When you think of an expensive short video, a music video might come to mind. It’s an obvious choice. A pop artist with a record label behind them has more than enough cash to blow on a lavish display of video decadence. These displays even created a television network named MTV. Yes, it did show music videos at one point before reality television appeared.
Madonna herself is responsible for 3 of the most expensive music videos ever made: “Bedtime Stories” and “Express Yourself” each at $5 million and “Die Another Day” at $6 million. However, Michael Jackson has the title of the most expensive music video ever created. “Scream” comes in at $7 million for the 13-minute production.
Another way to blow a lot of cash on a short video is a Superbowl commercial. ESPN reports in 2019 CBS offered 30-seconds spots for $5.25 million. However, this amount is paltry compared to Amazon standards. In 2018 the company created a spot for the game which cost them near $15 million.
While you think Michael Jackson, Amazon, and Madonna might have the record for blowing cash on a short video, they’re pikers compared to another artist. This short-video maker produced a 2-minute-long video for which someone paid about $266 million for. Take that Jeff Bezos!
The bizarre thing is it’s not a music video or commercial for a large sporting event. It’s also not a revolutionary how-to-video from YouTube that went viral either. The video is a simple explanation of how bitcoin works. The maker, Stefan Thomas, received a reward of 7002 bitcoins for the video. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’d realize they’re worth about $38,000 each nowadays.
However, at the time Thomas made the video in 2011, Google reports they were about a dollar a piece. Now, this is where the story gets interesting. While originally paid about $7000 for the video, Thomas never cashed in the coins and left them untouched. They’ve been sitting on an external drive gathering value for the past ten years. So, the fruit of his two-minute video might have netted him the jackpot listed above.
I say “might” because Thomas lost the password for the drive and can’t retrieve the coins. According to an interview with the New York Times, he says he’s spent a lot of time laying in bed thinking about it. No kidding? Who wouldn’t?
Now, this is where the story transforms from the most expensive video ever made into one of the greatest lost treasures in the history of the world. Even more tantalizing, it’s a treasure right in front of your face, which can’t be retrieved. Bitcoin’s unique nature is making this a more common story.
Lost And Found Fortunes In History
Mankind has proven over the years to have a bad track-record with sudden found wealth. Investment management firm Pacifica Wealth explains about 70% of those who suddenly come into money tend to lose it. Although most of us would be more than willing to put ourselves to the test.
While most may think sudden wealth falling into your lap is a less common possibility than getting hit by lightning, it does happen according to Investopedia. For instance, an electrician named Pierre Le Guennec befriended an artist in the 1970’s he was doing work for. As a gift, the painter gave the worker sketches and pictures. The kindly artist? Pablo Picasso.
In another example, Rick Norsigian bought some random film negatives at a garage sale in California for $50 about 20 years ago. After doing some research, he found they belonged to the famous artist Ansel Adams. The prints were eventually valued at $200 million.
Not to be outdone, England has their own example as well. According to the Smithsonian, Eric Lawes took his metal detector out to a farm in 1992 to putter around. While looking for a hammer, he found a few coins and spoons which looked old and valuable. He notified the government who excavated the site and found 60lbs of Roman coins and artifacts. Speaking of pounds, Lawes received £1.75 million from the British government for the find.
Then there’s the treasure hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration that found a ship off the coast of Portugal called the “Black Swan” in 2007. They recovered a treasure of silver and gold worth near $500 million and shipped it to Florida. However, Spain sued the group arguing the ship was actually from Spain and the gold was their property — even though it was under water for over 200 years.
Despite Spain not actually being able to prove the ship was of Spanish origin, they technically won the case. Odyssey Marine Exploration was forced to ship all the gold back to its “home country” and eat the expense of the operation. So, this case happens to be a bit of both — a found and lost fortune. I’m sure it’s something Stefan Thomas can identify with. Me as well, I purchased Odyssey Marine stock in 2007.
Everyday Lost Fortunes In Bitcoin
While many people have come into sudden wealth after bitcoin’s rise, there’s a strange counterpoint going unnoticed. Fortunes are being lost every day too. Not necessarily from the value of the cryptocurrency dropping, but from lost passwords.
Cryptocurrency blog Chainalysis, reports only about 20% of bitcoin is used as actual currency. 60% is held as a store of wealth, like one would sit on gold. Now, what about the remainder? They report it’s lost, like Stefan Thomas’ issue with the external hard drive. So, that translates into 3.7 million lost coins or over $140 billion.
The large number mentioned above is a statistic hard to wrap your head around, but there are human stories woven into each lost bitcoin. You could imagine each one, like Stefan Thomas, trying to ignore the news as bitcoin hits new highs. Talk about frustration, and he’s not alone.
- James Howells had 7500 bitcoin on an external disk and accidentally threw it out in 2014.
- Gabriel Abed lost 800 when his hard drive got reformatted.
- Traders on QuadrigaCX, Canada’s largest crypto exchange, were shocked to learn all their coins were gone after the owner of the exchange died. His wife couldn’t find the password to open the computer the exchange operated on.
- Then there’s theft. Hackers stole about $500 million worth of crypto from the Japanese exchange Coincheck in 2018.
A Record With An Asterisk
There’s a reason I put a question mark after the title of this story. Thomas technically has the most expensive video ever made. However, there’s a major asterisk at the end of that record — he might not be able to retrieve the money.
According to the New York Times, the hard disk he keeps the coins on only allows you 10 missed passwords before it scrambles its data. Our film-maker friend already has 8 failed attempts. Although he isn’t totally up the creek without a paddle.
According to The Guardian, an internet security analyst offered his services to hack the device for 10% of the funds inside. At this point, that might not be a bad deal. Whatever the outcome, this little historic event marks a change in humanity in a way.
At one point people sent mail, now they send email. Likewise, wealth used to be a physical material you could put your hands around — gold, jewels, or cash. Now, data is the most valuable thing on earth. Our cost-shattering video is a prime example of that. It’s also a warning of how the value in data can disappear as quickly as you shut off a computer.
It can even sit right in your face and tease you, all the while being far out of reach. Welcome to the Age of Data.