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ATT's side of carriage dispute with Rainbow Media

Tue, 07/13/2010 - 8:54am
Mike Robuck
In yesterday's news, I wrote about AT&T threatening to pull shows such as AMC's "Mad Men" over its carriage dispute with Rainbow Media.

As with most disputes, "where you sit determines what you see," and on that note, AT&T's Dawn Benton sent me an e-mail yesterday afternoon after my story was filed. Benton, who is director of corporate communications for AT&T, said her company wasn't threatening to pull the Rainbow Media's AMC, We TV and IFC from its U-verse subscribers. The blame for the impasse, according to Benton, is at the feet of Rainbow Media.

"We agreed to a contract extension of 14 days in order to continue negotiations on behalf of our customers," according to AT&T's statement on the matter. "We're willing to continue to work toward reaching a fair agreement, but frankly, we seem to be at an impasse with Rainbow, so we're starting to let customers know that Rainbow may force us to remove their channels from our lineup on July 14.

"We want to reach a fair deal for our customers that reflects our growing subscriber base and that reflects the appropriate value of Rainbow content. Based on aggregate data we obtained from third-party industry sources and our own subscribers, some of the Rainbow channels are among the least-watched and most overpriced per viewer compared to other major programming providers.

"They're also trying to force the renegotiation of a contract for one of their other channels that is not yet expired and force us to carry a new channel that wasn't even formally presented to us until after the recent July 1 contract extension.

"We want our customers to know that we can't and won't give in to unreasonable deals that unfairly disadvantage our customers. However, if a fair agreement isn't reached by July 14, Rainbow could require us to remove their programming to try to force us into an unfair deal. This is about protecting our customers and representing their interests to get the content they really want at a fair price."

Of course, Cablevision-owned Rainbow Media sees it differently: "AT&T has informed Rainbow Media of its intention to drop the networks if a new distribution agreement is not reached by that time," according to its press release.

"It is troubling that AT&T is threatening to yank AMC, We TV and IFC and leave their customers without the hottest show on television, AMC's 'Mad Men,' just before the premiere of the new season," Rainbow Media wrote in its press release. "AT&T is acting in an aggressive manner that puts their corporate interests ahead of their customers. We are negotiating in good faith with AT&T and are hopeful that we can reach an agreement as soon as possible so that our viewers don't lose out."

While both sides claim to have the customers' welfare front and center, it's almost a cliché that the subscribers are the ones who lose out during these increasingly heated carriage negotiations.

And the lawyers got?
In regard to yesterday's story about Comcast settling its class-action P2P lawsuit, a reader wrote: "$16 per user and $2,500 for the original claimant. I didn't notice, how much did the lawyers get?"

Unlike subscribers in carriage disputes, lawyers in class-action suits are always the winners.

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