Touring the most expensive American homes on YouTube

There is an appetite for seeing the homes of the rich and famous. See the popularity of showing these homes on YouTube:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mr. Yilmazer, 31, isn’t a wealthy buyer, nor is he currently a real-estate agent. Rather, he is one of a handful of real-estate YouTubers, amateur video hosts and producers, who are bringing regular people, via their laptops or cellphones, inside the mansions of the megarich. With more than 820,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, Mr. Yilmazer’s videos rack up millions of views and inspire tens of thousands of comments…

In some ways, real-estate YouTubers like Mr. Yilmazer are providing today’s answer to the MTV Cribs phenomenon of the early 2000s, offering the masses a rare glimpse at how the 0.1% really live. But rather than getting a peak through the eyes of a movie star or a suave celebrity real-estate agent, like on shows such as Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing,” they’re seeing these houses through the eyes of a regular guy just like them…

Mr. Yilmazer said he is bringing in between $50,000 and $100,000 a month in revenue from his YouTube channel in ad revenue alone, putting him on track to bring in more than $1 million this year if the growth of his channel continues at its current pace. Those are just the revenues provided by YouTube for allowing their automated ads to stream on the channel without any effort from Mr. Yilmazer’s own small team. On top of that, he and his team can make money from dedicated sponsorships—Mr. Yilmazer will personally feature a particular company’s brand in his videos for a fee that runs in the tens of thousands of dollars—and the money real-estate agents offer him to feature their listings on his channel. He said he often won’t charge if a property is particularly spectacular and will drive viewership to his channel. If a property is less impressive, he charges a fee, which typically runs into the five figures…

Still, not everyone is sold on letting YouTubers have free rein in their properties, since some agents believe that prospective buyers would prefer that their future homes not be splashed all over the internet.

It is the Internet, expensive real estate, and making money all in one. What could more American than that in 2021?

The money angle is very interesting to consider. The owner of the big expensive home could benefit from more exposure (though the article notes that not all big home owners think the YouTube views benefits them). YouTube gets original content that plenty of viewers want and they can monetize the content through advertising. The presenter can develop a brand and bring in a good income. Does anyone lose here?

One potential downside: how Americans view homes. If people consistently see large luxurious homes on television, as sociologist Juliet Schor argues in The Overspent American, or on social media, does this ratchet up their expectations about what they should be able to acquire? The biggest homes are out of the reach of almost everyone yet some of the individual pieces or features might find their way to a more attainable range.

How to pronounce McMansion (courtesy of YouTube)

The Internet might bring some wonderful things but it can also make you scratch your head. Here is a YouTube video for how to pronounce McMansion. The video doesn’t exactly have a lot of views – 1 after I watched it! – and comes courtesy of DictionaryVoice.com.

Two quick thoughts:

1. I admit that I have looked up pronunciations through online dictionaries and had the site read to me. This can be a very handy Internet tool.

2. The next video YouTube plays after this one is the song “Jesusland” from Ben Folds. This is one of the few pop songs I know that mention McMansions and, fitting the common use of the word, Folds uses it as part of this critique of Middle America. Here is the portion of the song where it comes up:

Down the tracks, beautiful McMansions on a hill
That overlook a highway with riverboat casinos
And you still have yet to see a soul

Not too different from those depictions in Gone Girl

Is YouTube a future “hub for national discourse”?

Online video has the potential to be social video:

Hurley’s launch comes as his prior startup YouTube itself becomes more collaborative under owner Google. YouTube this past fall opened a 41,000-square foot studio in a former Los Angeles aircraft hangar, where amateur video producers can work with one another and use professional-grade equipment. YouTube is also working to make its comment section more socially sophisticated, with more real names and higher-quality feedback.

Design software company Autodesk, meanwhile, placed a $60 million bet on social video last summer when it acquired mobile video startup Socialcam. And Amazon has roughly 45 projects in the pipeline at Amazon Studios, its 2-year-old effort at crowdsourced interactive filmmaking.

That’s not to say that every rising online video brand has bet on social. Netflix and Hulu, for example, have both invested heavily in polished, Hollywood-style content and offer only a minimal set of social features. Viddy, a Los Angeles-area startup, has struggled in its efforts to fuse content from mass media stars like Justin Bieber with social platforms like Facebook.

