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Death of a YouTube Star

Bree is dead, folks. The fictional star of the Lonelygirl15 series, which was last year's viral sensation on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) YouTube, was killed off during the season finale over the weekend.

After last year's Sam Has 7 Friends  online saga, killing off a titular character in a clip-culture series isn't new. It also isn't entirely unexpected. Jessica Rose, the actress who played Bree until the character succumbed to a ritualistic blood-sapping sacrifice on Friday, is getting plenty of television and film work in the real world. The 258-episode series catapulted Rose to a higher tier of stardom, and the only surprise would have been to see her return for a second season.

Yes, there will be a second season. Unlike the drawn-out hiatuses in the primetime-programming world -- where viewers suffer through months waiting for fresh episodes -- the new LG15 season starts today. Bree's quirky musings will be missed, but the show must go on.  

How can a show go on without its leading lady? There was no Sam Has 7 More Friends. Instead, that production team started fresh with the MySpace-hosted Prom Queen -- another series that offed one of its leading characters, yet will be back with a second season shortly.  

Today's debut of the second season won't differ too much from what I had predicted last month. "In trying to make Bree trait negative -- and thus genetically unable to take part in the rite -- aren't the show's cast members simply putting some other character's life in peril?" I wondered at the time. "The obvious direction for the show would be for the remaining cast members to go around the country, foiling the cult in recruiting LG15 replacements. All they need is a cowardly Great Dane and a Mystery Machine van."

We may not be getting Scooby-Doo here, but the five remaining cast members have been instructed to seek out other girls being groomed for the blood-based sacrifice as Bree's dying request.

Yes, it's freaky stuff. It may not be what sponsors such as Hershey (NYSE: HSY  ) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ  ) were expecting when they first signed on with product-placement deals. However, as long as the audience keeps watching, the brands know that they have to be there to get noticed. Will folks keep watching? That, after all, is the bigger question than wondering whether Bree died in vain.

Bree on toast
The grim finale dovetails nicely into a flexible sophomore season, ripe with the luxury of interchangeable cast members if any other budding careers are launched to the next level. Unchained from fretting over Bree's fate, the show's production team will hopefully free itself from the forced, redundant, and clunky prolonged plotlines that began to weigh heavy as the freshman season wore on.

Success at this point depends on growing its audience and monetizing the productions beyond the occasional product placement deal. Video-sharing sites want a piece of the show's action, and that's a good thing. YouTube finally opened up its pocketbook and cut the show's creators in on a revenue-sharing deal, but it apparently wasn't enough to sway the show from turning to News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace to serve as the hub of its 12-part season finale on Friday. The LG15 British spinoff -- Kate Modern -- is being hosted through social-networking site Bebo.

Thankfully for Google investors, YouTube is making headway on keeping its stars closer to home by inking revenue sharing deals with its biggest traffic magnets. The LG15 team originally went with Revver to host the embedded videos on its namesake site. It switched over to using YouTube's feeds a few days ago.

The challenge now is for the LG15 gang to prove that the art form it is pioneering can be financially feasible, beyond revenue sharing that may prove paltry, given the bandwidth overhead at video-sharing websites. The monetization strategy has been pretty limited for LG15 at this point. Google contextual-marketing ads appear on the site. Branded T-shirts and sweatshirts are sold through Spreadshirt. Even eBay's PayPal is there for viewers who want to contribute financially. There has to be more.

The quest for eyeballs
The LG15 production team isn't the only one hoping that fans don't abandon the show in its second series. Now that the show has Google's YouTube as a partner, it has the world's largest collector of online advertising on its side.

We have to be realistic for Google here. Serving up chunky video streams is not the high-margin space that its investors are used to. Those margins contract even further as YouTube continues to share the wealth. However, it keeps the Web user close. Why else do you think Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) is pressing forward with its video offerings and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) is sprucing up its Soapbox site?

Google may have been late to the revenue-sharing model, but now that it's in place, you'll see even more creative endeavors creep up. This is going on outside of the hands of major networks, although it may not be long before they begin using the sites to test out potential new shows.

Bree may be dead, but YouTube is alive with opportunities.

A trip through the clip-culture playground should no doubt include the following stops:

eBay and Yahoo! are Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is an Inside Value stock pick. A free 30-day trial subscription can last longer than the clearance sale on Bree merchandise at the LG15 shop.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is ready to officially classify himself as a clip-culture junkie. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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