There is a symmetry to Mr. Buckley's story. Some so-called Internet celebrities view YouTube as a stepping stone to television. But Mr. Buckley started on TV and found fame on YouTube. Three months ago, he signed a development deal with HBO, an opportunity that many media aspirants dream about. Still, "I feel YouTube is my home," he said. "I think the biggest mistake that any of us Internet personalities can make is establish ourselves on the Internet and then abandon it."
Cory Williams, 27, a YouTube producer in California, agrees. Mr. Williams, known as smpfilms on YouTube, has been dreaming up online videos since 2005, and he said his big break came in September 2007 with a music video parody called "The Mean Kitty Song." The video, which introduces Mr. Williams' evil feline companion, has been viewed more than 15 million times. On a recent day, the video included an advertisement from Coca-Cola.
Mr. Williams, who counts about 180,000 subscribers to his videos, said he was earning $17,000 to $20,000 a month via YouTube. Half of the profits come from YouTube's advertisements, and the other half come from sponsorships and product placements within his videos, a model that he has borrowed from traditional media.
On YouTube, it is evident that established media entities and the up-and-coming users are learning from each other. The amateur users are creating narrative arcs and once-a-week videos, enticing viewers to visit regularly. Some, like Mr. Williams, are also adding product-placement spots to their videos. Meanwhile, brand-name companies are embedding their videos on other sites, taking cues from users about online promotion. Mr. Walk calls it a subtle "cross-pollination" of ideas.
Some of the partners are major media companies; the ones with the most video views include Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, CBS and Warner Brothers. But individual users are now able to compete alongside them. Mr. Buckley, who did not even have high-speed Internet access two years ago, said his YouTube hobby had changed his financial life.
"I didn't start it to make money," he said, "but what a lovely surprise."