The National Association of Broadcasters kicked off the online version of its annual convention Wednesday with overtures to members hit hard by COVID-19 and a feel-good honor for Muppets creator Jim Henson.
“We know this is likely the most challenging time local stations have ever encountered,” NAB president Gordon Smith said. “This pandemic has crippled our nation’s economy and our industry has not been spared. Broadcasters are confronting plummeting advertising sales and enormous operational challenges.”
Second-quarter ad revenue at major station owners like Fox Corp. is on track to fall as much as 50% compared with the same period in 2019 as media buyers pull back from TV during the financial downturn.
Despite the bleak spring of 2020, Smith added, “Stations are doing what they do best: delivering the trusted and lifesaving information your communities need.” The former Republican Senator from Oregon closed his remarks by quoting poet Theodore Roethke: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”
Lisa and Brian Henson, children of the late Jim Henson, made appearances to accept their father’s Distinguished Service Award, as did Kermit the Frog. Lisa Henson is CEO of the Henson Company and Brian Henson is chairman. They reminisced about Jim Henson’s early puppet creations and love of television, playing black-and-white clips and showing barely recognizable photographs of a short-haired, clean-shaven Henson.
Beyond projects with Disney, which bought rights to the Muppets in 2004, the company also is continuing its 51-year connection with Sesame Street and Sesame Workshop. Henson also recently produced a new installment in the Dark Crystal franchise for Netflix.
Henson “was a huge fan of television from the moment the first one came into his house,” Brian Henson said. “He knew that’s what he wanted to do, he just needed to figure out how to do it.” After getting his start with Sam & Friends, a 5-minute show airing in late-night and produced at a Washington, D.C. station, he “established a whole new tone of humor that was irreverent and silly and heartfelt.”
The original Kermit, who made his debut in Sam & Friends, was made out of Jim Henson’s mother’s coat, Brian Henson noted.
Lisa Henson said the family-friendly quality of her father’s work evolved naturally. “Long before the terms ‘four-quadrant’ and ‘co-viewing’ became in vogue,” Henson said, “The Muppet Show was a show that families of all ages could sit and enjoy together.” It ran for five seasons and reached 108 countries, she added.
The NAB Show Express, an online alternative to the trade group’s massive show in Las Vegas, held annually in April in Las Vegas, will feature panels and keynote sessions through Sunday. The organization hasn’t made an announcement on the NAB Show New York, held in the fall at the Javits Center, but the city’s grueling recovery from COVID-19 makes a live event far from certain. For now, the dates at Javits (which was converted for a period of weeks into a medical facility to deal with thousands of cases of COVID-19) are October 20 and 21.