Chris Albrecht guided HBOÂs push into original programming… (Joshua Caine / Liberty Media…)
Chris Albrecht, the Hollywood executive who transformed HBO into a cable TV powerhouse before a high-profile arrest forced his departure, has been named president and chief executive of Liberty Media Corp.'s pay cable and movie unit Starz.
In his new role, Albrecht will be charged with making Starz more competitive with Time Warner Inc.'s HBO and CBS Corp.'s Showtime, the two dominant pay TV networks. Both evolved from channels that primarily ran popular movies into outlets for award-winning original programming.
Starz, part of media mogul John Malone's empire, has been attempting for several years to make inroads against HBO and Showtime, and has had minor success with its drama "Crash," based on the Oscar-winning film, and the comedy "Party Down," about struggling actors who work as caterers.
But if Showtime is Pepsi to HBO's Coca-Cola, then Starz is RC Cola to both. While its two more-established rivals have managed to break into the cultural zeitgeist with such shows as "True Blood" and "Dexter," Starz is still trying to make a name for itself.
Starz and Showtime are each in about 17.5 million homes; HBO is in roughly 30 million.
Albrecht, who as chairman and chief executive guided HBO's push into original programming with "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City," said he was not looking to compete head-to-head with his old network as much as "play in the same field." The main job at Starz, Albrecht said, "is to build a distinct brand, not to be HBO or Showtime; those things already exist."
That means spending more on original programming. "We have financial flexibility," said Liberty Media Chief Executive Greg Maffei. For the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, Starz reported operating income of $78 million on revenue of $301 million.
Besides Starz, Albrecht will oversee Overture Films, Anchor Bay Entertainment and Film Roman. He succeeds Starz Chief Executive Bob Clasen, who announced his retirement earlier this year.
Albrecht spent about 20 years at HBO and left in 2007 soon after his arrest in Las Vegas on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend, which led to disclosures of other incidents during his time at the network.
He most recently had a stint at sports and management agency IMG, but left after less than a year when the firm was unable to raise money for a programming venture.