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Sie to Retire as Starz Encore CEO

Longtime cable pioneer John Sie said Friday that he will retire as CEO of Starz Encore Group LLC effective June 30, amid questions about the programmer's long-term prospects.

Starz president and chief operating officer Mark Bauman will take over as CEO on an interim basis, but he will retire, too, when a permanent CEO is named, officials said.

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

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

The Starz On Demand SVOD service is currently in 11 million cable households. Overall, Starz networks are in approximately 23 million households.

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

Sie leaves the programmer at a crossroads. Liberty chairman John Malone recently said Starz Encore “has to prove itself" in regard to its long-term financial future.

Saddled with declining licensing-fee revenue due to a reworked carriage deal with Comcast Corp., as well as increasing fees for studio-content deals, financial analyst company Fulcrum Global Partners LLC in March projected the company’s cash flow to decline sharply in 2004 and programming costs to rise 25% in 2005.

And rumors have circulated that Liberty is actively shopping Starz Encore.

Nevertheless, Malone -- who first hired Sie in 1972 while at Jerrold Electronics -- said in a prepared statement that he’s “delighted” that 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 [Internet-protocol] video.”

Sie’s retirement ends a more-than-three-decade career in cable and satellite media, in which the 68-year-old held “key positions” at leading technology, operations and programming companies.

Sie -- who was inducted into the Cable Television Hall of Fame last year -- started premium cable channel Showtime in the 1980s, as well as Starz Encore in 1991.