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Cox Tries Rabbit Punch

Bunnies were popping up at Cox Communications Inc. systems in Texas last week, but it wasn’t some sort of celebration for Playboy Channel.

The folks dressed up in rabbit suits were part of the operator’s continuing fight over carriage of Nexstar Broadcasting’s TV stations. Nexstar is demanding that Cox and fellow cable operator Cable One start paying cash for the right to carry TV stations in five small southern markets, and has yanked the stations off until they do.

So, cable subscribers suddenly need a piece of equipment that most gave up years ago: rabbit ears, old-fashioned TV antennas. For three days last week, Cox invited subscribers to an event to pick up rabbit ears, a stunt Cable One’s systems staged several weeks ago.

But Cox introduced a new twist. Employees were costumed in cute little bunny ears and t-shirts with the logo "Got Ears?" One employee in each system donned a full, bunny outfit to greet subscribers. It’s proving quite a boon for antenna makers. Cox’s Abilene, Texas, system handed out 800 antennas, while its San Angelo, Tex., system gave away 2,800.

Cox says it has lost 1,000 subscribers since the stations—all affiliates of major networks—went dark Dec. 31 on systems serving 105,000 subscribers. It doesn’t seem the fight will be settled soon. Cox and Nexstar have had only one face-to-face meeting and it was fairly tense.