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Peter Barton, 51; Executive Built Key Cable TV Firm

September 14, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

Peter Barton, a pioneering cable TV executive who became the founding president of cable television programmer Liberty Media Corp., has died. He was 51.

Barton died of gastric cancer Sunday at his home in Denver.

A top aide to New York Gov. Hugh Carey in the 1970s, Barton earned a master's degree from Harvard Business School before beginning his career in cable television in 1982.

Recruited as a personal assistant by John Malone, owner of the fledgling cable giant Tele-Communications Inc., Barton spent four years negotiating nationwide cable franchise agreements for the Denver-based company.

The firm, which is now part of AT&T Broadband, became the nation's largest cable operator, and the franchise deals Barton executed are said to have had a major effect on the growth of cable channels such as MTV.

In 1986, Barton was named president of the company's Cable Value Network, which evolved into the home shopping giant QVC.

In 1991, he became founding president and chief executive of the Tele-Communications Inc. spinoff Liberty Media Corp., which became a primary shareholder in major cable programming providers such as Discovery, Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting System.

"Peter was there at the inception of Liberty Media, and its subsequent versions, and he was critically important in building it," Malone, now Liberty Media chairman, said in a statement.

Considered a corporate maverick, Barton was known to negotiate business deals on the ski slopes in Vail, Colo.

Station managers were well aware that Barton kept tabs on Liberty's estimated 1,000 affiliates at all hours. He once phoned a station's night manager at 3 a.m. to find out why the host of a show appeared to be stoned.

Barton resigned from Liberty Media with a stock fortune estimated at $100 million in 1997 to start a private investment firm and spend more time with his family.

He later developed the Privacy Foundation at the University of Denver, a nonprofit consumer watchdog group to protect consumer privacy and study the effects of technology on privacy.

Born in Washington, Barton earned a degree in economics from Columbia University in 1972. He spent the next two years as a professional skier in Colorado before returning to Washington to work in politics.

In 1975, he became a deputy commissioner in the state of New York's agricultural department but quickly rose to become a top aide to Carey.

He is survived by his wife, Laura; daughter, Kate; sons Jeffrey and Christopher; his mother, Hanna Jane Barton of Bethesda, Md.; and brothers John A. Barton of Bethesda and Thomas W. Barton of Harbeson, Del.

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