But with each passing year YouTube looks like a more crucial hub for national discourse — seedbed for potent political appeals, the hinge of effective Kickstarter fundraising campaigns, and fodder for much of the sharing that goes on within networks like Facebook and BuzzFeed. And there’s both poetry and logic in the notion that Hurley, having helped democratize television with YouTube, is now trying to turn the medium into a truly two-way affair.

This is a big claim: YouTube as a “crucial hub for national discourse”? Videos do indeed become part of conversations today and there is potential here to make money but I question how often these videos lead to social or political action. What happened to Kony 2012? How about that recent video about wealth inequality in the United States? How many good conversations are had in comment sections of YouTube videos? In other words, I think there is a long way to go here.

Mr. Google, take down this content

Google’s default response to possible copyright infringement on YouTube is surprisingly mechanical and far from perfect.  Consider TMZ’s recent report on the hapless Justin Bieber and his ubiquitous YouTube music videos:

Justin Bieber has been victimized by a brand new cyber-enemy … an enemy who found a way to get every single one of JB’s official music videos REMOVED from YouTube….YouTube has a yank first, ask questions later policy when a copyright claim is made — so they simply pulled the videos off the site … until the dispute is resolved.

Of course, there are myriad problems with such a system, as Ernesto over TorrentFreak elaborates:

YouTube describes its Content-ID anti-piracy filter as a state-of-the-art technology, but those who look closely can see that in some cases it creates a huge mess. The system invites swindlers to claim copyright on other people’s videos and make money off them through ads. It automatically assigns thousands of videos to people who don’t hold the copyrights, and its take-down process appears to be hugely biased towards copyright holders.…

Content-ID allows rightsholders to upload the videos and music they own to a central ‘fingerprint’ database. YouTube will then scan their site for full or partial matches, and if there is a hit the copyright holder can automatically take it down, or decide to put their ads on it.

Although the above sounds like a fair and honest solution, not everything Content-ID does goes to plan.…One of the problems appears to be that people with bad intentions can claim copyright on videos they have nothing to do with, and even run ads on them. In the YouTube support forums there are hundreds of posts about this phenomenon…[although] most of the “misattribution” problems seem to be the result of screwups and technical limitations.

As Ernesto notes in passing, there is supposed to be an opportunity to counter a takedown request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  Unfortunately, Google’s Content-ID system doesn’t work this way, as Patrick McKay of FairUseYouTube.org elaborates:

Instead of requiring copyright owners to file a formal DMCA notice in response to a Content ID dispute, thus allowing users to invoke the DMCA counter-notice process, YouTube allows copyright owners to somehow “confirm” their copyright claim through the Convent ID system and re-impose whatever blocks were originally in place through Content ID. In this case, a message will appear on the user’s “View Copyright Info” page for that video saying, “All content owners have reviewed your video and confirmed their claims to some or all of its content.” After this, as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no way for the user to file a dispute and get their video restored.

Certainly, Google is under no legal obligation to provide video distribution services to anyone who asks for them no matter how contentious the content’s ownership.  At the end of the day, Google is a business, and dealing with the minutia of these copyright ownership disputes is expensive.  It’s obvious why Google wants to bow out of the fight as early (and cheaply) as possible.

Nonetheless, it is extremely troubling that Google is silencing some users’ speech without allowing them to defend (at their own risk and expense) legal rights provided under the DMCA.

YouTube’s copyright school

In an apparent bid to prevent one-time copyright infringers from becoming two-timers (or more), YouTube has created a 4 minute and 39 second copyright school on its website, as explained on the official YouTube blog:

Because copyright law can be complicated, education is critical to ensure that our users understand the rules and continue to play by them. That’s why today we’re releasing a new tutorial on copyright and a redesigned copyright help center. We’re also making two changes to our copyright process to be sure that our users understand the rules, and that users who abide by those rules can remain active on the site.

If we receive a copyright notification for one of your videos, you’ll now be required to attend “YouTube Copyright School,” which involves watching a copyright tutorial and passing a quiz to show that you’ve paid attention and understood the content before uploading more content to YouTube.

