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HBO’s Chris Albrecht Lands at Starz

Hiring could be a sign John Malone is serious about turning Starz into a real rival to HBO and Showtime

Former HBO chief Chris Albrecht is getting back into the pay cable game, signing on to serve as president and CEO of John Malone’s Starz.

The move is a clear signal that Malone has realized Starz cannot survive– or at least thrive– on output deals for movies alone. And while Starz has already started making noise on the original programming front, Albrecht’s arrival will no doubt see those expansion efforts expand.

Bob Clasen, who had been head of Starz, is stepping down, having announced his retirement earlier.

Albrecht’s two decades at HBO was highlighted by a seven-year run as head of original programming that saw the launch of iconic series such as "Sex and the City," "The Sopranos" "Deadwood," "Entourage" and "Six Feet Under." He left HBO suddenly in 2007 following an incident in Las Vegas in which he was accused of assaulting his then-girlfriend, and after revelations of a previous domestic violence charge.

This isn’t Albrecht’s first post-HBO gig, however. He was briefly based at management firm/production company IMG, but left due to creative differences. More recently, he started his own company, Foresee Entertainment.

“We have found the right set of skills and a record of success with Chris and are pleased to have him lead Starz,” said Malone, who serves as chairman of Liberty Media. 

Albrecht said he was looking forward to taking "advantage of the challenges and opportunities emerging in media and entertainment. I have always seen Starz as a bold, entrepreneurial and growth-oriented brand – one that I believe will be a great home for me.  I look forward to putting my experiences and interests to work with the talented management team at Liberty and Starz to create valued products for consumers and our affiliate partners."

At HBO, Albrecht led the transition from a service defined by its acquisitions of big movies via output deals to one known for first-run programming. Rival Showtime in recent years has undergone a similar transformation, with the network choosing not to renew a number of big output agreements in order to spend some of that money on original content.

With movies so easily available now via both digital delivery and home DVD services such as Netflix, pay cable channels realize that the lure of movies alone is no longer enough to keep subscribers on board.

Starz has has had some success already in generating buzz for original programming. Comedy "Party Down" is a critical darling that will return for a second season. And while a TV version of "Crash" has met with icy reviews, the show has attracted a decent amount of media coverage, something pay cable networks thrive on.

In addition to running Starz, Albrecht’s new gig gives him oversight of Starz Entertainment, Overture Films, Anchor Bay Entertainment and animation giant Film Roman. He starts Jan. 1.

Clasen has been at Starz since 2003 and took over as CEO in 2006.