Login is restricted to DCN Publisher Members. If you are a DCN Member and don't have an account, register here.

Digital Content Next


InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Why POPSUGAR is doubling down on fitness even as gyms reopen

March 25, 2021 | By Meena Thiruvengadam – Independent Media Reporter @Meena_Thiru

When the Covid-19 pandemic shut down gyms across the United States last year, people were forced to get creative with their workouts. POPSUGAR met the moment by bulking up its fitness content. However, even as gyms open up, the women-focused digital lifestyle brand is betting at-home workouts are here to stay. They’ve also seen that fitness serves as part of an overall content and monetization strategy that is good for audiences, and the brand’s bottom line. 

Fitness was a core part of POPSUGAR’s video strategy long before the pandemic upended lives around the world. POPSUGAR got into fitness content in 2006. It launched a signature video franchise, dubbed Class Fitsugar, in 2012, which now sees an average of 1 million views per video. 

Fitness content helped propel POPSUGAR’s rapid growth on Facebook in 2015. By January 2020, the brand launched a curated 4 Week Full-Body Fusion program. The collection of 25 workouts, each under 45 minutes, carries a one-time fee of $19.99. 

As the Covid-19 pandemic spread in 2020, POPSUGAR released more than 200 workouts across social media platforms and its own website. It amassed more than 3 million new subscribers on YouTube in 2020 alone, where its total audience now stands above 5.5 million. 

The brand, which is part of Group Nine Media, now hosts live workouts with top trainers on Instagram stories and YouTube. It launches Snapchat popups, and posts on-demand workouts to Facebook, Twitter, and the POPSUGAR website. “This year, we’re continuing to see growth and audience attention on these workouts,” POPSUGAR GM Angelica Marden said. 

Bite-sized multiplatform content isn’t just for news 

Have just a few minutes to spare? No problem. POPSUGAR created a series of short workouts that require nothing more than a phone. 

Unlike going to the gym, working out at home is about fitting fitness into your life wherever you can, according to Jennifer Fields, a new deputy editor hired from WebMD to oversee POPSUGAR’s fitness content. That could mean sliping a 5-minute ab workout in between zoom meetings or a 3-minute BTS cardio workout whenever you can carve out 270 seconds for yourself. Or it could be making a 15-minute HIIT class on YouTube part of your morning routine. 

POPSUGAR’s goal is to “meet audiences wherever people spend their time,” Fields said. “So many people are looking for ways to exercise at home. There’s a freedom that comes with at-home workouts.” 

The rise of at home fitness over the course of the pandemic has made it possible for friends to workout with one another despite geographic separations and differing time zones. It’s also  made it easy for audiences to take classes from the farthest flung of their favorite fitness instructors.

Free is key 

In early 2020, the company was exploring audience-supported models, such as it’s flat fee Full-Body Fusion program. In fact, it had plans to release a subscription app with a recurring monthly fee last spring. However, in March 2020, the company shifted gears to better serve their audience in need. They released the app as a free, ad-supported product and – with hundreds of thousands of downloads to date – have opted to keep it free. 

POPSUGAR’s free online workouts are far more affordable than even a bargain gym membership and certainly cheaper than a new Peloton. In addition to amassing audiences across platforms, the strategy serves as a bridge between popular fitness experts and people who may not otherwise be able to afford or access their services. And now that audiences are acclimated to the flexibility and cost savings, the company thinks they’ll stick with the POPSUGAR plan in the long term.  

The strategy aligns with that of parent company Group Nine Media, which traditionally monetizes video content through sponsorships and advertising on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and its website. It also licenses content to OTT services including Discovery+ and Xumo and syndicates some content to linear TV. Group Nine also generates revenue through affiliate product sales. 

It’s about more than exercise videos 

Nowadays, the lines between fitness, wellness, and health are blurring. That’s a theme Fields plans to surface more this year in POPSUGAR’s content. “Fitness isn’t a separate bucket adjacent to your health anymore,” she said. “It is your health.” 

Fields takes a broad view of what fitness and health content can be, one that includes mental health, particularly among women of color. That view is one that’s already begun to emerge in POPSUGAR’s content strategy. 

In fact, last May, POPSUGAR launched a mental health content hub. At the time, POPSUGAR Founder and President Lisa Sugar described the project as a way “to help readers feel connected and less alone in their daily battle.”

More recently, POPSUGAR launched a Snapchat show aimed at helping Gen Z audiences answer their questions about things like anxiety and depression. The show aims to provide practical, actionable advice to viewers. 

“We feel this is really an important conversation for us to be a part of,” Marden said. “Our goal across everything that we create and all of our programming is to offer an inclusive positive safe space for our audience and to help them live their best lives.”

Liked this article?

Subscribe to the InContext newsletter to get insights like this delivered to your inbox every week.