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Lean Times May Spell Fat Profits for EA

In today's lean times, more folks are forgoing expensive gym memberships and doing their exercising at home. This should put further momentum behind Electronic Arts'launch of EA Sports Active.

EA SPORTS Active™
Source: EA Sports
EA SPORTS Active™

Not that EA is leaving much to chance. The video game developer has pulled out the stops for the product's launch, which is its sports division's first product aimed primarily at a female audience.

Billed as a personal trainer in a box, EA Sports Active is designed to be used with Nintendo's Wii. But don't expect the Eastern-inspired balance and yoga games of the Wii Fit. These exercises will get the heart pumping and sweat flowing with more traditional workouts and cardiovascular training.

EA partnered with fitness experts including Bob Greene (who is otherwise known as Oprah's trainer) to develop the program. One interesting element of the game is a 30-day challenge, which functions as a customized exercise program.

Highlighting this aspect of the program, EA brought in Allison Sweeney, the host of NBC Universal's "Biggest Loser" to take the 30-day challenge. Sweeney, who also works as an actress on "Days of Our Lives", recently had a second child and was looking to lose some baby weight in time for the "Biggest Loser" finale earlier this month. (NBC Universal is a unit of General Electric and the parent of CNBC and CNBC.com.)

In the style of the popular reality weight loss show, EA Sports Active had Sweeney and several other challengers chronicle their experiences using the game over the month-long period on the EA Sports active Web site.

Speaking with Sweeney at the end of the challenge, she said she liked the convience of the product, which she kept in her bedroom as a constant reminder to stick with her exercise program.

Sweeney says she expects the product, which costs about $59.99, would appeal to consumers on a budget.

"It's a one-time investment and it still has a million different routines," she says. And, she notes, like an actual trainer, the program points out when your squats aren't low enough and it helps build you gradually up to more challenging workouts.

The diaries written by the challengers were a key part of how EA is hoping to connect with its core audience, according to Monique Gomel, marketing director of EA Sports. Women with children are more likely to exercise at home, and many households with kids already own a Wii game console.

The product appears to be off to a good start. Launched earlier this week, it is currently the best-selling video game on Amazon.com.

It will be interesting to watch what this product does for the market share of the Wii Fit, which has been a huge success.

An Amazon.com spokeswoman said fitness products have been a strong seller on the site for quite a while, with folks stocking up on exercise DVDs, resistance bands and equipment like the Perfect Pushup. Products that feature celebrities and the trainers of the "Biggest Loser" are among the most popular items.

Next week, Nintendo will also be adding new title, Personal Training: Walking for the Nintendo DS. The product will help exercisers track their daily walking activity.

Trends for home exercise equipment are similar at other Web sites. At Gaiam, yogaand fitness products are top sellers, says Jason Marshall, vice president of Direct and Internet Sales.

"Consumers can save money when they can come to Gaiam to buy a yoga DVD for $15 or $20 and a yoga mat and do it at home rather than go to a yoga studio," Marshall said.

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