OK Go’s Video Dilemma

The enjoyable factor is due, in part, to the immense catalog of videos YouTube has to offer. With many posted by fans, there seems to be an almost endless supply of videos from every decade since MTV debuted in 1981.

If you have a hankering for older music vids, there are plenty of clips from TV’s memory vaults, including bands appearing on 1960s music shows like “Shindig” and “Hullabaloo.” Add in the various clips from TV variety shows of the 1950s, and YouTube acts akin to a time machine, serving up almost every musical moment that was ever televised.

But watching music videos on YouTube can also be somewhat frustrating. Or, to be more exact, sharing music videos posted on YouTube can sometimes be a pain in the ol’ behind.

Just ask OK Go.

Lately, the band has taken on the role of poster boy for embedded videos – those chunks of code enabling bloggers and Web site operators to “embed” the videos into their own Web real estate. Embedding works great when you want the largest possible audience for a video, but doesn’t do so well when you want an exact accounting of the number of views a music vid generates.

In January, OK Go guitarist Damian Kulash posted an open letter on the band’s community forum explaining why the band’s new video could not be embedded on other Web sites, music blogs or any other virtual piece of property. Essentially, the explanation was simple – Watch the video on YouTube and record label EMI and the band get paid. Watch it somewhere else, like a blogger’s page or on a fan’s Facebook page, and EMI and the band get squat.

Kulash was very clear about OK Go’s relationship with EMI, describing how the label picks up the band’s recording and distribution expenses. What’s more, Kulash is very cognizant of the recording industry’s current economic problems and realizes that labels are trying to monetize almost every single instance where someone might hear a recording or view a music video. The bee in the guitarist’s bonnet is that providing embed code to his band’s videos helps sell music while the label sees it as money lost.

“The labels are hurting and they need every penny they can find, so they’ve demanded a piece of the action,” Kulash wrote. “They got all huffy a couple years ago and threatened all sorts of legal terror and eventually all four majors struck deals with YouTube which pay tiny, tiny sums of money every time one of their videos gets played.”

Kulash’s remarks, which were later edited down into an Op Ed piece for the New York Times, tries to balance record companies’ need for cash against a band’s need for exposure. While he understands why EMI doesn’t want his band’s fans sharing videos, he’s also worried the band’s visibility will shrink if fans can only watch the vids on YouTube or the his label’s Web site.

“Viral content doesn’t spread just from primary sources like YouTube or Flikr,” Kulash wrote in the Times. “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.”

Kulash also cites some numbers, saying views of the band’s “Here It Goes Again” video (the treadmill video), dropped 90 percent – from 10,000 views per day to just over 1,000 – after EMI disabled the embedding feature on YouTube and says the band’s royalty check covering six months of non-embeddable streams totaled only $27.77.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Kulash’s NYT Op Ed piece, as in his open letter posted only a few weeks earlier on OK Go’s Web site, is that he tries to see both sides of the issue. He’s ticked that EMI won’t let the band’s fans share the videos, but he also understands why the labels are hurting. However, he doesn’t think charging a fee for every instance when music is played is going to help anyone in the long term. Nor will it help tomorrow’s bands.
“Today, as the record industry’s revenue model has collapsed with the digitization of its biggest commodities, companies are cutting back spending on all but their biggest stars, and not signing nearly as many new acts,” Kulash wrote in the Times. “If record companies can’t adapt to this new world, they will die out; and without advances, so will the futures of many talented bands.”

Meanwhile, embedding is still disabled on any of the band’s videos appearing on YouTube. That is, except for one. The second video to be made for OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass,” is scheduled to be released March 1 and comes with embeddable video.
But don’t think EMI has come around to Kulash’s reasoning. The reason the video can be imbedded is simple. The band got State Farm Insurance to sponsor it.

PC On Your TV

The distinction between televisions and computers is about to get a bit more blurry with a just-announced service from Cablevision Systems Corporation.

Called “PC To TV Media Relay,” the new service enables you to watch everything on your TV that you’re now watching on your computer. That includes videos on your hard drive, YouTube clips and, well, everything that’s accessible via your PC.

The service, which is expected to enter technical trials in June, enables Cablevision customers to send information from their PC through Cablevision’s network facilities to a dedicated channel that can be viewed through the customer’s cable hookup.

No additional cables are needed and customers have only to download a piece of software to get PC To TV Media Relay up and running.

The implications are enormous.

For example, all the clips available on Web sites belonging to the major TV networks as well as cable channels like CNN, Fox News and Comedy Central will be accessible through your television. And don’t forget other video sites like Hulu and Vevo. When you consider just how much video is available on the Net, a service such as PC To TV Media Relay is like a gigantic content booster shot.

It also means some big changes for television networks. Not only will cable customers be able to view video content from network Web sites, but it also means yet even more choices for television viewers. Or, to put it another way, more competition for networks trying to attract more eyeballs.

“With our PC To TV Media Relay service, we are putting an end to the need for families to huddle around their laptops or PCs to watch content together,” Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge said. “This new service will make it easy for our television customers to take broadband services including Internet video, as well as family photos or anything else displayed on a computer screen and move it to the television with the click of the mouse.”

While PC To TV Media Relay pretty much functions as the name implies, meaning that it’s for PCs only, Cablevision is also working on a version for Apple computers called – you guessed it – PC To TV Media Relay For Mac.