Where’s the Money, Lebowski?

As I read the news about some of the major players in the online video market and hear talk of massive views and venture funds flowing, I can’t help but think of a line from one of my favorite movies, “The Big Lebowski“: “Where’s the money, Lebowski?”

For anyone who hasn’t seen it lately or, God forbid, who has never had the opportunity to witness Jeff Bridges’ bit of slacker genius, a synopsis. In a case of mistaken identity, Bridges’ character is hounded by a group of European nihilists seeking to recoup money they feel is owed to them. The line is their refrain: “Where’s the money, Lebowski?”

What news prompted this memory? First, one-time political comedy site turned greeting card shop JibJab raised $7.5 million in a Series C round, pulling in dollars from previous funder Polaris Ventures as well as new investors Sony Pictures Entertainment and Overbrook Entertainment.

Then its Santa Monica, CA, based neighbor, DECA, also took down $10 million to continue pursuing its brand of Internet programming, such as Boing Boing tv and smosh.

Last but not least, NextNewNetworks, home of “Obama Girl,” reported it saw views increase from 100 million to 300 million, year over year.

However the only news about dollars flowing into the market from an advertising point of view, rather than financing, came out of a CES panel featuring my colleague, Brian Terkelsen, an EVP from sister agency Starcom Mediavest. On a video advertising panel, Terkelsen voiced quite openly what many in the market feel, “Advertisers aren’t being aggressive enough in general. They helped grow TV to where it is now, so I think it’s partly up to them to drive video. If we don’t challenge the industry to do things differently, we’re screwed.”

So it’s wonderful that worthy players such as DECA and JibJab have found support in the venture community to continue to pursue their businesses. And same goes for Next New with its audience figures that demonstrate there’s an audience consuming its content. These data points suggests there’s a foundation in place for the delivery of content and associated marketing over the Internet. But in the next six months, even with the dire economic straits in front of us, the focus must shift from developing programs to bearing out the value of those programs.

And this can be done in myriad ways. For one, a compelling transmedia offering that ties together TV and Internet programming for a major marketer. For another, greater simplicity in valuing online video versus a TV buy. Or as I mentioned in my 2009 predictions, a breakout Internet-based hit, really going mainstream, could also fit the bill. But if none of these come to fruition, we may find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to answer that probing question, “Where’s the money, Lebowski?”

Today’s column originally ran on January 20, 2009.

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