Liberty Media chairman John Malone is probably getting an earful from his pals in the cable industry this afternoon after he made a comment that’s sure to haunt both him and them. Talking to Wall Street analysts about the growing number of consumers who buy high-speed Internet services from cable companies, Malone said that “cable is pretty much a monopoly now” in broadband. Oops. The executive who once was considered such a monopolist in cable TV that Al Gore referred to him as Darth Vader caught himself, adding, “I don’t want to use that word.” But he may be reminded that he used the M word every time consumer advocates call on federal regulators to crack down on cable — for example, by insisting on net neutrality rules. Malone says consumers won’t cut the cord with cable even as services including Netflix offer movies and TV shows over the Web. Phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T “are not going to aggressively” build out fiber-optic services that could match the speed and security of cable’s broadband, he said. Meanwhile, “the threat of wireless broadband is way overblown. There just isn’t enough bandwidth” for them.
In contrast to Malone’s blunt comments, other Liberty executives said they wouldn’t provide many details about Starz’s new lawsuit against Dish Network. Starz, and in a separate suit Disney, allege that Dish violated their contracts by giving satellite customers free access to the premium channel for about a year. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht says that his company didn’t lose money; Dish pays a fixed annual rate to offer Starz and Encore. But the additional viewers may have helped Starz’s ratings. In other comments, Albrecht says that he’s watching HBO’s HBO Go initiative to see whether it makes sense for Starz to also make its programming available over the Web to people who subscribe to the TV channel. He didn’t discuss Starz’s negotiations to renew its deal with Netflix, which streams Starz movies and shows to Netflix subscribers. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in a TV interview this week that he might have to pay as much as $200 million a year to renew it, up from about $30 million for the current agreement made in 2008. Starz had 18.8 million subscribers as of March, an increase of about 600,000 since the end of 2010. Encore had 33.1 million, up about 300,000.