The Tao of Ari’s Abs & Licht’s Deck Chairs

greek abs
Photo: Roberto Serra/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
July 22, 2022

“What is Ari’s diet!?” This is a question, offered without sarcasm or irony, that has been raised in at least half a dozen different conversations that I’ve had this week, in Los Angeles and New York, with Ari Emanuel’s fellow Hollywood executives, rival agents, various on-air talents and P.R. heavies. It’s a reference, of course, to the now-famous photos of the superagent-cum-media mogul hosing down Elon Musk aboard his yacht in Mykonos, first published by TMZ. As I quickly learned, the thesis I put forward earlier this week—that there really wasn’t all that much news for a media reporter to cover in these dog days of summer, when everyone seemed to be off in some other time zone—turned out to be utterly false: there was something the media establishment was talking about, obsessively, and it was Ari’s Adonis-like abdomen.

To the degree there was any real news value in those photos—there wasn’t—it came from simply knowing where Elon was and what he was up to on the heels of his decision to abort his highly-publicized Twitter takeover. (Alas, a Delaware court may decide in a couple months that he can’t walk away so easily.) But while the general, online public was repurposing the Tesla C.E.O.’s very pale, bulldog-like physique into a thousand memes, the industry insiders who have been on yachts with Ari, or aspire to be on yachts with Ari, or aspire to be represented by Ari—or at the very least aspire to be at the same private function as Ari—were very much focused on the 61-year-old man with washboard abs and zero ounces of body fat, and asking themselves: how does he do it?

The answer, it turns out, is a fitness regimen and diet so extreme as to be untenable to anyone but the most disciplined military professionals, top-flight athletes or corporate warriors of our time. According to four sources with knowledge of the routine, Ari wakes up everyday long before sunrise and takes an hour-long ice bath. This is followed by a session in his private sauna and deep meditation, which is in turn followed by a hard, intensive workout in his private gym—save for Mondays, when he does not work out because he fasts for 24 hours. On the other six days of the week, he fasts for roughly 18 hours, skipping breakfast, taking lunch at noon and eating dinner at six. His diet is heavily though not exclusively lectin-free vegan, and includes a highly specific, bespoke kale-chard-spinach-avocado smoothie (I have the recipe, it’s quite long). The final ingredient is a regular ingestion of bacteria-eating microworms, which he takes “for longevity,” a source said. On days when he is not flying, he works from a treadmill desk. Many people in the industry have stories of watching Ari roll calls on the treadmill desk.

The regimen is extreme, to be sure, but then again not all that surprising given Ari’s relentless drive and ambition. One could describe this routine to any of Ari’s contemporaries without actually mentioning his name and its practitioner would still be obvious. Indeed, I did just that, describing it to various media executives and then asking “guess who?,” and the answer always came back the same: “Ari!” Whether knowing the regimen is of any use to those folks, or the aforementioned industry onlookers, I’m not so sure. (Do with it what you will, dear reader. But maybe slowly, and not all at once.) There are many avenues to good health, and they don’t all run through ice baths and microworms. Whatever the case, it works very well for him. (Puck is represented by Endeavor’s WME, by the way, but I assure you both Ari and a WME spokesperson wanted absolutely nothing to do with this, and declined comment.)

Apple vs. Amazon Reaches the Fourth Quarter

These days, my own media obsession centers on live sports rights, the asset that keeps linear television alive, and is increasingly coveted by the tech giants for their streaming platforms. As I reported last week, both Apple and Amazon are now locked in a runoff for the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, the out-of-market sports package that would significantly enhance the appeal of either Apple TV or Amazon Prime.

The prize could still swing in either company’s direction—the N.F.L. will announce its decision by the fall—but as I said last week, I believe Apple has the upper hand. I noted that Commissioner Roger Goodell met with Tim Cook and Eddy Cue at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, which doesn’t necessarily mean much. A more telling detail, I’ve since learned from sources familiar with the matter, is that Cue and Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner, boarded the same New York-bound jet out of Sun Valley. This is notable because Kraft is the N.F.L.’s broadcast chairman, and thus the man chiefly responsible for negotiating the league’s media deals.

