do.”


This video has a little tease of the rower. Blink and you might miss it.

The idea is that Peloton wants to use its technology, the bullpen of popular instructors, and hardware design sensibility to demystify rowing. It also aligns with another Peloton initiative to expand its strength training options. Cortese noted that Peloton will continue to increase its strength training content. At Homecoming, the company announced a new four-week program, hosted by coach Tunde Oyeneyin, focused on arms and shoulders that will initially be exclusive to Peloton Guide. The Guide, a camera-based system that lets you check your form on a TV while following your trainers, is Peloton’s first foray into strength-training hardware – and the Rower, a combination of cardio and strength, will be his second.

All of this is consistent with Peloton’s overall approach over the years. However, sticking to a game plan is unlikely to calm uneasy investors fixated on Peloton’s stock price, especially since the hardware itself is often what analysts scrutinize.

Earlier this week, the company posted bigger-than-expected losses for its Q3 results. During the call, new CEO Barry McCarthy repeatedly told analysts from big-name banks that while Peloton is good at hardware, “it’s not nearly enough to be good at hardware.” And while McCarthy is new to the job, he’s consistently kept subscriptions at the heart of his strategy since taking the helm. Chief Financial Officer Jill Woodworth explained that overstocked inventory was costing the company. But Peloton is once again bringing out new hardware.

When asked how the rowing machine fits into Peloton’s new software-first strategy, Cortese says the company “has always been and always will be a subscription business.” That, in turn, means keeping the fan base happy with an ever-growing library of content and features. The goal is to engage users in the community and ensure they never want to leave the Peloton ecosystem.

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Invite Members is one of the new features announced at Homecoming that lets you schedule community workouts from the bike.
Image: Peloton

So far, the company has been remarkably successful. Quarter-by-quarter, the company’s monthly churn rate – the percentage of Peloton users who cancel their membership – remains below one percent. In this last quarter, the churn rate even improved to 0.75 percent with an increase in subscription cancellations after news of a price increase. The question is whether that will change.

“Our business incentive is to keep you as a subscriber forever,” says Cortese. “We believe there is so much we can do on a daily and weekly basis to continue to transform and evolve the cycling experience, the tread experience and now the rowing experience.”

That explains the strategy behind it several of the new features announced at Homecoming. Cortese, for example, says the company has seen a growing number of users taking yoga classes, and lo and behold, Peloton announces it’s adding a second part to its yoga series, The Approach. To appeal to hardcore bike users, Peloton previously launched their Power Zone training program. Homecoming is also getting a new eight-week program called Peak Your Power Zones.

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Just Workout gives users less incentive to exit the app to track their other workouts.
Image: Peloton

Peloton also makes it easier for current users to interact with each other. Members can now schedule workouts directly from the bike with the new Invite Friends feature. A “Just Workout” feature will also be introduced – meaning any non-directed activity can be recorded in the Peloton app. In the meantime, the company is adding TalkBack — an accessibility feature that helps blind and partially sighted users — to the Tread. The feature addresses these users through Tread’s user interface. It’s a smart move as multiple studies have found that this community is massively underserved with current exercise equipment and fitness facilities. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, ideally, treadmills would have tactile surfaces, braille labels for controls, and voice output. So while Peloton could work more on these guidelines in the future, this is at least a step in the right direction. It also makes Peloton a more palatable option for these communities, and throws down the gauntlet for Peloton’s army of copycats to do the same.

But perhaps Peloton-Diehards will be most excited about the company reopening its Peloton Studios. The studios are where Peloton films and broadcasts its content, and before the pandemic, it was a place where many Peloton fans visiting New York City stopped by and met with their favorite teachers. The original studio was on 23rd Street but has since moved to a shiny new facility near Hudson Yards. Due to the pandemic, the new studio was never open to the public. However, there are no details about the time.

All of these announcements are a means of reaching new users, engaging those users with the Peloton platform – and giving them fewer and fewer reasons to leave the Peloton platform. And if you’re a Peloton fan, I’d say they’re pretty effective. But loyalty has never been an issue for Peloton. The problem is the mismatch between a company making an industry-leading product and its stock price.

When asked about the negative press and the endless speculation about Peloton’s future, Cortese was unfazed.

“It’s an outlier. It’s a moment in time. As long as we stay focused on doing what we do well and continue to push real value into an area where a real consumer has a real need, I am ready to continue doing this for 10 more years.”

If Peloton sticks around for a long time, then yes. This is a blip, just like Apple had its “lost years.” There is a way forward for the company if its restructuring plan is successful — though it’s unlikely to return to its highest pandemic rating any time soon. In the earnings call, Peloton’s leadership team discussed its restructuring goals, which are expected to continue into 2023 and perhaps 2024. But as long as fans can weather the ups and downs, Peloton can keep rowing.

https://www.theverge.com/2022/5/13/23068592/peloton-connected-rower-homecoming-tom-cortese Peloton teases new rower at homecoming event

Fry Electronics Team

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