Rabbit ears work just fine for rabbits. They don't work so well for TV reception, especially here in Central Oregon, aka "The Middle of Nowhere," where over-the-air TV signals are few, weak and far between.
But rabbit ears will be the only technology available for Bend-area viewers who want to watch Fox Network programming after Dec. 31, unless KFXO, the local Fox affiliate, and BendBroadband, the only local cable TV provider, can come to an understanding before then. At this writing, negotiations appear to be stymied.
The dispute is pretty basic: KFXO says BendBroadband should pay it for Fox Network programs and BendBroadband says it shouldn't. From where we sit (parked in front of our 46-inch flat-screen high-definition TV watching the Giants play the Vikings on Fox) it looks like BendBroadband has the better argument.
BendBroadband points out that no other provider - ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS or anybody - charges for network programming that's broadcast over the air for free. It claims that giving in to KFXO's demand would cost $750,000 a year - money that ultimately would come out of the pockets of its cable subscribers.
It also predicts - and it's pretty tough to argue with this - that giving KFXO what it wants would encourage all the other network programming providers to shake down the cable company for extra cash. "KFXO's request sets an alarming precedent in this market that will significantly impact cable rates for [what is now] free programming," says BendBroadband's website.
If the Fox Network goes dark on New Year's Day, the 40,000 Bend-area households that subscribe to BendBroadband will have no practical way to receive Fox's signal. It won't be available via DirectTV satellite service either; the only way to watch Fox shows will be with those aforementioned rabbit ears, a technology that went out with "Leave It to Beaver."
We can understand, and to some extent sympathize with, KFXO's desire to boost its bottom line. TV outlets - almost all media all over the country, as far as that goes - are hurting in this brutal economy and scrambling to pick up a few bucks wherever they can.
But we can't sympathize with KFXO's tactic of putting a gun to the head of BendBroadband and Bend TV viewers just as the NFL playoffs and the Bowl Championship Series are about to start - not to mention, of course, the crucial 2009 season of "American Idol."
And frankly, we can't at all understand the logic of KFXO's strategy. What does it stand to gain by having 40,000 BendBroadband subscriber households - which probably translates to around 80,000 to 120,000 viewers - unable to watch its programs? How many local advertisers will continue buying time on Fox if virtually nobody in Bend and vicinity is able to see their ads?
KFXO's demand looks like nothing more or less than a crude and clumsy extortion attempt aimed not only at the cable company but at Bend TV viewers. We hereby give it THE BOOT - and for good measure, a poke with a sharp pair of rabbit ears.