Digital Diplomacy
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Digital Diplomacy

Peloton’s Challenge for Media Regulators

Peloton is changing the media ecosystem by strengthening its role as a media company, providing both the platform and content

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Peloton Interactive is a fitness phenomenon with its high-profile at-home spin bikes and treadmills. It has more than three million subscribers who follow the company with an almost religious zeal. Recently, Peloton announced its first-ever quarterly profit as it saw a 172% surge in sales during the coronavirus pandemic. The stay-at-home fitness company has become ever more relevant for its audience, looking to stay in shape while gyms were closed by COVID rules, showing them an innovative and new way to keep in shape.

Peloton is not just a fitness company. It also produces content and has built a community of followers that consume its content via live-streamed and recorded classes, available via Peloton’s app or the screens on their spin bikes and treadmills.

In June 2018, Peloton acquired Neurotic Media, a B2B music aggregation and streaming service. This acquisition has expanded Peloton’s music selection and allowed it to embrace music as an essential part of its brand. Peloton also reported spending $49.3 million in settlement and litigation in a copyright case in the first quarter of 2020.

As a media company, Peloton’s content portfolio has expanded beyond using music as part of the live workouts. Collaborating with the renowned television producer and author Shonda Rhimes will create a series of classes under the title “Year of Yes,” that Peloton members could participate in from the app, bikes, or treadmills. In the partnership with Beyoncé, the artist will help curate classes for the fitness company’s subscription service. The partnership also includes pro-social initiatives.

Peloton’s expansion towards creating independent content for its audience is an interesting step in its journey to becoming an influential actor in the mass media field. In creating its original content and working with the biggest names in the industry, Peloton is fortifying its role as a robust media platform.

Peloton is a unique actor in this field because it provides digital and technological platforms, such as bikes and treadmills with large screens, and a specialized content portfolio designed for a loyal and potentially captivated audience.

By doing so, Peloton is challenging the definition of mass media, along with its eco-system and potential regulation. Although Peloton is predominantly a fitness company, these steps emphasize its role as a content platform and raise questions about its role as a possible news distributor, potential collaborations with other media providers, and public discourse responsibility.

Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify, and Apple are digital commercial platforms that create and enable the spread of news and information. Lately, they have become the center of a public debate about their responsibility for the content they allow to share.

By creating a digital platform for its audiences and offering content, Peloton expands the definition of mass media’s digital platforms. Its double outreach raises essential questions concerning content regulation and its responsibility towards public discourse. If the company collaborates with news organizations or other information venues, it will transform itself into an even bigger actor in the public discourse sphere.

Peloton is not a news organization, yet the company combines content with its digital platform, making it an intriguing case study to follow. When other digital media are being questioned about their responsibility towards truth and science, it is interesting to see how Peloton will position itself in the challenge. It is also interesting to see how the government and the FCC will address the combination of content and platform.

As a digital platform and content creator, Peloton’s innovative position signifies a change in the media realm. Television was the first screen to deliver content; computers and phones followed. Peloton is taking the screen to another level, where the company’s platform is used to provide unique content. What’s the next step? Perhaps more content for Peloton’s zealous audience? Collaborating with a network or other content creators? With one of the social networks?

Peloton is carving a new sphere, where the company is not solely a digital platform like Facebook or Twitter. It, therefore, is not protected by Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. Meanwhile, Peloton is not considered a mass media outlet since it does not broadcast its content to a large, heterogeneous, and anonymous audience with an unknown scope. Peloton is expanding the concept of a ‘walled garden’ of content and platform.

Time and business plans will tell. In the meantime, it is fascinating to watch how the mass media world is expanding and changing its ecosystem as it expands towards non-traditional platforms and screens.

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Tech, digital, and innovation, at the intersection with policy, government, and social good.

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Shani Horowitz-Rozen, Ph.D.

Shani Horowitz-Rozen, Ph.D.

A mass communication scientist turned communications expert helping companies and executives to tell their stories & focus their messages. Framing is Everything

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