John Sie Retiring as Starz CEO

Cable pioneer John Sie said Friday he’ll retire as CEO of Starz Encore Group LLC effective June 30, amid questions about the network’s long-term prospects.

Starz president and COO Mark Bauman will take over as CEO on an interim basis, but will also retire when a permanent CEO is named, said network officials.

Starz president of sales and marketing Robert Clasen was named overall president and COO.

Sie, who will devote about one day a week on Starz and Liberty business, initially announced his intention to retire from the company a year ago, but delayed it to see through the network’s launch into subscription video-on-demand, a concept he began touting several years ago.

Overall, Starz is in approximately 23 million households.

“It’s time to turn the reins over to a new generation,” Sie said in a statement. “I’m confident they will move Starz to hew heights.”

Sie leaves the network at a crossroads. Liberty Media Corp. chairman John Malone recently said the network “has to prove itself” in regards to its long-term financial future.

Saddled with declining license-fee revenue due to a reworked carriage deal with Comcast Corp. — as well as increasing costs for studio content deals — financial analyst company Fulcrum Global Partners last March projected the network’s cash flow to decline sharply in 2004 and programming costs to rise 25% in 2005. Rumors have circulated that Liberty is actively shopping the network.

Malone, who first hired Sie in 1972 while at Jerrold Electronics, said in a statement he’s “delighted” Sie will be available for a while longer “to provide us with his vision for a continually evolving industry, as it grapples with the challenges of implementing VOD, high definition and IP video.”

Sie, 68, has spent more than three-decades in cable and satellite media. Inducted into the Cable Television Hall Of Fame last year, he started the Showtime premium cable channel as well as Starz Ecore in 1991. Sie last month was honored at the 11th annual T. Howard Foundation dinner in New York.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.