Ok No Go: YouTube’s Embedding Restriction Is Bad For New Bands

by: david kaplan

About three years ago, power pop band Ok Go were catapulted to fame after its independently-produced music video for the song “Here It Goes Again” caught fire on YouTube. Fans began embedding the video, which featured the band dancing on treadmills. The band’s success appeared to point the way for a new way to promote music. But in an op-ed in Saturday’s NYT, lead singer Damian Kulash, Jr., says that new bands hoping to follow the same path will have to find another route, as restrictions on embedding music videos laid down by YouTube and ithe group’s record company, EMI, have made it much harder to share videos.

Ok Go has been railing at YouTube’s embed policies for weeks. In a blog post on the band’s site in January, Ok Go was hoping it could go to its fans to at least explain the situation, and perhaps, spark some protest. (Naturally, the post also came with a plea that fans buy the band’s new album, Of The Blue Colour of The Sky.)

As Kulash says, “A few years ago, reeling from plummeting record sales, record companies went after YouTube, demanding payment for streams of their material. They saw videos, suddenly, as potential sources of revenue. YouTube agreed to pay the record companies a tiny amount for each stream, but — here’s the crux of the problem — they pay only when the videos are viewed on YouTube’s own site.”

Since embedded videos don’t make any money for the record companies, EMI has decided to block the embedding feature. Kulash adds, “Now we can’t post the YouTube versions of our videos on our own site, nor can our fans post them on theirs. If you want to watch them, you have to do so on YouTube.”

While he understands the need for record companies—and YouTube—to try to wring as much cash out of music videos, cutting off outside sites from sharing the videos ultimately is cutting off free viral marketing efforts, which helps promote the sales of concert tickets, tracks and albums. When EMI disabled embedding, views of “the treadmill video”—since we can’t embed it, you’ll have to watch it here— dropped 90 percent, from about 10,000 per day to just over 1,000. Ok Go’s last royalty statement from the label, which covered six months of streams, Kulash says, was a “whopping $27.77 credit to our account.” If the labels get $.004 to $.008 per stream, the most EMI could have gotten for the video streams is around $5,400. And with such little revenue coming from those streams, that’s certainly not a lot to promote new music, Kulash concludes.