My Treadmill Is Twittering! The Next Frontier for Connected Devices: The Gym

Netpulse announced last night it had raised $3.1 million in Series A funding led by Javelin Venture Partners to bring interactive media to gyms. We were curious about the idea of connected fitness devices and followed up with Netpulse CEO Bryan Arp today to learn more.

NetpulseBasically, Netpulse offers software and accompanying services to turn a computer screen hooked up to an exercise machine into an interactive entertainment center. Gyms buy a $600-800 15-inch touchscreen terminal for each of their treadmills, bikes and ellipticals, or spend more for a new fitness machine with the screen already integrated. Then users can watch the club’s TV subscription, access on-demand music and video, read RSS feeds, plug in their iPods to their own content, and track their exercise sessions, all coordinated by touch through Netpulse’s interface.

Not all this is ready yet; San Francisco-based Netpulse has yet to announce its content partners, and Arp said integration with OpenID, Google, Twitter and Facebook will come next year. That part sounds pretty cool; users will be able to maintain accounts, a la Nike+, to track their workouts across machines. Pretty soon you’ll be able to auto-Twitter your 5k splits and challenge your friends to beat you, and perhaps even stream one of your Netflix movies at the same time. Ain’t technology great?

Netpulse itself has been a long time in the making. The company was founded back in 1996, though the current team bought the assets in 2001. Arp said the company is “right around profitability,” though it only has “a couple thousand screens” deployed at the moment (the next-generation platform is due before the end of the year). “It doesn’t take much capital to do what we’re doing,” Arp said. And he contended that Netpulse will be able to quickly take things to the next level due to its close relationships with fitness equipment manufacturers.

Though Netpulse as a company may just be finally, finally getting off the ground, this fitness entertainment space seems incredibly promising. First of all, you have built-in paying customers handing over a fee to their gyms every month. And secondly, any workout worth its salt lasts at least a half an hour — can you say engagement with long-form content? But on the negative side, runners’ high may not necessarily help with ad retention.