Product placement is everywhere these days, even in popular online video-clip shows. Months after scoring some sponsored loot from Hershey (NYSE:HSY) for having its star chow down some Icebreakers candy, the makers of the Lonelygirl15 online serial have inked a more storytelling-invasive deal with Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE:JNJ) Neutrogena line of skin-care products.

According to Variety, a young Neutrogena scientist will join the series next week. The Isaac Gilman character will spend the next two months on the show, helping the stars of the cyberspace smash concoct a serum to do away with fictional baddies.

Is there a fine line here? Oh, you know it. Some of the plot twists so far have involved befriended characters who turn out to be sinister backstabbers. As the once playful series of video blog entries has evolved into a more suspenseful thriller, part of the art of Lonelygirl15 is that -- like the cast of Lost -- many of its endearing stars are ultimately expendable and can be compromised.

But jaded watchers will be watching the introduction of Gilman with a grain of salt. Neutrogena wouldn't be financially backing a new character if he winds up turning on the heroic protagonists. He'll be smart. No animals will be hurt in his lab. You know he's going to have great skin. His eventual exit will surely be as a serum-stirring savior or a glorified martyr who moved the series along to the next sponsored opportunity.

Clips for cash
Monetization without alienation is a mantra that I introduced last month. Clearly, it applies here. The series survived its biggest threat last year, maintaining -- and growing -- its audience after revealing that the brief clips that once tried to pass themselves off as the musings of a real 16-year-old homeschooled teen were scripted. But can Lonelygirl15 ever get to the point where the product placements get distracting?

The almost daily installments became a hit on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) YouTube, and the show is still the second-most subscribed-to series on the site. That's impressive, considering that the show's own website is streaming clips from rival video-sharing site Revver.

This brings us to the revenue-sharing quandary.

A webcam hobbyist probably never expected to be compensated for his ramblings. Several years ago, he would have probably been hit up to foot the bandwidth charges. Times have changed, though. Bandwidth gets perpetually cheaper, and companies such as Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM) make digital delivery efficiently seamless. This would seem to make monetization a breeze, but most video-sharing sites have been reluctant to wedge video ads into their sites.

However, some sites are winning uploads by offering to share the wealth. Revver offers a chunk of the related ad revenue, while sites such as pay for featured submissions. Why pay when few of these sites are profitable? Because it's the one way to assure a steady flow of quality content.

YouTube, the eventual money tree
Google's site is inching in that direction. Co-founder Chad Hurley said so back in January. The site is reaching to its most prolific stars. It remains to be seen whether they will dig deeper into the revenue-sharing plan, and whether everyone's waiting for the Viacom (NYSE:VIA) lawsuit to go away before breaking out the pinata.

Online serials do have bills to pay, and the democratization of the Web should reward its most popular contributors. Whether it's a scripted production like Lonelygirl15 or amusing cutups such as Smosh, the long-term expectation is that revenue-sharing will save the day and create cottage industries.

Don't bet on it. The more heavily trafficked sites are still resisting the urge to go commercial. Video ads are mostly seen on corporate broadcasting sites. Even a unique content creator such as CNET Networks (NASDAQ:CNET) merely sprinkles brief video ads into its offering.

Filmmakers will have to get creative if they want to get paid. Will they be engaging in contextual marketing on their standalone sites? Rolling out merchandise sales? Selling ads that they insert themselves, as Michael Eisner's Prom Queen series has done? Inviting that clear-skinned Neutrogena scientist to lend a hand?  

For better or worse, it's all going to be a part of the game.

Akamai and CNET are Rule Breakers stock picks. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor newsletter selection. A free 30-day trial subscription to either service is waiting, with your name on it.

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.