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Fitness DVDs, sweaty or serene, heat up cold market

By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Video may have killed the radio star, but reality TV has been a boon to fitness DVDs, industry experts say.

Workout DVDs still flex considerable muscle in an otherwise sagging market, as consumers wanting to shape up look for tough love from a celebrity trainer or try to dance with stars in their living rooms.

"We've definitely seen an increase in DVD sales over the last few years. I would say that the trend started in 2005," said Kajsa Vikman, the vice president of marketing and fitness at Lionsgate, the Santa Monica, California-based entertainment company.

Vikman believes shows like "The Biggest Loser" and "Dancing with the Stars" are powering much of the growth.

"Viewers see contestants on TV shows lose weight and feel they can have the same experience at home with these products," she said.

Fitness DVDs are bucking the downward trend of DVD sales generally.

The Nielsen Company, which tracks retail sales, said 2010 overall home video sales were down seven percent from 2009, while home video sales for fitness titles were up seven percent for the same period.

Leading the pack is "Jillian Michaels: 30-Day Shred," an intense workout by the no-nonsense trainer on "The Biggest Loser."

It tops the current charts. Vikman said it has become the top selling fitness DVD of all time due to its cross-gender, all-ages appeal and what she calls the credibility factor.

"Especially with media and pop culture now very focused on health and wellness and being fit," Vikman said, "People want the opportunity to work out with a top trainer."

They also want to dance with professionals and celebrities, as in "Dancing with the Stars Cardio Dance," which Vikman said appeals to older, mostly female, exercisers.

Lionsgate even re-launched the Jane Fonda brand, with new offerings from the celebrity whose aerobics started it all.

"The audience of baby boomers and up is 99 million people," Vikman said, "and they're interested in DVDs."

Serenity is also popular. Yoga has accounted for three of the top 10 fitness DVD retail sales from 2000 to date, according to Nielsen.

"Yoga is a very solid performer on DVD right now," said Julie Cartwright of Anchor Bay Entertainment, the Beverly Hills, California-based company which, along with Lionsgate and Gaiam represents the three largest distributors of fitness home videos.

Cartwright said yoga functions both as a workout and a way to cope with life.

"Consumers are writing about how it calms them, helps them sleep better ... This is a trend I don't ever remember seeing before in our industry," she said.

Cartwright said even though more challenging workouts have been seeing a lot of growth, it is not all about developing six-pack abs. Even the no pain, no gain crowd are demanding shorter sessions.

"People don't have time anymore," Cartwright said. "There was a time in this industry when the workout almost had to be an hour long to be perceived as credible. That time is over."

Explosive direct sales for the hardcore infomercial workout P90X produced by the Santa Monica-based company Beachbody prompted the telemarketing firm Telebrands to come up with a similar product, Supreme 90 Day, for the retail market.

Vikman said the success of P90X has built over the years.

"They have the credibility," she said. "It's hard core, it works and it's efficient. P90X is becoming a verb."

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