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Malone’s no fan of Dolan Voom plan

Liberty's man leery

NEW YORK — Not even John Malone thinks it’s necessarily a good idea for Cablevision board chair Charles Dolan to pursue Voom and continue a family boardroom battle that saw Dolan name Malone to the board of the cabler in a midnight raid.

“I wouldn’t do it with my money,” Malone said Monday during an earnings call for his overseas venture, Liberty Media Intl.

Malone’s comments came the same day Dolan presented his plan for buying what remains of the Voom satellite service to the Cablevision board at a meeting in Florida.

Dolan wants to tap into his own cash and Cablevision stock to fund Voom’s operations, which include 21 high-definition channels, roughly 46,000 subscribers and a lease on a satellite service.

That’s after his son and Cablevision CEO James Dolan convinced the board to go against his father and shutter the Voom service. Move prompted the elder Dolan to oust three board members and bring in four new directors, including Malone.

Cablevision offered no comment on Monday’s board presentation by Chuck Dolan, who is being aided by another son, Tom Dolan, in his fight to keep Voom alive. Satcasting service, which Sears stores nationwide continue to offer, cost Cablevision more than $660 million in losses last year. Cablevision has inked a deal to sell the Voom satellite itself to EchoStar.

Family drama has fueled speculation that Cablevision could finally go on the auction block, with Time Warner Cable viewed as a likely bidder.

Wall Streeters took keen notice of Malone’s comments, saying they helped dispel concerns that the new Cablevision board members are nothing more than flag-wavers for the elder Dolan, which would raise corporate governance concerns.

Cablevision shares closed up 56¢ Monday at $29.35.

Malone said he was skeptical as to whether Voom could be a viable stand-alone service in the U.S. market against satcasting giants EchoStar and DirecTV.

“I believe the window is closing for them. They may be able to squeak through it. They may find existence as a subset of one of the two major distribution systems,” Malone said.

On his earnings call, Malone reported that Liberty Media Intl. posted a wider loss in the last quarter while revenues jumped 27-fold after including UnitedGlobalCom in the company’s financial results.

Malone’s international operation, which consists of holdings primarily in Europe and Japan, reported losses of $21.1 million compared with a loss of $5 million in the final quarter of 2003. Revenue rose to $778.5 from $28.3 million.

Last year, Liberty Intl. bought up a controlling interest in UnitedGlobalCom, which operates cable systems in Europe and Latin America, and now claims a 56% stake. Company recently said it would buy up the remaining outstanding shares for $3.5 billion. Liberty’s other major asset is Jupiter Communications, the largest cable company in Japan.

Malone’s U.S. operation, Liberty Media, will report earnings today.

(Wire services contributed to this report.)

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