Ray Dowd over at the Copyright Litigation Blog is not a fan, noting that Google:

  • fails to mention the existence of the public domain;
  • states that “[i]f you are uncertain as to whether a specific use qualifies as a fair use, you should consult a qualified copyright attorney”; and
  • fails to mention the Constitutional purpose of copyright law.

I have to agree with Ray.  The video’s section on fair use (direct link) is particularly egregious.  Unlike the rest of the video, this section adopts the sped-up vocal “style” often adopted at the end of radio commercials to breeze through legal disclaimers (e.g., “Sweepstakes only open to U.S. residents 18 or older…”)  How is this even attempting to educate and inform?

Far from providing a balanced view of copyright law, YouTube’s clear, bottom-line message is this:  Don’t remix or even approach the fair use line.  This is certainly one vision of copyright law, but there are others.  I am reminded of Christina Mulligan’s excellent blog post last June that looked at contemporary copyright law through the lens of Fox’s hit show Glee:

The absence of any mention of copyright law in Glee illustrates a painful tension in American culture. While copyright holders assert that copyright violators are “stealing” their “property,” people everywhere are remixing and recreating artistic works for the very same reasons the Glee kids do — to learn about themselves, to become better musicians, to build relationships with friends, and to pay homage to the artists who came before them. Glee’s protagonists — and the writers who created them — see so little wrong with this behavior that the word ‘copyright’ is never even uttered.

Lawrence Lessig makes the related point that such recreations benefit society, pointing to John Phillip Sousa’s early-twentieth-century fear that recorded music would eventually displace amateur performance entirely.

Google is taking a lot of heat from copyright owners these days, and it’s hard to blame them from trying to stave off any accusations of infringement that might eventually stick to Google itself.  Nevertheless, I don’t think their frenetic, one-sided “educational” video is the best solution.

Tenenbaum oral arguments on YouTube

Having attended the oral arguments before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Sony BMG Music Entertainment et al v. Tenenbaum yesterday and analyzed my initial impression here, I was pleased to see that the court posted (MP3) the audio of the oral arguments on its website.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to tell who is speaking given the bare audio.  Therefore, I have decided to post the audio on YouTube and annotate it so that listeners can know who is speaking when.  I hope many find this helpful.

Here are the links, in 5 parts:

The argument was before a panel of three First Circuit judges:

  • Sandra L. Lynch, Chief Appellate Judge
  • Juan R. Torruella, Appellate Judge
  • Rogeriee Thompson, Appellate Judge

For even more fun, you can download the briefs here to follow along with the audio.  Happy analysis!

CBS infringes…itself

From the left-hand-doesn’t-know-what-the-right-hand-is-doing department, CBS appears to have infringed its own copyrighted works:

A CBS reporter embedded a video of one of their own pieces of content onto a CBS-owned web property. Only to have it soon yanked down by lawyers (or lawyer-bots – AKA auto-DMCA patrol).

Click on over to the original piece on The Future Buzz to see the screenshot, which is pretty hysterical.

Users spend more time on Facebook than Google’s sites

According to figures from August, web users in the United States now spend more time per day on Facebook than Google’s sites (which includes YouTube). This can’t be good news for Google – but it shows the power of Facebook:

In August, people spent a total of 41.1 million minutes on Facebook, comScore said Thursday, about 9.9% of their Web-surfing minutes for the month. That just barely surpassed the 39.8 million minutes, or 9.6%, people spent on all of Google Inc.’s sites combined, including YouTube, the free Gmail e-mail program, Google news and other content sites.

U.S. Web users spent 37.7 million minutes on Yahoo Inc. sites, or 9.1% of their time, putting Yahoo third in terms of time spent browsing. In July, Facebook crept past Yahoo for the first time, according to comScore.

Facebook appears to be growing more and more popular. Google can’t figure out a way to introduce social connectivity throughout their sites – whatever happened to Google Wave?

“It’s like they took my essence, bottled it, and poured it all over the car.”

This line comes from one of the Toyota Sienna commercials featuring a family that truly does see itself reflected in their minivan. A number of the advertisements are quite humorous – but this single line would sum up the advertising pitch for many consumer products: “this product reflects your truest and best self.”

Enjoy.