Chicago-based Cameo, which built a business on selling recorded video greetings from celebrities, is adding live video chats to its talent roster of offbeat actors, athletes and stars.
Starting Thursday, fans can schedule a 10-minute video call with the likes of former pro wrestler Mick Foley, Sean Astin, who played Sam the Hobbit in “The Lord of the Rings,” or Dorinda Medley of “Real Housewives.” Video calls are booked through the Cameo website or the Cameo Live app and can be shared with up to nine other participants.
Like many recent business innovations, Cameo Live grew out of the evolving virtual world of the pandemic.
“During COVID, we saw it become very popular for celebrities on Cameo to start doing Zoom calls with their fans,” said Steven Galanis, co-founder and CEO of Cameo. “This would allow a fan to have something like a Zoom call, but better, to 10 of their closest friends and talent they want to hang out with.”
Launched five years ago, Cameo broke new ground in the star-fan relationship by offering personalized video messages from celebrities that have been used for everything from birthday greetings and graduation invitations to marriage proposals. Last year, Cameo introduced a two-minute virtual meetup, which has been expanded to the equivalent of a celebrity Zoom call.
The Recorded Video Greeting Talent List has thousands of celebrities, including actors, athletes, comedians, musicians, and social media influencers. A personalized video of actress Lindsay Lohan starts at $500. Musician Kenny G is listed at $350. Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch” will shoot a video for just $140.
The inaugural list of celebrities offering live video calls is a bit smaller and features rapper BoB, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, actress Bonnie Wright, who played Ginny in the “Harry Potter” movies , and Brooke Lynn Hytes from “RuPaul’s Drag.” Race”, among others. Video calls can be recorded, played back and saved for posterity.
Like Cameo’s bread-and-butter video greetings, prices for live video calls will vary by celebrity.
“It’s probably a little more expensive than the main Cameo videos,” said Galanis, 34.
Developed in Chicago’s technological incubator in 1871, Cameo was co-founded by Galanis, Devon Townsend, and Martin Blencowe. The business model was inspired by a personalized video of birth congratulations that Blencowe recorded of NFL defensive end Cassius Marsh to send to a friend.
Cameo, which has raised $165 million from investors to date, receives a 25% commission from each transaction. Last year, during its most recent fundraising round, Cameo reported $100 million in gross revenue for 2020, delivering 1.3 million recorded messages.
Galanis declined to disclose the private company’s current annual revenue, but said it is a “bigger business than it was two years ago.”
Last month, Cameo moved into new offices on the seventh floor of the former massive Sports Authority building at 620 N. LaSalle St. in River North. The company has about 60 employees in Chicago, and Galanis is looking to bring them back from remote work as Cameo launches its latest product.
“We’re encouraging people to start coming back to the office, because we think it was always a special part of our culture,” Galanis said. “We’re getting about 20 to 30 starting to arrive now a few days a week.”