Cameo Celebrity App: Will Birthday Wishes From Snoop Dogg Mean A Big Investor Payday? | WCAI

Cameo Celebrity App: Will Birthday Wishes From Snoop Dogg Mean A Big Investor Payday?

Jul 9, 2020
Originally published on July 10, 2020 3:40 pm

About a year ago, former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci got a call from an executive with the celebrity video-sharing startup Cameo.

"He called me and he's like, 'Mooch, I'd like to get you on Cameo,'" Scaramucci recalled to NPR. "I didn't even know what it was. He said, 'We're trying to get some guys who are improvisational and can have a little fun with this."

With a Cameo bio of "White House Communications Director for 11 days. Don't say 10, it hurts my feelings!" Scaramucci has found a way to capitalize on his brief tenure.

"It's a fun thing to do. It's a way to stay in touch with — I don't want to say fans — but just people out there," he said.

Scaramucci, who runs a hedge fund, says he has made more than 1,100 videos to date and earned $62,700.

"I'm giving all the proceeds to charity," he emphasized.

He is one of more than 40,000 entertainers, folk heroes, Internet influencers and now-disgraced members of the political class that form the talent roster of one of the fastest-growing tech startups.

Birthday greetings from 'NSync or Lance Armstrong

Started in 2017, Cameo enlists stars, some more faded and obscure than others, to produce mostly short, handheld smartphone videos on demand. The stars set the fees for their personalized greetings.

Scaramucci started off charging $100 per video, then knocked the price down to $50.

Former heartthrob Lance Bass of the 1990's boy band 'NSync will press record for $249.

"He has sent me here to officially help you say, 'Bye, Bye, Bye' to your 20s and welcome to the best decade of your life," says a 41-year-old Bass in one video. There's no makeup or fancy lighting. Bass is dressed in a plain t-shirt, in front of a blank wall in a dimly-lit room.

For about $50 more, actress Lindsay Lohan will film a selfie from her home in Dubai. Just don't mind the desert sunlight washing out most of the frame.

There are bargains, like comedian Carrot Top, who charges $15 a pop for a video. Boxer Floyd Mayweather is among the pricier options, asking $999 for a video. Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong is on the roster ($400), as is Snoop Dogg ($750).

"Gabriella, happy birthday. Happy Birthday. Eighteen years old?" said Snoop Dogg with a whistle on a video for a fan. "What a beautiful thing."

'People are more famous than they are rich'

The way CEO Steven Galanis tells it, he came up with the concept of Cameo after pondering this fact: nearly 80 percent of retired NFL players go broke within two years of retirement.

"This was really shocking to me. When you look at the people that have gone broke, it is boldnamers, it's hall of famers," said Galanis, 32 and a former Chicago stock trader.

Fame is an expansive concept in 2020: Whether pro athletes or TikTok stars, more people than ever are considered famous in some fashion. Cameo helps them make money off of it.

"Big clout doesn't mean enduring wealth," Galanis said. "People are more famous than they are rich, especially in the social media age."

The coronavirus pandemic has been a boon for Galanis' business model, with stars unable to perform and fans trapped at home, unable to socialize.

"In a world where all live entertainment has shut down, suddenly the whole creative class finds themselves unemployed all at one time," he said. "All celebrities are gig economy workers."

Cameo's business has grown sevenfold from last year, with an estimated market valuation of $300 million, according to analytics firm PitchBook. Venture capitalists are watching closely.

"Cameo is on a tear," said Ilya Fushman with the Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins, which has invested in Cameo."I don't know of many places where you can get paid a few hundred bucks for doing literally 30 seconds of work."

'Tiger King' activist brought in $100,000 in one week

Cameo pockets 25% of every video purchase. Still, Gallanis says, some stars make enough videos to pull in six-figure sums a month.

Carole Baskin, from the hit Netflix show Tiger King, is cranking out hundreds of $199 videos a day, pulling in $100,000 in just a single week, Gallanis said.

But who pays for shaky selfies by celebrities whose 15 minutes may be long behind them? People like Tim Davis of Nashville.

