Carriage Dispute Threatens 'Mad Men' Debut

UPDATED: Some 2.3 million subscribers in the country may lose AMC next week, just days before the Season 4 premiere of the network’s flagship drama Mad Men, which returns July 25. Broadband TV operator AT&T U-verse could drop Rainbow Media’s AMC, WE tv and IFC when the companies’ current carriage deal expires at midnight on July 14 unless a new agreement is reached. AT&T and Rainbow had been negotiating unsuccessfully for the past six months on a new contract to replace their previous one, which expired on July 1. The two sides agreed to a two-week extension but are now at an impasse. Rainbow has started notifying its viewers about the possibility of its 3 channels going dark on AT&T systems. “AT&T is acting in an aggressive manner that puts their corporate interests ahead of their customers,” AMC said in a statement. “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.”

Meanwhile, AT&T argued that AMC’s demands are unreasonable. “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,” an AT&T spokeswoman said. “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.”

The news comes a day after Mad Men scored 17 Emmy nominations, and AMC netted a total of 26 noms, the most for any basic cable network. Such carriage disputes have become more and more common, and having a blue-chip program at stake has helped the network threatened by yanking so far. The possibility of millions of Fox viewers missing the New Year’s college bowl games pushed through a new carriage agreement with Time Warner, while ABC went dark on Cablevision for only a few hours before it was restored 20 minutes into the network’s Oscar telecast. While Mad Men doesn’t have the wide appeal of college football or the Academy Awards, it is still a marquee cable series with devoted following.

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