Hydrow delivers top-quality video experiences at scale

75% improvement in Core Web Vitals

Moved from bottom to top quartile

Buffer-free videos on any bandwidth

with Cloudinary optimization and ABR streaming

Reduced time-to-market

from weeks to minutes for highly visual product pages

Hydrow, makers of indoor rowing machines, has an extensive collection of high-quality, acquisition-focused marketing media. A majority of its D2C marketing video consists of footage filmed in some of the rowing world’s most interesting and beautiful waterways. To serve top-quality video and imagery to their beautiful website, optimized and at scale, Hydrow partnered with Cloudinary.


Bringing Innovation to the Fitness Category

Founded by champion rower and the coach of the U.S. National Team, Bruce Smith, Hydrow is more than a piece of fitness equipment, it’s a marvel of engineering and technology.

What sets Hydrow apart is the interactive video experience. Rowing and fitness experts offer members a peerless interactive workout to motivate and guide users through more than 5,000 routines filmed in some of the world’s most scenic locations. Along with the workout experience, Hydrow uses its images and short-form videos of rowing adventures on its website and mobile app to entice prospective customers.


A Threefold Challenge in Need of a Single Solution

Reuben Kabel, SVP of engineering at Hydrow, considers the company’s online experience to be a superior example of the power of video in e-commerce. “Our web and digital experience is an example of what the future will look like,” says Kabel.

This wasn’t always the case.

The technical issues Kabel and team confronted were threefold.

First: “Our content management system (CMS) was WordPress, and we had e-commerce served by Shopify in the US and UK. The disparate systems were not managed centrally so they weren’t scalable in terms of the operational effort or the fidelity of the solution that we’re offering prospects.”

Second: “Another challenge we had was we lacked an ability to tell our brand stories and leverage our strength in content,” says Kabel. “We couldn’t iterate different treatments or ideas around prospect messaging, page structure, or marketing activation. We were limited in terms of velocity because of the technology footprint that we had.”

“For example,” Kabel adds, “it took weeks to enact changes and that limited our velocity across all use cases as well as experimentation. Validating and testing performance improvements was slow and painful. We were so reliant on developer support for the great majority of that work that our marketers, our content managers, or designers, didn’t have the ability to have their hands in making those changes they were really reliant on.”

Lastly, page speed. “Front-end core web vitals, which we know are big contributors to commercial success, were dismal. This was a challenge we needed to address. That was really the basis that we were starting from. We did have a competitive RFP and evaluated a lot of different proposals from a number of different agencies. We selected Cloudinary’s approach because we felt that it really was the best solution for us.”


Establishing a Single Source of Truth for Visual Assets

Following a competitive RFP process, Hydrow selected best-of-breed vendors to create an efficient, automated, workflow enabling experimentation, iteration, and the elimination of hours of manual work to bring experiences to market quickly. At the visual layer of the Hydrow tech stack is Cloudinary, which, for the first time, gave Hydrow a single source of truth for all images and videos and the AI-powered capabilities needed to manage, optimize and deliver visual experiences.

Other crewmates in the Hydrow tech stack:

  • Contentful as the CMS.
  • Next.js by Vercel for managing web applications and page renderings.
  • Shopify for commerce services.

Now, Cloudinary powers visuals on Hydrow’s marketing pages and product display pages (PDPs), working in concert with their CMS provider, Contentful. Similarly, Cloudinary powers images on commerce pages, working alongside Hydrow’s commerce partner Shopify.

“For visual asset management, if you need to optimize front-end performance, Cloudinary is the best way to fire and forget. They handle your speed concerns and quality management.”

—Reuben Kabel, SVP of Engineering, Hydrow

Adding ABR Streaming and Image Management

Video plays a major role on Hydrow’s pages. Cloudinary optimizes the delivery of these marketing videos through adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming, enabling videos to run without interruptions no matter where the video is being viewed or on which device. To ensure a smooth viewing experience, Cloudinary automatically detects bandwidth and device type and streams the video at the most optimal quality setting to eliminate buffering.

For an example of how the components work together, a PDP of the Hydrow Wave machine includes a hero video streaming through Cloudinary. Below that video, content and components are driven from Contentful. The page structure and reaction components are pre-rendered by Next.js, and pricing is delivered by Shopify. The headless tools work in concert for a modern commerce experience, making it easier for Hydrow customers to learn more about the machines and customize their purchase.


Going From Lagging to Leading in Google Core Web Vitals

Given the volume of video content and the weight of video files, Hydrow faced challenges achieving good Core Web Vitals. A “good” score is vital for success with search and ensures a great user experience. After implementing Cloudinary’s media management capabilities, Hydrow’s Core Web Vitals went from the bottom quartile to top quartile compared to competitors.

“We went from lagging in our segment to leading it,” says Kabel. “When we look at our benchmarks, we’ve seen massive improvements. Obviously, when we throw more assets on a page, it weighs down the page, now we manage against that. Cloudinary really solved a lot of that concern for us.”


Kabel summarizes his experience this way, “Today, any product, manager, or designer can go look at the work in progress, iteration of the code, and all of that is handled by default. That level of flexibility is incredible for collaboration and for the developer experience, but also for product management. I truly believe this is an example of what the future will look like in commerce.”

“Obviously, when we throw more assets on a page, it weighs down the page, now we manage against that. Cloudinary really solved a lot of that concern for us.”

—Reuben Kabel, SVP of Engineering, Hydrow

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