FitTV Got a Jump on New Year

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Discovery Networks U.S. relaunched The Health Network as FitTV last week, rejiggering its lineup to focus on fitness in a broader sense than just working out.

"It's so much more than exercise," said Carole Tomko, FitTV's senior vice president and general manager. "It's nutrition. It's mind/body. It's destination. It's everything people can use to enhance their wellness."

FitTV's revamped program schedule focuses on four areas, namely lifestyle, cardio and body conditioning, and performance-sports programming.

PERSONAL TRAINING

"We've created a schedule that will appeal to someone who is a fitness junkie," Tomko said. "But I think we have a huge opportunity for people who haven't quite found the ability to work out, or have been intimidated by gyms, or haven't found a personal trainer or style of exercise that works for them.

"I like to think of FitTV as bringing a personal trainer into their own home. But it should be entertaining as well."

The relaunch had been set for last Thursday, Jan. 1, but Discovery went ahead with it a few days earlier, last Monday, to coincide with the start of the first financial quarter, according to Tomko.

The network's schedule has been changed to focus strictly on fitness, Tomko said. THN had a variety of programming that did not fit the format, including shows on parenting and babies.

"We absolutely pulled everything off the air that wasn't going to be about fitness," Tomko said. "So now FitTV is totally dedicated to any kind of programming about fitness or wellness. It's much more informational. It's instructional. It's motivational."

FitTV's lineup now incorporates shows that are fresh to the American market.

"Over 50% of the schedule is at least a U.S. premiere," Tomko said. "We have a number of great shows that only premiered internationally, or only in Canada."

That fare includes shows such as In Shape With Sharon Mann, which is hosted by the four-time Canadian aerobics champion.

Initially, the game plan was for FitTV to incorporate an hour-long programming wheel, with different segments within. Now, that wheel format won't come to FitTV until the third or fourth quarter.

Instead, the network is sticking with traditional programming for its kickoff, stripping most of its shows Monday through Friday, according to Tomko.

"Right now the schedule is a very horizontal schedule," she said. "We want the viewers to have an opportunity to tune in and really become aware of Monday through Friday, 'I can tune into my own personal trainer.'

"So every half-hour there will be a different offering of a different style of trainer, a different style of exercise. That works great with the beginning of the year, especially with all the New Year's resolutions."

Discovery is partnering with fitness impresario Jake Steinfeld, who actually helped found the network that, in a convoluted history, evolved back into FitTV.

"We are in active development with his company on a variety of series," Tomko said.

Discovery acquired THN from News Corp.'s Fox Cable Networks Group for $255 million in cash and equity in September 2001.

LESS PAID FARE

THN aired more paid programming that FitTV will, according to Tomko. She added that her mandate was to bring the network's shows to life.

"It didn't have the scope or variety of exercises that we have, nor did it have the variety of personal trainers that we have," she said. "For us, you really can access that variety and access that level."

FitTV's weeknight schedule includes the hour-long strand Peak Performance
at 10 p.m., which includes specials on a number of exercise styles, ranging from yoga to the martial arts and Pilates. One of its programs, Ashtanga, is hosted by Gwyneth Paltrow and was meant demonstrate the benefits of yoga. Then Sept. 11, 2001, happened, and the program became a chronicle about how yoga helped the group cope after the tragedy.

Roughly 70% of FitTV's programming is on cardio — activities like kickboxing — and body conditioning, which would include Pilates and Yoga.

Another 20% consists of lifestyle shows, such as Fit Cuisine, while 10% covers performance sports like rock climbing and biking, through shows like Hi Tech Adventures.

A.M. WORKOUTS

FitTV's research has found that most Americans exercise from 5 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., according to Tomko, which is why much of the network's exercise programs air during those morning and evening dayparts, program like Caribbean Workout and Yoga Central.

Much of FitTV's lifestyle programming airs during the day, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., shows such as Sensational Spas and Healthy Home.

When it acquired THN, Discovery already had a similar network under its umbrella, Discovery Health Channel. Ultimately, Discovery opted to differentiate THN by making it a fitness-oriented channel.

Steinfeld launched FitTV, then called Cable Health Club, in 1993 as part of International Family Entertainment Inc. Fox bought the channel and merged it with America's Health Network in 1999, calling it The Health Network. That entity was sold to Discovery.

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