MIPCOM ’18: Ari Emanuel on evolving the agency business, and the value of “emotional endurance”

The “King of Hollywood” was feted in Cannes on Monday with the presentation of the MIPCOM Vanguard Award to Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel. In a keynote conversation with Variety‘s Cynthia Littleton ...
October 16, 2018

The “King of Hollywood” was feted in Cannes on Monday with the presentation of the MIPCOM Vanguard Award to Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel.

In a keynote conversation with Variety‘s Cynthia Littleton following the award presentation, the legendary agency boss discussed elements of his strategy for making Endeavor, home to talent agency WME, Endeavor Content, IMG and the UFC, into a global media dynamo.

Part of that strategy involves acquisitions, and with Endeavor spending multiple billions for assets such as IMG and the UFC, it is still an area that Emanuel sees as fostering growth across the content sphere.

“We define content in a lot of different ways,” he said, regarding the potential areas the company might be exploring. “Podcasts are now content, and experience is content, education is content.”

Non-fiction content that Endeavor has had a hand in ranges from unscripted series such as The Chef’s Table on Netflix and Amazon Studios’ The Grand Tour┬áto doc box-office hits such as Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Undefeated.

When asked about perceptions of conflict of interest arising from moving into the production and distribution spheres while housing one of the world’s most powerful talent agencies, Emanuel bristled at the notion, saying, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to think of us as back in the day of [Lew] Wasserman.”

“If it’s not right then I don’t want the client to do it,” he said of potential content deals with clients. “What I do want is for them to have alternatives. What I’m giving them is the opportunity for them to have more ownership than they’ve had before.”

Emanuel praised the company’s chief investor, Silicon Valley-based private equity firm Silver Lake, as well as his executive committee, “who are as driven as I am, and as nuts as I am.

“The other thing that is great about the leadership of the company is that we are still curious,” he added. “In any business in this day and age, you have to have emotional endurance.”

That emotional endurance is doubtlessly coming into play in the light of recent news concerning another potential investor in Endeavor, the Saudi Arabian government, which was reportedly set to invest in the company to the tune of US$400 million through its sovereign wealth fund. With the recent disappearance of Washington Post journalist and critic of the Saudi regime Jamal Khashoggi, Emanuel told the MIPCOM audience that the matter was “very, very concerning” and that the company was monitoring the situation. While Endeavor has not offered comment, reports have emerged that Endeavor is looking to exit that deal.

Of course, another viable option for funding growth is the almighty IPO, which may be a possible course of action… or not.

“I’m not in any rush to do one thing or another,” summed up Emanuel. “We’ll see what the marketplace offers.”

One thing he is sure of is the need to adapt and evolve. With a viewpoint that “companies don’t die because of one big cut, they die from thousands of little cuts,” Emanuel is looking to build a company that will not only be resilient in the face of a relentlessly shape-shifting industry, but will lead the charge towards new models.

“We are now redefining our architecture,” he said. “As I’ve said to our groups, we’ve been having the same meetings for 23 years.”

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is a special reports editor at realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.