He found the website while searching for a gift for his wife. She happens to be a fan of the sci-fi TV show Outlander. For $40, actor Steven Cree, who plays Ian Murray, would record a birthday wish for her.

"It was something that I thought would be a little bit different. And it was completely unexpected," Davis said.

Davis' wife Coralie Le Coguic says at first she didn't know what to make of the video.

"I was so confused," she said. "Because I didn't know why this person was saying my name and talking about my life on the video."

But when she figured it out, Cree's sincere message about following her dreams brought her to tears.

She says it was a fun and moving experience. Also, a little strange.

"I always think any time you do something that is celebrity, fan-oriented, it's a little bizarre — that this one person who doesn't know you is so special," she said.

Silicon Valley investors, meanwhile, are betting that celebrity Cameos are not just a passing fad, but maybe the future of fame.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's now possible to have Snoop Dogg wish your parents a happy anniversary. The company Cameo lets users pay for personal video recordings from actors, folk heroes, Internet influencers and disgraced politicians. And as NPR's Bobby Allyn reports, Cameo is now one of the fastest-growing tech startups.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Remember 'NSync, the American boy band from the '90s? Wouldn't it be fun to have heartthrob Lance Bass wish a friend a happy 30th birthday? Well, someone did just that for $249.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LANCE BASS: He has sent me here to officially help you say bye, bye, bye to your 20s and welcome to the best decade of your life.

ALLYN: Actress Lindsay Lohan will record a selfie of herself from her home in Dubai. Just don't mind the sunlight washing out most of the frame.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSAY LOHAN: Hey, Jill (ph). Lindsay Lohan here. I just want to let you know that I'm sorry to hear about your bachelorette party being postponed.

ALLYN: Or maybe you have a friend who's an avid cyclist, and you want to send a pep talk from someone who knows a thing or two about bicycles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LANCE ARMSTRONG: Yo, Dale (ph). Lance Armstrong here. Greetings from Nantucket.

ALLYN: This is Cameo. The way it started is kind of random. Three years ago, CEO Steven Galanis was thinking about this fact - nearly 80% of retired NFL players go broke within two years of retirement.

STEVEN GALANIS: And this was really shocking to me. When you look at the people that have gone broke, it is bold-namers; it is hall of famers.

ALLYN: Galanis, a former Chicago stock trader, thought this is not just a sports thing. Fame is a weird concept in 2020, with more people than ever considered famous in one way or another. But many of them have trouble turning that fan base into income. To Galanis, that was an opportunity, especially now in the pandemic.

GALANIS: In a world where all live entertainment has shut down, suddenly the whole creative class finds themselves unemployed all at one time.

ALLYN: The business has grown sevenfold from last year. It's a treasure trove of people who've had their 15 minutes of fame or their 11 days in the spotlight. That's how long Anthony Scaramucci lasted as President Trump's White House communications director.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: Dane (ph), turning 55 is nothing, OK? July 1, even. My God. Happy birthday to you, man.

ALLYN: Each celebrity sets their own price. The Mooch thinks his market value is $50 a video. CEO Galanis says some are making tons of money. He says Carole Baskin from the hit Netflix show "Tiger King" is cranking out hundreds of videos a day, pulling in $100,000 in just a single week, one $199 video at a time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAROLE BASKIN: Hey, all you cool cats and kittens. It's Carole Baskin at Big Cat Rescue. Danny (ph), you are one cool cat.

ALLYN: With each video, Cameo takes a 25% cut. But who exactly is buying these videos? People like Tim Davis of Nashville. He found the site while searching for a gift for his wife. He noticed an actor from the sci-fi show "Outlander," and his wife is a huge fan. For $40, this actor was willing to record her a personal birthday wish.

TIM DAVIS: It was something that I thought would be a little bit different, and it was completely unexpected.

CORALIE LE COGUIC: What is happening? (Laughter) I was so confused.

ALLYN: That's Davis' wife Coralie Le Coguic. She was brought to tears she was so moved. Le Coguic finds the videos fun and entertaining. At the same time, she says, the very concept of the app is kind of strange. Silicon Valley investors? They're betting that celebrity Cameos are not just a passing fad but maybe the future of fame.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S "BEACH DR.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.