NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In its feud with AT&T (T - Get Report) that could prevent millions of viewers from seeing the premiere of AMC's Mad Men, Rainbow Media ought to watch "Office Space" and remember character Michael Bolton's approach to adversity: "Why should I change? He's the one who sucks."Rainbow Media -- which is owned by Cablevision ( CVC) and oversees AMC, the Independent Film Channel, the Sundance Channel and We TV -- is still negotiating its contract with AT&T's U-verse long after their deal expired at midnight Wednesday. A statement on Rainbow's Web site declares that AT&T's inaction will prevent its 2 million U-verse subscribers in 22 states including California and Texas from catching the Mad Men season premiere July 25. AT&T, meanwhile, claims it's clamping down on fee increases and "fighting for you." That may be a better piece of fiction than anything featuring Don Draper, especially after this statement from U-Verse spokesman Steven Schwadron: "I can say the deal they're seeking is not reasonable, considering that some of the channels we currently carry are among the least viewed and most overpriced on a per-viewer basis compared to other programming major providers." Oh really, Steve? Because figures from SNL Kagan put AMC's fee at 24 cents, IFC's at 21 and We TV's at 12. (The industry average is 25 cents.) Even if AT&T added the 29-cent Sundance Channel, as AT&T claims Rainbow is "strong-arming" it to do, the cost of the whole package would be less than a quarter of ESPN's $4.10 a month fee, less than half of Fox Sports' $2.37 and an eighth of what ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports and the NFL Network add to a subscribers' monthly bill. Sports aside, Rainbow's collection of channels also costs less than TNT, TBS or the USA Network alone. We know it's been a tough year for AT&T, especially after it lured people to buy Apple's ( AAPL - Get Report) iPad with no-limit data plans only to have the iCrowd turn on it when it capped those plans months later. Hearing Consumer Reports equate the iPhone to a child's walkie-talkie must have bruised the ego as well. But is this really the way to mount a comeback, squabbling over pennies like a railyard hobo and picking fights with Cablevision's little art-school cousin while viewers tune out? Meanwhile, AT&T's little quip about ratings stung so badly that Rainbow's IFC has begun peppering its lineup of independent films including Pecker, Chopper and Before Sunrise with big-budget, lowest-common-denominator fare like the $50 million Nicolas Cage epic Lord of War and John Travolta's $30 million post- Pulp Fiction cash-in Get Shorty. Is Rainbow really going to let the big bully's beef with Cablevision change its programming culture and make properties like Mad Men, Braking Bad, IFC and Sundance as lame as its pricing caps and weak 3G coverage made owning an iPad or iPhone? Like Apple, Rainbow Media is better than this and needs to reach the same conclusion as their cohorts in Cupertino did: Why should we change, they're the ones who suck. Judging by its approach to negotiations and IFC's front-page story yesterday, however, Rainbow already knows it. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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