Seller Inspiration

Case Study: Gifted Channel Uses Free Trials and Forums to Grow

by Paula Rosenberg · June 14, 2016 · Comments

Gifted Channel is a subscription network of fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle content featuring bodybuilding expert Phil Heath. Phil had already started creating an exercise empire with a nutritional supplement company and Gifted Athletics, when he decided to expand his fitness brand further by offering a video subscription to fans. 

Phil is a five-time winner of Mr. Olympia — basically the Olympics of bodybuilding competitions — so when he talks about fitness, people listen. He started smart by re-investing initial SVOD earnings directly back into the channel. Gifted Channel director and producer Johnathan McFarlane explains, “It takes millions of views to make much of anything on YouTube, and takes a long time to build up a subscriber base. With VHX we could start making some real money right away.” This helped them fund the creation of new content to grow their subscription service. Gifted Channel videos now range from a documentary look at Phil’s career, to personal vlogs, to training sessions.

Strategy: Use Social Ads and Free Trials to Convert Fans Into Customers

Phil Heath has a whole mass of followers on social media. Johnathan and the Gifted team knew they needed to tap into this fan base to jumpstart their subscription service, so when Gifted Channel launched they focused on releasing trailers on Phil’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. They put small amounts of money into occasionally boosting Facebook posts for a bigger reach and also utilizing Facebook ads. Johnathan reports, “When we started out we had a very low conversion rate on the channel, only about 2.5%, so the ads weren't very effective. It cost between $7-10 per acquisition, and we're still not really sure about the lifetime value of each customer. But with some tweaks to the channel landing page we got the conversion rate up to around 5%, so the Facebook ads became a lot more effective.” 

What kind of tweaks? First, they found that a bullet point list of features on their subscription home page was the best way to show the breadth of fitness content that subscribers would be able to access. Then, they started offering free trials as a way to entice signups, and saw their conversion rate double.

Free is a great way to let casual fans try out a subscription service. (We’ve seen that VHX sellers who enable free trials see about 2/3 of these signups stay on as paying customers.)

Strategy: Use Forums to Let Fans Drive Content 

Aside from Phil’s social following he also has a strong base of fans from his participation in the Mr. Olympia competition, which brings a big number of subscribers. “The fans that are subscribing to the channel are the super fans — the ones that want more than the typical social media and magazine coverage.” Gifted Channel wanted to give these fans exactly what they wanted. So…what did they want? That’s where their community forums come in. 

On the Gifted Channel forums, fans discuss current content and share their experiences with Phil’s fitness program. But, more importantly, the Gifted team uses these forums to gauge what subscribers want. They’re always looking out for feedback on what is engaging, and what fans would like to see next. They also shoot a lot of Q&A videos to add to their subscription offering, and they source their questions in the forums.

As Johnathan McFarlane describes, “The fans love it — they get access to the best bodybuilder in the world! They like being a part of the process, it feels so much more interactive when they have a say in the content. Plus we want to keep the churn down, and giving them exactly what they want helps.”

Strategy: Continue Expanding With Creative Bonus Content

Videos will always be the lifeblood of a good subscription network, but Gifted Channel is growing their service with even more smart content. Aside from using forums and feedback to drive future videos, they’ve added some creative non-video bonus extras based on their subscribers’ interests. This includes Gym Jams, an occasional PDF of tunes that Phil loves to listen to when working out: “Phil's a big music fan, and he's always listening to music when he trains. His fans are curious, so we've periodically done a top ten list of whatever tracks he's currently listening to in the gym. It's easy content, especially since we don't have to actually shoot anything.”

Gifted Channel listened to subscriber’s requests for a diet plan, which they plan on releasing in preparation for Phil’s next Mr. Olympia competition. This kind of creative thinking keeps the subscription service fresh and ever-expanding, and continues to add value over time.

Best Practices

  • Invest earnings back into new videos
  • Experiment with how you describe your content
  • Offer free trials
  • Ask subscribers what they want to see, and make it happen
  • Grow your offering with non-video content

Check out the subscription offerings of Gifted Channel in action over at