OK Go lead singer Damien Kulash hit the New York Times op-ed section to opine on EMI’s policy that prevents embedding of its YouTube videos. Kulash discussed how his label's policy has negatively impacted the promotion of the latest OK Go record, "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky." Ultimately, Kulash's piece is about record label's still-difficult adjustment to a world filled with unmonetized music consumption.

The band, signed to Capitol Records, ran into a hurdle when the lead video for its latest album could not be shared in the same way that propelled the band's prior videos to viral fame. With the embed feature removed, fans cannot post the video at social networking pages, blogs or web sites. If somebody wants to watch the band's videos, they have to watch them at YouTube. "But that isn't how the Internet works," he insists.

Viral content doesn't spread just from primary sources like YouTube or Flickr. Blogs, Web sites and video aggregators serve as cultural curators, daily collecting the items that will interest their audiences the most. By ignoring the power of these tastemakers, our record company is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

What is an embed worth?

A video can get around one-third of its views from embeds, says David Burch, Marketing Director at TubeMogul, a California-based company that offers tracking and analytics for online video. One can predict how viral a video will be by the number of embeds a video gets, Burch said. Embeds are especially important early in campaign. The more embeds a video gets in the first few days, Burch explains, the greater its views later on. "Marketers know this. Advertisers know this. That's why there's so much emphasis on social media."

Numbers offered by Kulash show the impact of embedding. After EMI disabled the embedding feature, views of the band's "Here It Goes Again," a homemade video of the band dancing on treadmills, dropped 90%. "Our last royalty statement from the label, which covered six months of streams, shows a whopping $27.77 credit to our account," he writes.

Where a person watches a video matters, too, Burch said. If a video is embedded at a viewers favorite music blog, for example, or on a friend's Facebook page, the viewer is more likely to be engaged. "It makes intuitive sense for them to watch longer," he said.

By disabling embeds, EMI may be forcing itself into one of two undesirable outcomes: it can either get little advertising revenue through preventing embeds, or it can get little advertising revenue when it fails to drive traffic directly to YouTube. If EMI can direct millions of people to YouTube, it can get both views and advertising revenue. But the viral nature of online videos allows EMI to harness the enthusiasm of a band's fans to create awareness that would be all but impossible to create on its own.

Whether or not EMI allows sharing, OK Go's videos are not going to result in much revenue. A band like OK Go depends on video streams for their promotional qualities, not for the direct revenue they generate. In limiting the promotional nature of a mid-tier band's video, EMI trades a little revenue for promotional capital. In the end, the company would be better off if it gave away the advertising-free viral views and enjoyed the promotional benefits they brought. If the video took off, viewers would eventually return to YouTube to find it.

EMI’s broader goals

This, of course, isn't a simple issue. EMI has signed up with video streaming sites Vevo and Hulu. It obviously wants to favor business models that create greater value for advertisers and content owners. Its policy on embedding videos is a reflection of its broader goals for online video.

Kulash understands the music is ultimately a business and hopes online promotion can survive as big corporations pursue new business models. "In these tight times," he concluded in his Times op-ed, "it's no surprise that EMI is trying to wring revenue out of everything we make, including our videos. But it needs to recognize the basic mechanics of the Internet."