July 7, 2003
Starz Taps Former Comcaster to Help Expand Distribution
By K.C. Neel
Starz Encore Group has tapped veteran cable player Robert Clasen to take over for distribution president Que Spaulding when he retires later this year.
Clasen, who will become president of sales/marketing effective July 21, adds a new dimension to Starz Encore's executive team, having extensive experience on the MSO side of the house. His skills will come in very handy as the company looks to expand its distribution, analysts say.
“Starz was looking for someone that has the same kind of respect, knowledge and pedigree Que has, and Bob fits all the criteria,” says Stifel, Nicolas analyst Ted Henderson. “He is well-respected and his experience in the interactive television arena as well as the MSO side of the business will be valuable.”
Clasen's responsibilities will include affiliate sales/distribution, marketing and corporate communications. In addition, SVP of marketing Jillaina Wachendorf has been promoted to EVP of affiliate sales/marketing, and will report to Clasen.
“This new structure recognizes that we now have relationships in place with all of the major cable and satellite companies,” says Starz president Mark Bauman. “Marketing and affiliate relations have to be one and the same in the next generation of growth.”
Clasen says his top priority will be expanding Encore's distribution as a core product on operators' digital tiers. He also wants to goose Starz's standing. “It's an undervalued brand,” he says.
A 30-year cable veteran with both operating and manufacturing experience, Clasen will also work peripherally with Starz Encore chairman John Sie as he pursues his quest to change the direction high definition is moving in public policy, consumer and industry arenas.
“The horse may have left the barn on this issue,” Clasen admits. “But the cable industry has to look at it. DBS will have the bandwidth to deliver all the HD signals they want to deliver. How the cable industry defines the delivery of HD; how it's packaged; and how that relates to SVOD are all things that industry must address.”
The one thing Clasen probably won't have much influence on, or interaction with, is the lawsuit between Starz and Comcast Corp. This despite the fact that he worked for the MSO, first as president of Comcast Cable (1984-89) and later as president of international operations (1989-91 and again from 1993-97). He's also worked for Rogers Cablesystems and Continental Cablevision as well as ICTV and Comstream.
“I've got a great relationship with the folks at Comcast, as I do with all the other operators,” Clasen says. “But I won't be involved in the [lawsuit]. I think I can help the operators better understand issues at Starz and help Starz better understand the MSOs' issues.”
Starz Encore has seen a number of personnel changes in recent months. EVP of marketing Mike Hale left the company earlier this year and VP of corporate communications Paul Jacobson left last spring to become the chief spokesman for Rep. Bill Frist (he has since joined Adelphia Communications). Spaulding, who'll officially retire in December, was one of Sie's first hires when he launched Encore in 1991. The two also worked together at Showtime in the early 1980s.
“I've worked on the operating side of the business and been involved for the last four years in manufacturing and ITV,” Clasen says. “This is the one leg of the stool I've not yet done, so I look forward to it.”