Warner Music Group’s newly signed partnership with MTV illustrates how WMG would rather grow through online partnerships than own the channel.

Warner is the lone major music group holdout from Vevo, the music site/network that launched late last year. With their investments in Vevo, Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment have bet on a new, branded entertainment network.

In going a separate way, Warner shows it believes it should concentrate on what it does best and create partnerships for most everything else. Thus, when Warner settled its problems with YouTube last year, it partnered with Outrigger Media for advertising sales for its YouTube inventory of videos.

Outrigger did a good job, sources tell Billboard, and confirmed Warner’s belief that its video inventory could be monetized well. “We’re happy with the approach we’re taking with sites like YouTube,” says one person close to the MTV deal. “Our labels and our artists have been very pleased with how we’ve used our relationship with YouTube to brand the artists on YouTube and drive that traffic back to the artist dot coms, which is where we leverage those brands into B-to-C opportunities.”

The strategy lays out nicely in a flow chart and conforms to the logic of the multi-rights contract: music fans go to YouTube, watch a Warner artist’s video, some continue on to the artist’s web site where there is more MTV-acquired advertising and the consumer goods that are an integral part to Warner’s multi-rights deals.

An integral part of Warner’s strategy is its use of Cisco’s Eos platform for its artist web sites. Not only will those sites carry advertisements placed by MTV, they enable the e-commerce and fan relationships that are core to Warner’s vision of its future. Warner is ahead of schedule on converting artist sites to Eos, a source says, and Eos sites have been quick to gain traction. “It’s far beyond what we expected.”

Although charting a difference course for its content partners, Vevo is doing quite well. ComScore’s numbers for May show Vevo’s network had 45.6 million unique viewers and 430 million streams. At 1.3% of the marketplace (according to number of streams), Vevo is fourth between Microsoft sites and Viacom Digital.

At this point, Warner’s plan seems like a smart one. Major music groups have a long history of failures in creating and investing in online services. Rather than owning or controlling the conduit, labels are best to stay within their wheelhouse and farm out many of the new functions needed in today’s business.

But grading it is a tough call at this early stage. As Lyor Cohen, North American Chairman and CEO of Recorded Music, told Fast Company recently, its multi-rights contracts with new artists haven’t reached their peak. When those artists hit their prime and fans are funneled from free videos to artist web sites, the fruits of these earlier decisions will become more evident. The value of Vevo will be more evident as well. Then we will finally get to grade Warner’s strategy against that of its peers.