The repeated sightings of Apple and N.F.L. executives don’t guarantee Cupertino’s claim on the Ticket, but once you couple it with the obvious logic of the deal—a new, global media partner for the N.F.L.—as well as the fact that Amazon has already spent a significant chunk of change on Thursday Night Football, well, it all sort of starts to add up. Rights for the Ticket (plus a stake in NFL Media) are expected to cost well north of $2 billion a year, perhaps closer to $3 billion, my sources tell me. No one is better positioned to spend that money right now, in this market, than Apple, the world’s largest company.

The other sports asset currently on auction is the UEFA Champions League—a lesser prize in the American market, to be sure, but one with understated potential as soccer enthusiasm here continues to grow and the U.S. prepares to co-host the 2026 World Cup. UEFA’s U.S. promoter, Relevent Sports Group, is currently entertaining inquiries from all the major media companies with an interest in live sports, including Shari Redstone’s Paramount Global, the current rights holder. Bids are due August 15, and as I’ve reported before, the six-year deal is expected to fetch $2 to $2.5 billion. This offers some nice perspective on the sky-high value of the NFL Ticket, which commands in one year what the Champions League commands in six.

Who will win the Champions League? The smart money here is a traditional broadcast partner who can simulcast games across English and Spanish-language linear channels, as well as streaming services: NBCUniversal, ESPN or Fox. (Somewhere, an eagle-eyed media analyst is protesting that NBCUniversal actually can’t simulcast on streaming. I assure you that will change by the time the deal goes into effect in 2024.) Everyone is in play, and of course it could stay with Paramount. But, for the time being, I’m betting on NBC, which also has rights to the Premier League. We’ll see. 

Licht’s Deck Chair

Finally, CNN. Earlier this week I broke the news that Virginia Moseley, a veteran of the television news business and fixture of the D.C. politico-media establishment (her husband is Tom Nides, the former Morgan Stanley C.O.O. and Obama-era mega-money guy, who is currently ambassador to Israel), had been promoted to oversee all of editorial. The move, which Chris Licht announced later that same day, along with a piece in the Times, will take Moseley to New York, where she will command CNN’s newsgathering operations and function as the newsroom’s de facto day-to-day leader since Licht has been very public about his desire to manage the place like a true C.E.O. Meanwhile, the rest of day-to-day responsibilities at CNN—programming, talent management, etc.—will be managed by the people who were already in place when Jeff Zucker left the network earlier this year.

And that, really, is the news here. The Times headline announced that Licht had picked a leadership team “for the post-Zucker era,” but what’s actually notable about Wednesday’s announcement is that the leadership team is comprised of exactly the same people who were working under Zucker. One might disparagingly call it a rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic, but with just one promotion in Moseley, it doesn’t even qualify as a rearranging. If all of Licht’s rhetoric about a new, higher brow, less polarizing CNN had left you with the impression that he was going to radically change the structure of the network, well, he’s not. Perhaps that points to a lack of ambition, or a lack of desire to reform an eroding medium—what if he’d hired people from Silicon Valley who might have had some innovative ideas for the news business, for instance? Instead, he’s just tried to change the narrative about the place while dialing down some of the tactics that Zucker probably would have dialed down, too, in a post-Trump environment. 

Or perhaps the continuity-as-change strategy suggests that, after three months atop an incredibly complex global organization, Licht recognized that running a 24-hour news network requires a very special institutional knowledge that one doesn’t get from a career executive producing morning shows and late night television, and that, in the absence of a tutor like Zucker, it might be a good idea to keep the old deck hands on board. Or perhaps more cynically, the strategy here is really to centrify and de-stigmatize the CNN brand, despite massive ratings drops, long enough to make it an attractive upsell for the forthcoming HBO Max/Discovery+/CNN bundle. And that’s not really a bad idea, either. CNN could provide a lot of value to David Zaslav’s master plan.

So, how will Licht make his mark on CNN? The industry spends a lot of time focusing on primetime, but I’m willing to bet that the former executive producer of Morning Joe and CBS This Morning is more preoccupied with the A.M. hours, and fashioning a show that can compete for mindshare, if not necessarily ratings, with both the Scarborough empire and the increasingly less-relevant broadcast shows. Of course, CNN’s last president was also a former morning show producer who tried to revamp CNN’s breakfast offering, and he never really cracked the code. After all, it can be hard to do hard news in the mornings when most people just want to talk about Ari’s abs.

This piece has been updated.